Braun celebrates 90 years in the business of designing and making some of the most influential products of the past century. Braun’s legacy is an influence that reaches across design disciplines and continues to inspire as it has for decades.
One cannot mention Braun without talking about Dieter Rams. A legend in his own right, he was the cornerstone of Braun design during his tenure with the company from 1956-1994. But Rams was not the only talented designer in Braun’s history. Others such as Hans Gugelot, Fritz Eichler, Gerd Muller, Reinhold Weiss, and Dietrich Lubs helped to make Braun a household name with hundreds of well-designed home and personal care appliances.
In honor of Braun’s birthday, we’ve dug up a few of our favorites and collected them here for some fresh inspiration. Good design is timeless, and although many of these products are technically and functionally obsolete, the design and construction holds valuable lessons for designers of today’s products.
SK1-SK2 Desktop Radio
It would be remiss to talk of Braun history without mentioning a small and simple desktop radio that started an entirely new trend in radio design. Designed by Arthur Braun and Fritz Eichler in 1955, its design is an exercise in restraint, stripped of all unnecessary features and adornments. So completely different than anything else in its category, it would lay the groundwork for Braun’s future success in the audio market.
T1000 Multiband Reciever
In 1963, Braun used the T1000 shortwave receiver to create an entirely new product class. It was the first radio of its kind with the capability of tuning on 13 separate wavebands, yet retained a compatibility with the best hi-fi systems of the day with its high quality audio. With the cover closed, it has a sleek and elegant appearance. Braun’s systematic approach to a complex set of controls made operation of the unit simpler and more intuitive. Even the German embassy used these radios due to their unmatched performance.
Exporter 2 Portable Radio
The Exporter was an early contribution to Braun from the German Ulm Academy of Design. As with many Braun products, all extraneous controls and ornamentation is missing. The result is a simple and intuitive product that leaves no doubt how to use it. The actual designers of the small transistor radio are not known, but the design is timeless.
A series of turntables produced from 1956-1966 are among Braun’s most recognizable products to date. A combination radio and phonograph, the SK machines are just as beautiful today as they were 50 years ago. The SK6, shown below, acquired the nickname “Snow White’s Coffin”, due to its unusual plexiglass cover. The rectilinear form had an almost architectural appearance to it, quickly making it a perfect complement to modern interior decor of the time.
KF20 Coffee Machine
The KF20 was another product whereby Braun redefined a category by introducing something completely new. Brewed coffee was nothing new in 1972, but the vertical arrangement of the elements by designer Florian Seiffert was something new. A number of technical hurdles presented themselves in the process of developing the KF20, such as the glass carafe and the tubular steel support. It is not surprising, however, that this general architecture became the statue quo and is still in use today.
One of Braun’s iconic kitchen appliances, the KM3 mixer elevated a product as simple and pedestrian as a mixer to become an icon of industrial design. Designer Gerd Alfred Muller brought the same rational minimalism of other Braun products to the humble kitchen mixer. The KM3 made its competition appear ungainly and complex. Introduced in 1957, it was manufactured for well over three decades, making it one of the longest-running products of the last 50 years.
Like other product categories, Braun revolutionized the pocket calculator with a friendly and approachable interface. Convex buttons that are both colored and arranged by function brought an ease of use to a very technical product. The pocket calculator became less of a scientific tool, and more of an everyday item. Designed primarily by Deiter Rams and Dietrich Lubs, the ET 66 from 1987 is shown below.
S60 Electric Razor
Braun began making razors in 1955, and still do so today. It remains one of Braun’s strongest and most successful business units. Despite the fact that shaving has changed very little over the years, Braun has offered hundreds of designs and variations such as this example from 1958 the S60.
At first glance, the TP1 looks like another transistor radio, and could easily be lumped in with products of similar shape and appearance. It is actually both radio and a portable phonograph, made possible by the availability of transistors. This product took the mechanics of a record player and stripped away all unnecessary features from the most basic function: a speaker, as stylus, and a spinning record. Ahead of its time in 1959, Dieter Rams is said to have designed it for personal reasons- he was learning English, and wanted to listen to recorded lessons while on the road.
Braun could make the simplest of appliances into museum-worthy works of art. The HL1 was a simple squirrel cage fan, and its beauty comes from its simple expression of functional form. In fact, one of Braun’s most visible product placements came in 1963, when an HL1 fan was seen on the podium next to US president John F. Kennedy during an historic speech in Frankfurt.
There are hundreds of beautiful products in Braun’s long history. It is worthwhile to study them and discover a rich history of good design. Here’s a video about Dieter Rams to get you started: