Anyone who thinks that minimalist or clean product design begins and ends with Jonathan Ive would be well served to check out the latest exhibit on Dieter Rams. Unfortunately, the exhibit in question was already held at the Suntory Museum in Osaka, Japan ... but the contents of the retrospective have also been catalogued in a book, Less and More available in limited numbers through the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. Rather than working for Braun, Rams was Braun, since of the 1,272 products designed during his stay, "Rams, or teams in which Rams was a member, designed 514 of them." During that time, they crafted the design language for everything from stereo amplifiers to electric shavers, and much of that language remains applicable today.
While the book's title Less and More nearly demands to be mistyped as Less is More, Rams himself explained his design approach as "Weniger, aber besser," which translates roughly to "Less, but Better," but the book remains indicative of its title. Consisting of nearly 800 pages (more), it has a nearly flimsy cover (less), that comes in a box (more) wrapped in a plastic wrapper (much more). The book itself demanded to be treated delicately and the process of reading it felt more reverent than functional. That, however, is our only complaint. The interior of the book alternates between thick pages with juicy product shots and dense essays written in Japanese and English on diaphanous paper. The essays do a nice job of describing the circumstances by which the young Rams wound up working at Braun a scant two years before Braun's products made a splash at the 11th Milan Triennial and wound up the MoMA's permanent collection shortly thereafter, but as befits any designer, the pictures of his products tell the story just as clearly.
His L01 speaker, designed in 1959 looks arguably better than the Bose acoustimass speakers that began cropping up in the 1990s. Likewise, his SK4 record player literally is what anyone sees in their mind when they imagine a record spinning. Even though it was given the epithet of "Snow White's Coffin" when it was released in 1956, its white lines and radiuses, along with its raised circular turntable and plexiglass lid, are all owed debts by everything from the iPod to, well, the iMac. While successive turntables refined the language to even more pleasing forms, high end audio continued to take inspiration from Rams and Braun. His Regie 550 receiver/amplifier broke trend with its black and anthracite face inspired and shaped high-fi sets throughout the 80s. Likewise, wall mounted systems didn't start with B&O, but with Braun's T Series decades ago. When we think of speakers today, we think of over-under tweeter/woofer speakers with mesh covering the resonating elements ... but it's Rams again, with the L40 in 1961.
The list could continue, for almost any picture in the 300 or so color plates in the book. While his audio designs were among the most memorable for those of us in North America, his work for products of the home was just as profound. His work was a litany of what was cool not only in the four decades during which he worked at Braun, but in at least two decades after. Even now, our new design stars can't outrun his shadow. Perhaps the Osaka show will eventually travel to the States, but if it doesn't, this book does a pretty good job of covering it. Then again, many of his products are still in production, and that might just provide the most direct way of experiencing his legacy yourself.
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