Having grown up in a household with plenty of Braun items and being (or: thus having become?) a fan of no-nonsense design, I had to see the exhibition Less and More – The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams at the museum for applied arts in Frankfurt.
Unlike current designers who mostly seem to be about boasting their egos, Rams has this low-key and no-nonsense attitude (see Objectified for some interview snippets with him). There’s engineering, the are the needs and possibly desires of the user and there’s the designer who wants to make those things meet. If things go well, good designers can significantly improve people’s lives. Put negatively: a lack of design can make life quite unpleasant.
The exhibition showed loads of Rams-designed devices by Braun, ranging from the legendary Schneewittchensarg through many iterations of household and kitchen devices to stereos. They also showed some of the furniture he designed.
I wouldn’t say all of Rams’ designs are groundbreaking, some of them just seem like arbitrary consumer products. Nonetheless he helped found the idea of design-centric development with clear ideas about how the design can improve a gadget you buy. And done in a way that, apart from a strong design-sense, requires the designer to be both a technophile and able to do user-centric thinking. We may take such approaches as a given these days (given all the crap that sells by the ton, that statement may be going too far, though), but just half a century ago it was new.
A fun point of the exhibition was that they had a room where Braun stereos from four decades took turns playing the same music. They all sounded quite mediocre to me.
Special not-so-fun points by the exhibition makers were: The museum’s web site, which is one of the shittest non-accessible pieces of crap I’ve seen in a long time where Flash and barely readable text unite, a disgrace when advertising an exhibition by a design icon like Dieter Rams. They also showed what looked like a 10 year old film with people talking about Rams and some snippets with him. That film was a hell of Arial titles, Arial Condensed footnotes and victim of an incompetent setup that led to black bars on all four sides of the picture. Unworthy, particularly when the exhibition presents Braun’s sheets for their design guidelines next door.
Did they go into the political context at all? Thinking back, it seems like there’s a sense in which good, humanist design by capitalists is a refutation of Communism, since it’s saying that there’s a way to get a better society even with the profit motive and without a heavy hand of control from “well-meaning” planners at the top…
No, political context wasn’t really given. The closest was a tiny sidenote in the interview where the tension between the need to make money and creating good design was pointed out.
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