Last weekend, I watched the Dieter Rams documentary. It’s an incredible film, full of moments that make you pause. But Rams said one thing that really stood out: “Design only works when it really seeks to achieve something for humanity.”
This struck a chord with me because I believe that startup ideas work best when they seek to achieve something for humanity. It’s the underlying thesis for Spero Ventures.
This goes beyond product and to the gestalt of the startup itself. As a founder, Dieter Rams’ principles are relevant to designing both your product and your company.
Here are some of the ways Dieter Rams’ principles apply to building companies and not just products.
Good design is innovative
“The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.”
You already know that your product should be one that advances the world with your innovation instead of being yet another me-too product in a crowded space.
The same should be true of your company. While a great product will attract great talent, a company that is innovative, that pushes the boundaries of how work and collaboration happen, that experiments with how culture evolves and permeates, is also important.
To attract the very best, your company—how you build and run it—should move us toward the world that you want to live in.
Good design is honest
“It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.”
Your product keeps its promises to your customer. It’s equally important to have that honesty as a company.
The only thing you have is your reputation, with your customers, your employees, your collaborators, and your board. Hold yourself to the highest standards. Do not do anything nefarious (like collecting data without their permission, misrepresenting facts etc.) Build the honest, exceptional company you want to see in the world.
Good design is long-lasting
“It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.”
Values stand the test of time.
Figure out your values and let them guide your company. What is it going to take to make your company last? Build your company around a core set of values that are everlasting.
Good design is thorough down to the last detail
“Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the user.”
Be particular. You know it will show in your product. It will also show in how you build your company.
The best founders are fanatical about their culture, who they hire, how they hold their meetings. When the founders take this approach, it permeates the whole company and everyone focuses on the details that will delight1.
Good design is environmentally friendly
“Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.”
Climate change will be the defining problem and opportunity of our age. Even if your product doesn’t directly affect climate change and sustainability, your company should. The decisions you make should be driven by a deep care for the only planet we have. It’s a responsibility that every person has, and every leader should embrace.
These principles are design principles, sure. They are also incredibly useful leadership principles that can help with company design. Startups that think through some of these will be better equipped to deliver great product, hire the best people, and create value over the long term.
They are also life principles.
Watching the documentary was incredible because these are not just the principles Rams uses to design products, but rather principles he has used to design his own life. He lives by these principles. The documentary allows you to see into his life, his house, his desk, his garden and how he uses his time.
The style of the documentary reflects the content beautifully. The way the documentary is shot (minimal, sometimes in extreme close up, always with a locked down camera), how it is edited, and presented is very much in keeping with Dieter Rams’ design principles. It’s beautiful, minimal and captivating.
It is inspiring to see his world. I highly recommend you watch the documentary.