Dieter Rams: The Complete Works by Klaus Klemp

by Lucas Czarnecki
I will not start this review with a rant about the importance for designers to look past their often-limited sphere of specialty, but what I will say is that all designers—typographers not excepted—need to study the work of Dieter Rams. For those unfamiliar, Rams is the greatest industrial designer of all time. For those familiar, you may already own one of the several books about him. Well, clear a space, because Ram’s leading authority, Klaus Klemp, has a new book out: Dieter Rams: The Complete Works.

It would be easy for me to gush for 750 words about the brilliance, thoughtfulness, and inspiration exuded by Rams’s portfolio of work, but that wouldn’t make much of a book review. Instead, I’ll try to explain how, among all the books which exist on Rams, this one—which I’ll refer to as The Complete Works—displays those qualities the best.

That is not to say, however, that this is the best book on Rams. That title is broadly and confidently given to Less and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams, written by the same Klaus Klemp. The Complete Works differs from that one and others in that rather than trying hard to recapitulate Rams’s design theories and methods, it displays and describes his work. All of it.

Presented chronologically, beginning with an armchair sketch from 1947 and ending with his 2018 re-working of the 606 shelving system’s wall-mounted desk, The Complete Works includes a blistering 277 designs, the 227 of which are fully Rams. The 50 included with other lead designers received meaningful contributions by Rams and are cleverly delineated in the book by full-bleed grey pages. By the way, for those not doing the mental math, that’s 71 years of timeless design.

The 344-page book includes 300 full color illustrations, with a handful of designs receiving extra real estate. The Complete Works begins with a foreword by Dieter Rams himself, in which he presents a simplified explanation of how he sees the role of design in society and what designers need to think about when contributing to that society:

I am convinced that there is an ethics of design – that there has to be one. It is time to realize that we have once again reached the end of a phase of disorientation and arbitrariness. Everything seemed possible – and we could do anything we wanted – and the ‘me’ came before the ‘we’. But we have to change our course now – before catastrophe forces us to do so.

After Rams’s foreword comes Klemp’s introductory essay, “dieter rams - a catalogue raisonne of an industrial designer,” which touches on everything from Rams’s life to the histories of his longtime employers/clients, Braun and Vitsoe. Klemp explains the four phases of Rams’s career, his distinctive design characteristics, and more. He skillfully includes all the context someone unfamiliar with Rams might need, all without advertising his other book.

 

For the typographers still reading this review, the book is set in a way that would earn a nod from Muller-Brockmann. Designed by Order, the team behind those uber-popular standards manuals, the repeated page structure uses one-size, one-weight of Helvetica. They rely on spacing to break apart the design’s overview, dimensions, materials, and descriptions. It’s a true less but better approach, which I’m sure Rams looked at before it went to print.

Speaking of going to print, The Complete Works is published by Phaidon, which also published Sophie Lovell’s excellent book Dieter Rams: As Little Design as Possible. Each book measures 270 by 205 millimeters and—despite Lovell’s book being slightly thicker at 400 pages—they make an excellent pair on the shelf.

The concept of pairing this book makes a lot of sense, as it doesn’t contain the level of theory, context, or explanation as some other books on Rams. It’s more of a reference. A very thorough, thoughtful reference. That said, I wish the pages included multiple angles of each product, even if at a small scale, the way that Klemp’s Less and More did it. The large singular photos follow Rams’s philosophy, and the detailed descriptions give plenty of information; a few additional images might have been nice, but they aren’t necessary.

When discussing Dieter Rams, some version of the phrase “less is more” tends to pop up. You might ask yourself, is a big, bright-orange book really less?  Is yet another book on Dieter Rams really needed? Cover-design aside, if I were at an early publisher’s meeting trying to weight the value of this book, I would argue for it to exist. Yes, it is more. But it’s also meaningfully new. The Complete Works might not be the best first book to buy on Rams, but it is one every designer should have on her shelf, right next to As Little Design as Possible (or, if you can find a copy, Less and More).

Similar Books

Less But Better by Dieter Rams

As Little Design as Possible by Sophie Lovell

Ten Principles for Good Design by Cees W. De Jong (editor)

Less and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams by Klaus Klemp (editor)

Links

Purchase The Complete Works on Amazon

See the book on the Phaidon website

Watch Gary Hustwit's documentary film on Dieter Rams

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