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Better Buy Design - 606 Universal Shelving System

Where else would you put your copy of As Little Design As Possible?
Dieter Rams' 606 Universal Shelving System which has been in production since the 1960s
Dieter Rams' 606 Universal Shelving System which has been in production since the 1960s


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Vitsoe's 606 Universal Shelving System is today upheld as one of the most enduring and sustainable designs on the market. Which is pretty amazing because when we think of ‘eco design’, and ‘sustainability’, the general image that comes to mind is sadly (still) one of brown, of cardboard, and of recycled compromise. And although we’re finally moving on from that premise and environmental credentials today can be as high tech as they are sexy, it would appear that Dieter Rams, who designed 606, was way before his time.

The secret to true sustainability, as we are now discovering some 50 years on from 606’s launch is in longevity, durability, and flexibility – all of which can be achieved through careful thought and reductionist design. Rams is not an eco-warrior, and nor was Vitsoe (its manufacturer) a jolly green giant of a company back then (though it is now) – all both of them wanted to do was make the best shelving they could for the exciting and evolving lifestyles of the 1960s.

Dieter Rams at work in his studio in Kronberg near Frankfurt, GermanyDieter Rams at work in his studio in Kronberg near Frankfurt, Germany

A modular system that can be used as effectively for a single shelf or an entire library, it is adjustable and extendable (without the need for tools) and has the key advantage of being designed – aesthetically and practically – to last, no matter the changing need or fashion. Through meticulous design and a carefully considered service offering, obsolescence has effectively been built out. Its ability to evolve and improve with the passage of time – has demonstrated over the 50 years since its conception that this an investment as safe as houses. Safer, in fact, because you can take it with you when you move.

606 is a design classic by any standard: whether you use as a measure of that the fact that it has won numerous awards for design excellence, and is part of the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York (among others); or whether the criteria is more the fact that it reaches such soaring heights while entirely transcending fashion. It doesn’t change - it’s a guarantee that you’ll always be able to buy and sell the units as needed, and that they’ll fit, and given that we’ll never see a Star Wars-themed 606, it’s even more future proof than Lego.

Rams is one of the most influential living industrial designers today, with a devoted following that includes big contemporary names such as Apple’s Jonathan Ive as well as Naoto Fukasawa, Jasper Morrison and Industrial Facility. He designed the shelving system at the age of 28, when he was already some way into what would eventually be an oevre of some 500-strong electronic designs for Braun. Rams had also by this time devised ‘Ten Principles’ of good design - a rule book of reductive efficiency for industrial designers the world over. 606 shelving perhaps most brilliantly demonstrated their effectiveness, and together they have become a benchmark for sustainable thinking in the 21st century.

Dieter Rams: Ten principles of good design

1. Is innovative
2. Makes a product useful
3. Is aesthetic
4. Makes a product understandable
5. Is unobtrusive
6. Is honest
7. Is long-lasting
8. Is thorough down to the last detail
9. Is environmentally friendly
10. Is as little design as possible

The 606 Universal Shelving System is available to buy directly from Vitsoe in London, New York, Munich, Los Angeles and worldwide via vitsoe.com.

SFMOMA's current exhibition LESS AND MORE The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams (until February 20) includes more than 200 models and objects by Rams and his team, as well as contemporary designs influenced by his Ten Principles of Good Design.

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Vitsoe/ Dieter Rams