I was immediately struck by the relevance of Dieter Rams’ design thinking to the world of garden design and the frame of reference it gives me for my own work.
Dieter Rams is a renowned German designer who headed the design team at Braun for thirty years. He became known for his constantly repeated slogan weniger aber besser or less but better.
“Less and More” was a famed exhibition of Rams’ landmark designs for Braun and Vitsœ and when asked about what he hoped that the exhibition might convey his simple remark was that he hoped people would understand that honesty in design is more important than success in design.
When asked in an interview how he might describe his style of work to a friend he replied that in many ways it could be summed up by the Japanese aesthetic of wabi sabi and its associated attributes of tranquility, simplicity, balance and liveliness.
His enduring wish is that there should be more empty space in the world with more room for thinking. Good design delivers fewer products of greater quality and thus realises this wish. With this in mind, Rams developed what are sometimes referred to as the ten commandments of design and although Rams’ field of expertise was industrial design it is interesting to see how incredibly well they apply to other spheres – garden design, in particular.
Good design is innovative
Rams believes that technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design but that innovative design can never be an end in itself. Innovation in garden design is something that may happen as the result of an honest and intelligent approach to the problem solving process associated with any project. New technology or unusual materials may well help me to solve a problem and deliver an effective design. In this way innovation may well become an element of my design response – a by-product of good design, if you like.
Good design makes a product useful
Good garden design answers the client’s brief most effectively and delivers a space that is primarily functional and then beautiful. It’s no good if a space is stunningly beautiful but you can’t effectively travel from A to B. A garden is nothing without functionality.
Good design is aesthetic
As a garden designer I need to balance both the functional and aesthetic requirements of a project. Functionality without beauty is dull and as I’ve already said, a garden without functionality is useless. A garden becomes great when it is both functional and beautiful. It then has the possibility to be more than the sum of its parts. As Rams points out, if a product we use every day has an aesthetic quality, then it is more likely to affect our person and our well-being in a positive way.
Good design makes a product understandable
When you walk into a garden you should be able to read the atmosphere it creates. You should be able to use it functionally and appreciate its beauty.
Good design is unobtrusive
Any outside space must relate to its surroundings. Site analysis and research facilitates this linkage and enables us to deliver a unified space that is part of a greater whole. A garden will relate strongly to the house it surrounds. At some point, it will also relate to the wider landscape beyond. This is perhaps one of the most exciting parts of the whole design process as it is here that decisions about concept, form and structure are made. Rams points out that a product should be both neutral and restrained to leave room for the user’s self-expression. The key to the success of a garden is a sense of restraint that in some way offers infinite possibility and almost becomes a backdrop against which human drama is enacted.
Good design is honest
Honesty in design applies on several levels. My integrity as a designer delivers an open and collaborative relationship with you the client. Good design peers beyond the surface of things and searches for truth. It relies on the quality and honesty of my design response. Good design reveals the essence of a material. It is always about revealing and never about manipulation or duping.
Good design is long lasting
I’m inspired by the simplicity and balance of classicism and eschew the fashionable so hope that my gardens will appeal for many many years. A great garden will by definition develop over an extended period of time so it is crucial that its structure or “bones” are well conceived and well executed. I will always align myself with the best and longest enduring materials and will always work to best practise in making sure that they are installed in the best possible way. If I specify a material or plant that I know will only last a few years and then need replacing, I will always tell you and always explain my choice for doing so.
Good design is thorough, down to the last detail
Attention to detail is absolutely crucial to every aspect of the design process. There must be a very good reason for every decision and for the choice of every plant or material in order for a design to be meaningful. This is the only way to arrive at the essence of something and requires the quality of honesty that we have already discussed. Simplicity and distillation are achieved by attention to detail.
Good design is environmentally friendly
It is now vital that we consider the preservation of our environment when making design decisions. Sustainability, biodiversity and climate change whilst not ends in themselves, are now integral factors in the decision making process.
Good design is as little design as possible
The texture of a plant or the quality of a material will shine if it is given space. Fewer materials give us the ability to consider the quality of the space surrounding them. Rams’ weniger aber besser echoes after us as we simplify and dispense with all but the essential.