Apple. Innovative?

iPod, old and new?

Those of you who don’t live in the design world or aren’t Apple Believers might not have heard of Dieter Rams, the world-famous designer of the world-famous Apple Look… ah, urm, wait a sec.

Dieter Rams is actually a kick-ass industrial designer mostly known for the products he designed for Braun from the 50’s onwards.

Jonathan Ive is the guy responsible for the Apple Look.

I’ve been aware that Jonathan Ive is a bit of a Rams fan ever since I saw the iPhone calculator (open it next to Rams’ calculator design from 1978), but, not being that familiar with Rams’ work, I’d always thought this was a one-time-only tribute to Braun’s designer. The gizmodo post “The future of Apple is in 1960s Braun“, and especially the images of Rams designs standing next to Ive designs made it clear that Ive has been inspired by Rams in almost everything he’s ever done for Apple, and hell, inspired may be too polite a word.

RamsCalc and IveCalc
Braun calculator photo (right) from photonium’s photostream.

To be honest, I’ve been thinking of Mr. Ive as an innovative designer for so long that I’m not sure where to go with my reaction to these overwhelming similarities. It’s a never-ending discussion which I’ve started before: where is the border between inspiration and outright theft? Should Apple products, widely known for innovative design, better be known as a Braun rip-offs? If you were Dieter Rams, would you want to whup Jonathan Ive’s ass? I’m mulling all these things over, and would definitely be interested in your opinion.

Other than the whole rip-off subject, one very worthwhile part of the gizmodo article was Rams’ “Ten Commandments on Design”. Some are surely redundant, but it’s definitely food for thought for any designer. For more detail on them, see Rams’ Wikipedia page.

  1. Good design is innovative.
  2. Good design makes a product useful.
  3. Good design is aesthetic.
  4. Good design helps us to understand a product.
  5. Good design is unobtrusive.
  6. Good design is honest.
  7. Good design is durable.
  8. Good design is consequent to the last detail.
  9. Good design is concerned with the environment.
  10. Good design is as little design as possible.

Quite a list, and some of it certainly debatable, but his three word motto is on my wavelength (and far easier to remember):
“Less, but better.”


  1. Shaddam IV says:

    I think “theft” is putting it a bit strongly. Good Design probably has only so many degrees of freedom, particularly if you take the requirement for simplicity into account. There are only so many ways to design a steering wheel, or for that matter, usable car controls.
    The examples that are listed on Gizmodo describe the iPod and the calculator UI, but what about Ive’s very functional and simplistic laptop designs? Or the current generation iMacs? These have no Rams equivalent.
    It is a pity that the simplistic approach has only rarely been applied to OS UI design. Some good examples can be found on Apple’s webapps page; notably, the Facebook webapp shows how to provide a minimalistic approach to providing essential functions in an appealing yet unintrusive manner.
    But hey, we still have a long way to go, and if we don’t blow up the planet first, we’ll have good UI design everywhere yet.


  2. Mb. says:

    As far as the “degrees of freedom” thing goes, I’d have to disagree. If the idea is to create for example a stylish, simple, easy to operate MP3 player, is the only possible form, colour, etc. an iPod? Sure, the clickwheel is a great idea, but it can’t be the *only* possible idea, can it? I don’t think so. Just because Apple’s doing it better than most everyone else doesn’t mean that all good design roads lead to an Apple product.

    Good UI design is a different matter, especially when it comes to something like an OS. There are so many things to consider, so many elements, apps, functions, preferences, etc., and so many contradictory requirements, e.g. flexibility vs. control, that in comparison, designing a good music box is child’s play. It’d be very interesting to see what Rams OS would look like. 😉

  3. Marcel says:

    >>If you were Dieter Rams, would you want to whup >>Jonathan Ive’s ass?

    Since Dieter Rams has always been on kind of a mission to give design a real meaning, that it serves people in doing what they want to be done, I know that he is really pleased of Ive’s work. He several times praised Apple for their Design approach. After all it is not so personal. 😉

    I think the “Design Toolbox” of Apple Hardware (Reduction, Use of Radiuses, Functiondriven Detailwork, Nice Surfaces etc) is not innovative at all, it is pure Ulmer Schule. I think it is interesting that there is very less evolution of what the majority of consumers think is good and “beautiful”.

    After some decades one starts to understand how visionary these old guys like Dieter Rams have been 🙂

    See ya!