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Design legend Dieter Rams still finds time to mentor students

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Dieter Rams 2013 (fair use)
Dieter Rams 2013 (fair use)

Dieter Rams' distinct brand of functionalism has inspired creatives for decades, but that hasn't stopped the legendary Braun designer from giving even more back to the design community. Rams attended a grad show at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California last year, giving an hour-long talk on design in addition to taking the time to critique and discuss the graduates' work.

"It still brings a smile to my face."

Among the graduates presenting their work was Andrew Kim, a young Korean-Canadian designer who rose to fame in 2012 for a bold redesign of the Microsoft brand. In both a video released by Art Center and a blog post on his site, Kim describes the experience of meeting with Rams, who he describes as a "superhero." Rams was apparently impressed with a camera concept of Kim's, which uses a single dial to control all its settings. "[Rams] understood my intention of the singular dial. That’s all I needed," says Kim. "There’s nothing that can mean more than Rams telling me that he appreciated something I had designed. It still brings a smile to my face." Even before graduating, Kim was snapped up by Microsoft's Xbox team, where he now works on future products.

As well as offering critique and praise, Rams gave his opinions on the pitfalls of modern design. He notes that computers are capable of helping to produce perfection, but should not be allowed to influence the designs they help create. The designer famously doesn't use computers, preferring to work by hand. He also shared his thoughts on some of the more experimental designs at the show, apparently telling some designers to "make sure you spend your creativity doing something that's useful."

Rams wasn't at the show by coincidence. He toured Art Center prior to receiving an honorary degree from the college. As well as attending the grad shows for product and graphic design, he gave an hour long talk on design at the center. Rams' opinions are fascinating; he discusses how "design" as a word has been ruined by marketers and the fashion industry, and a more appropriate word is gestalt, the German for "form" or "shape." He also expands on his 2011 comments that Apple and its lead designer Jony Ive had achieved something he never did, praising the iteration of existing designs, rather than constantly coming up with new concepts, pointing to the iPhone as a good example.