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. - Dieter Rams

In a collection of Ten Principles of Good Design, Dieter Rams explains that good design is innovative, but "cannot be an end in itself".

He goes on to explain that nicely through another of his ten principles:

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.

Now, I like Dieter Rams. These principles to me, are like dogma. Except for this one part.

I feel like there might be situations where good design isn't "honest". Good design is design that serves the purpose of the client, in all cases, right?

Is this statement about design inaccurate? Can design be an end in itself?

After all, if a beautiful design on a really bad product sells a few million units, that's an "end" isn't it? The market value of the product can be based on the design itself, which means the design is effective and acts as an "end in itself".

  • 3
    Note that Dieter was an industrial designer and was talking more about product design than graphic design.
    – DA01
    Commented May 20, 2014 at 4:34
  • Also Innovation is sometimes defined as "Innovation is the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, in-articulated needs, or existing market needs"(wikipedia)[en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Innovation]. So the whole word innovation is so weirdly defined that you almost certainly need other things to succeed.
    – joojaa
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 10:21
  • 1
    I think Deiter Rams here is actually saying design innovation shouldn't be an end in itself: that innovation in design should have actual identifiable benefits linked to the tech or product or content or purpose the design is for, not just innovation for innovation's sake or novelty value. Commented May 21, 2014 at 11:51
  • @DA01 You're right; my mind went to the graphic design representing products, such as movie and book covers. I was thinking of it as "a great design on the cover of a bad movie (or any product's casing) cant make a movie more valuable." To the company selling it, it would make the product more valuable. However, again, you're right, I should be using the quote in a different context. Commented May 21, 2014 at 17:36
  • Those 10 design principles can be used in graphic design in many cases though. Commented May 21, 2014 at 17:37

1 Answer 1


Can design be an end in itself?

I think this question is mostly philosophical and likely isn't a fit for the site, but it's a fun question. My answer is that, no, it can't be. For if it is the end unto itself, then it's not design. If the end product isn't adding value above and beyond aesthetics, I call that art.

That said, we're debating terms and the terms 'design' and 'art' aren't cast in stone.

Is a graphic print for wallpaper (essentially 'design as an end to itself') design or art (or decoration or craft or...)? Does it matter?

  • +1. then there are the terms style and styling, and decoration; neither being art. I think "design" is often used without differentiating from these terms, and I think that is a mistake.
    – benteh
    Commented May 20, 2014 at 17:04
  • Good point. I used the principles in a shaky context. Commented May 21, 2014 at 17:39

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