When students at the Köln International School of Design sent a glossy black cube to eight designers and academics to discuss its “design viability,” it gave people like Dieter Rams and Stefan Sagmeister a chance to project their own ideas about design onto it.
In the video above, Dieter Rams explains how the black cube illustrates his maxim that good design should be as little design as possible. “The reduction to the essential has never led to any catastrophes,” he says. Likewise, the architect and designer Massimo Iosa Ghini calls it the “essence of simplicity,” pointing the way to the first function of design, that is, that you have to use it.
Other viewpoints, though, get equal time. Graphic designer Ruedi Baur approaches the cube from the user’s point of view, arguing that he loves the black cube because it’s the person who owns it that determines its function, as a participatory inventor. Stefan Sagmeister is more skeptical, given his more ornamental and organic approach, but says it’s “so extreme, I almost come around to it from the other side.”
Design critic Steven Heller parodies some of the more overwrought explanations, saying that cube is the first thing he’s been able to put his faith in since The Beatles broke up. The architect Marco Piva finds the symbolic elements most interesting. Along similar lines, the critic Michael Erlhoff grants the cube a mythological importance. But, as an aside, he also offers a revealing clue when he relates it to designer’s preference for black. “I don’t tell you anything about me but at the same moment I tell you everything about me.”