Six Lessons For Entrepreneurs From Legendary Designer – Dieter Rams

by | Oct 18, 2015

It is no secret that Apple, today’s most valuable brand in the world, is a product design-oriented company. The components that brought Apple’s success are varied but there is one thing that is the mark of this company – its designs.

Apple’s design philosophy was developed by its founder Steve Jobs and it was deepened and expanded with the company’s chief designer, Jonny Ivy. The relationship Jobs had with his chief designer Ivy was unique and very close. Now, this kind of close relationship between a great entrepreneur and a designer didn’t start with Jobs and Ivy; it goes back to Dieter Rams and the Braun brothers. Braun, the German consumer products company and its chief designer Dieter Rams are responsible for some of the most iconic designs in the 20th century. They both were a source of inspiration for Jobs and Ivy in Apple. Rams, a German industrial designer is probably one of the most influential designers alive today. He is well known for his approach to functionality and his belief in “less but better”.

Left: Pocket radio (model T3) designed by Dieter Rams; Right: Apple iPod



Left: Pocket radio (model T3) designed by Dieter Rams; Right: Apple iPod



Left: Power Mac G5 (2003)
Right: Braun T1000 Radio (1967)


Many of Ivy’s designs in Apple were influenced by the simplicity Rams brought to the world in the ’60s and the way Jobs interacted with his designer is very similar to the way of the Braun Brothers. In a conversation that took place at the Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena, California in April 2013 Rams discussed his history and philosophy. If you read Jobs’ biography or are familiar with his perceptions you will see how Rams influenced Jobs deeply. I chose to highlight the relevant insights by Rams for entrepreneurs who are looking to create great companies similar to Apple.

Lesson 1 – Keep the designer close to you

It is necessary to have a close relationship between the designer and the entrepreneur. The relationships cultivated by Jobs and Ivy and Braun brothers and Rams are two successful examples. Jobs, while running two companies simultaneously (Apple and Pixar) understood the importance of being close to his designer. According to Job’s biography, he and Ivy interacted on a daily basis.. Jobs and Ivy ate lunch together every day and at the end of the day, he would visit Ivy’s studio.  Jobs has a hands-on approach in the design processes and ideas and was involved in every small detail.

Lesson 2 – The Relationship between Design and Engineering

When Rams spoke about his famous Snow White Coffin Radio, he explained how at the beginning the design was superior to existing technology. This made the Braun brothers decided to improve the engineering so that the product, both inside and out, would be of high quality. It was important for the designers to work together with the engineering department (watch the conversation in the video below. This part appears to start in minute 10:15). Those who are familiar with Jobs’ philosophy will see the similarities between the two entrepreneur’s philosophies: first design, then engineering.

Lesson 3 – Consumers doesn’t Know What They Want So Believe in What You Are After

When asked if he was trying to understand what consumers wanted, Rams replied no. He spoke about how they produced what they would have wanted for themselves because they wanted to change the world (12:15). Similarly, Jobs is well known for saying: “We built [the Mac] for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research.” (1985 interview with Playboy). Twelve years later he said:  “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them” (Business Week).

Lesson 4 – Protect Your Designer

Most of the decisions that were brought to the Braun brothers were taken in a democratic way, Rams says. Although the Braun’s Brothers and [after the acquisition by Gillette] the Chairman of the board had the final say, his word was taken into account. His understanding of the company’s DNA made his decisions important and unarguable in many cases; if it “wasn’t Braun” they wouldn’t make it. The message here for entrepreneurs is to understand how important it is for the designer to have the management’s support on their decisions (22:15).

Lesson 5 – Design Can Create Global Company

Designs not only make the world a better place but also create successful companies. Apple and Braun are examples of companies that with the help of designers became known worldwide. In 1955, Rams said, nobody knew who Braun was in Germany, let alone in the world, but just a few years later, with the help of design, Braun became a global brand. This is the reason Gillette bought Braun, in order to bring some of its design success into their own brand. (39:57).

Lesson 6 – Trust Your Designer

Rams spoke about how lucky he was to find entrepreneurs, brave and visionary, such as the Braun Brother who thought the same way as he did and were able to execute his ideas. They took risks in the production without knowing if it will be successful, just like Apple; even when the engineering and marketing teams did not believe their ideas would be successful. “Life is Risk, Design is life and that’s why design is a risk as well,” said Rams (56:45). Jobs behaved just the same – took risks in products that nobody believed would be successful. Read the criticism after the iPad launch and see how it was perceived.  We all know the role the iPad has in our lives, don’t we?





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