Review: Gary Hustwit’s Dieter Rams Documentary Criticizes Consumerism

On a latest weeknight at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, the celebrated German designer Dieter Rams ambled as much as a podium in his uniform of a black shirt, thinning silver bowl minimize, and cane. He was there to introduce a film, of which he’s begrudgingly however indisputably the star.

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“The movie has my identify, nevertheless it’s much less about me, and extra about my chief issues,” the 86-year-old stated with attribute self-effacing allure.

Rams, who is known for his clean-lined designs for residence items corporations like Braun and Vitsoe, has many issues—the state of the world, the state of design, the best way our urge for food for shiny, new issues is main us down a gluttonous path of destruction—and he voices all of them within the new documentary Rams.

The movie is the most recent from Gary Hustwit, who serves because the design world’s de-facto documentarian having made the lauded Urbanized, Objectified, and Helvetica. Unlike Hustwit’s different movies, which focus on ideas, theories, and concepts, Rams could be very a lot a portrait of an individual, regardless of its topic’s protestations.

Filmed over the course of practically three years, the movie follows the notoriously guarded Rams greater than 20 years after his tenure as Braun’s head of design ended. We observe him, getting older however energized, padding round his austere residence, which is stuffed with many objects of his personal creation. We see him sweetly work together along with his spouse, who refused to be interviewed for the movie to take care of her privateness. We watch him dance—sun shades on!—with abandon (or as a lot as he’s able to) to jazz in his residence workplace.

The documentary is intimate and private. It reveals a playful facet of the designer that most individuals by no means see, and that many assume doesn’t exist given his famously sober aesthetic. But Rams goes past mere character examine; it’s additionally a movie with an agenda. “I framed it for him as a solution to get his concepts about sustainability and consumerism and design on the market for the following era,” Hustwit says in regards to the strategy of getting Rams to comply with the documentary. “I feel that’s Dieter’s largest remorse, or what he’s most pissed off by—that he hasn’t been capable of do sufficient to get that message out.”

Rams’ message might be finest summarized by his now well-known catchphrase: “Less, however higher.” Rams has all the time designed with a watch in the direction of minimalism, however within the 1970s he started to explicitly rail in opposition to “inconsiderate consumerism”— an concept that on reflection appears wholesome in comparison with right now’s panorama of one-click orders and Dash buttons. There’s a stress to that sentiment, after all. Rams’ job was ostensibly to design merchandise that may promote and make the businesses cash, however he aimed to design them in such a means that permit more room for “actual life,” as he describes it. In Rams view, shopping for one thing ought to all the time be a selection, not a compulsion.

Understanding Rams’ dedication to utilitarianism requires touring again in time to the 1950s, when he first began designing. Post-World-War-II Germany was a time of rebuilding. People had misplaced practically all the pieces through the battle, and on the time Rams joined Braun’s design division in 1955, there was a real want for stuff—stuff to fill a kitchen and residential; fundamental stuff to get life again on observe.

Rams designed objects with an architect’s mentality. He believed objects ought to respect the house they existed inside, and oftentimes that meant letting them fade into the background. The merchandise he created—cabinets, juicers, radios, chairs—abided by his ten rules for good design, a set of tips that features dictums like “good design is trustworthy” and “good design is as little design as attainable.” If a speaker had a fuzzy masking, he’d strip it naked for a extra “pure” sound. If a juicer had one operate, it solely wanted one button: on or off.

It’s a principled stance that’s not simply unimaginable within the time of perennially upgradeable devices and constant push notifications—it additionally really feel unsustainable given what we crave and what the market rewards. Rams’ beliefs could be seen trickling to the floor in digital merchandise like Google’s suite of well-being options and apps like Flipd that purpose to assist folks handle their display time, however these are merely scratching the floor. After years of extra, Silicon Valley is lastly trying to reckon with its questionable choices with half-hearted moral interface tweaks that make folks extra aware of simply how addicted they’re to their units. Even Apple, usually considered the closest descendant of Rams’ design philosophy, can’t cover behind its clear aesthetics given it holds a number of occasions yearly for the only objective of getting folks to purchase extra stuff.

There’s a second in Hustwit’s movie the place Rams is strolling down the road in London and he wanders into an Apple retailer. People buzz round him, in a flurry of pleasure whereas he stoically pokes at an iPhone. The scene is, by design, a wonderfully crafted commentary on fashionable life and our incapability to cease the spiral of extra merchandise, extra apps, extra time wasted. Leaving the shop, Rams displays on the best way humanity has modified since he started designing, and what’s in danger after we interact in unbridled abundance. “There’s no future with so many redundant issues.” he says. “Less however higher is not only a design idea—it’s additionally about our conduct.”

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