Carl Barenbrug

Product design, creative direction


It may came as no surprise that one of the most influential figures in my life (whether he knows it or not) is the renowned German industrial designer, Dieter Rams. His work speaks for itself and has been the inspiration behind many product designs we use and love today. Rams recently attended the opening of the new Vitsœ shop at 21 Marylebone Lane, London. I was planning on attending this event as well, but due to other commitments, I was unable to. Anyway, while there, Dieter and managing director Mark Adams had an interesting conversation on the current state of design, consumer behaviour, and the environmental impact of our creation and consumption. I quote:

The word ‘design’. It has become inflationary in the last few years—everybody understands other things under the name of design. I am always fighting against this because I don’t think the English name is correct. It is applied to some terrible things—it is inflated. Let’s change the name design to the German word Gestaltung. Kindergarten is a common word in English nowadays so why not Gestaltung too? Design as a term and definition used today is inflationary and often misapplied.

As a designer myself, this really resonated with me because he’s absolutely right. The word ‘design’ is frequently misused, much like the word ‘minimal’ is also. Quite often, I suspect this essentially comes down to a sheer misunderstanding of what design actually means.

So what is Gestaltung exactly? According to Rams, it is observing, thinking, and understanding. It is also strongly related to three basic principles expressed by Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio: Firmitas (engineering), Utilitas (science), Venustas (aesthetics).

These basic principles, together with the state of our current knowledge of technology, ergonomics, sociology, ecology, psychology, and philosophy, and influenced by the three different dimensions, are the new functional Gestaltung.

These areas then feed into an interdisciplinary approach to the design process, whether it’s design thinking, user experience, usability, or eco design. Collectively, these are implicit in the process of Gestaltung.

To make better design, we must think as Gestalters. We must consider what it means and what it takes in order to create good, long-lasting products. And by that, I mean considering more than the function of a thing, more than the aesthetics of a thing, and more than the profitability of a thing.

The times of thoughtless design, which can only flourish in times of thoughtless production for thoughtless consumption, are over. We cannot afford any more thoughtlessness.

Long live Gestaltung!

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