The subject that I'd like to discuss with you is: Braun – the face of a company.
So I'm in the uncomfortable situation of having to talk about a face.You know how difficult that is. Especially for me, because I am not completely innocent of what is called the face of the Braun company. I didn't choose the subject myself. One day it simply appeared on the program you and I had received. It is the title of an exhibition that has been shown in museums in Germany and abroad and is currently touring seven universities in America. The focus of this exhibition is inevitably on the things that most clearly determine the face of a company: the products themselves and the statements about them, such as advertising material and printed matter from the special point of view of their design.
That is why it is virtually impossible not to talk the most about it today. Unfortunately we could not build this exhibition here. I think it was so convincing because all types of equipment stood side by side and demonstrated that, despite their diversity, they belonged to one family and that there was a very specific entrepreneurial attitude behind their consistent formal appearance.
Allow me not to describe this face to you itself, but to show you the underlying circumstances that led to it, telling you about the motivations and considerations and about the methods and means which we have used.
It has been almost 15 years since Braun has begun to give their devices a new face. The starting point was a product range divided into four groups: radio and phono units, kitchen appliances, electric shavers, and electronic flash units.
These devices were not bad in their performance and quality. Some of them were the first of their kind on the market. Only – their face did not differ in anything from that of the usual competition – it was a dozen face. Partly it was boringly decent but coarse, partly – like that of the radio units – it was spruced up and speculatively dishonest. In short – it was a face that we did not like. Why?
We realized that the outside of the devices did not match their inside. We made technical devices for household use and hobby that primarily had to fulfill a function and that only get a real meaning when put into direct functional relation to the human being and his environment. We thought of this human being as a likeable person – a little bit like we wanted to be ourselves: open to a modern future world, intelligent and natural with a feeling for authenticity and quality. Human beings whose home did not reflect a stage decoration for unrealizable dream roles and prestige dreams, but whose home was simple, tasteful, practical, and even cozy. A home where the objects did not govern the human being but provided for enough freedom for developing their own personal lives. This is how we wanted to create our devices: Devices, not made for display windows to put themselves in the limelight with speculative obtrusiveness, but devices that inconspicuously blend into good modern homes, in short: devices you can live with even for a longer period of time without getting tired of them. Erwin Braun once put it like this: Our electric devices ought to be inconspicuous, quiet helpers and servants. They should actually disappear - just like good servants used to do. You did not notice them. The radio units least complied with these requirements.
This is why we started with them – back at square one so to speak. Because there were no patterns and standards how well-designed radio units could look like. They all looked the same. More than other technical household appliances, the radio had lost its actual function-bound character; it had become a piece of sound furniture in which the representative prestige value was often more important than good and true sound. In a way it was inevitable that a softened plush sound corresponded to the bloated exterior of the devices. We wanted to change both: a clear, natural sound - a corresponding appearance.
In less than a year, the entire radio range, from small portable radios to radiograms and television receivers, had a new face – a face that we liked better, and that, as we found, was more suited to us. When, in 1955, it was presented in the appropriate setting, it had a sensational effect. Especially among opinion leaders and the press. It was certainly the first time that articles about radios and their design appeared the feuilleton.
Of course this effect was not always positive. There were enough worry-plagued and uncomprehending faces and warning voices. Not only from dealers but also from within the own company. I remember: an old experienced dealer put his hand on Erwin Braun's shoulder with a heavy heart and said with the appropriate seriousness in his voice: "Young man, what you are doing here is your ruin". And there were colleagues who did not look at me very friendly, because they thought I was some kind of gravedigger. But there was recognition and enthusiasm from the people whose judgment we valued most. They were people from all walks of life, especially the young and open-minded. Probably the most recognition we got was from architects. They were the ones who had to hide the obtrusive golden chests behind curtains and bars in their own and other people's homes, not to be confronted with more than their acoustics. They were of great help to us in the difficult task of getting our devices into the shops at all. They created the demand showing the dealers that there actually was real interest. You surely remember how strange, abandoned and somewhat miserable they first stood among the ostentatious oversupply. Only after real demand had developed, they were given the space that brought out their special character; and I think it was no coincidence that it was precisely the good and qualified shops that used to rather ignore Braun radios and that now stood up for them. After the radios, we went on to redesign all the other devices. Not only their appearance but also their technology.
With the radio units we had been approaching things from the outside. They were primarily single units. Their technology was more or less mediocre – it was neither better nor worse than that of the competition. It was a technology for the mass market whose price actually corresponded to its performance.
Around this technology we built a new form – a form that was completely different from the mass market and addressed higher expectations. Higher expectations also in terms of technical performance, whereby our customers often forgot that these higher expectations were not justified by the price they had paid. They expected a device for which they had paid 400.- marks to deliver a performance only a 600.- marks device is able to deliver. However, we thought these demands were legitimate even though they troubled us. They reflected our own thinking. We also knew that in the long run we could not succeed with form alone if the technical quality did not at the same time reach a level that met the demands of the form. If we had initially created a new form around existing technology, we tried to achieve a uniform design of technology and form now and in the future – a design in which a high functional performance was both the starting point and the goal.
Let me share some thoughts on the function in this context. "Function", "functional", "function-conscious", "functionalistic", all words with which mental equilibristic is often practiced today – mostly with the tenor: All of this is outdated, we need something new. We? No – which is worse – humanity. On the one hand there is functionalism, on the other hand there is emotionalism, cheerfully fighting each other with buzzwords. I think both are equally stupid – like any ism. One should differentiate. As far as we are concerned: we make technical devices that have to fulfill functions for human beings or even in direct connection with them.
Despite all my efforts, I cannot imagine that any device may be developed where the function is not the starting point and also the goal for its constructive and thus its formal design. This has been the case for thousands of years, and I can see no reason why it should be any different in the future. We actually strive to work functionally, and as a consequence we are function-conscious. We do not try to cover or conceal the function by formal means, but are proud when we succeed in making it visible in an unobtrusive, natural, harmonious form (which we achieve in entirety unfortunately only if we are lucky). And "functionalistic"? I do not see any danger. At least not in terms of the devices we manufacture. I do not know any "functionalistic" radios, projectors, flash units, and shavers; nor do I know any "functionalistic" kitchen machines. On the contrary. It would often be desirable for them to be constructed and designed in a more function-conscious, for all I care even "functionalistic" way. A lot of housewives can testify to that.
The development, which was expressed in the appearance of our devices, demanded consistency if it was to lead to success – we clearly knew that. And it also suited us well – because it relieved us of the decision to falter if the situation on the market put us in this danger. I tried to explain that this development was strongly determined by personal impetus. It had a sociological and cultural aspect beyond pure profit. And I think that it is decisive that this impetus were given by the top management, by the owners Erwin and Artur Braun. That they wanted to develop devices which they themselves wanted to live with, which they believed in. That they were therefore determined to defend and consistently follow the path they had decided to take. They found enough close colleagues who shared this same inner conviction.
And exactly this conviction and consistency was perhaps the most important prerequisite for success. Because you can tell by looking at a device, and in the long run the consumer will also feel it, whether its appearance is purely speculative or the result of an inner attitude.
These personal motives were of course accompanied by very real corporate considerations. Considerations of a very complex manner that did not only include the devices' design, but for which the design can merely represent the visible expression of a certain way of thinking. They affected development and production just like sales and advertising – and not least internal issues such as even the employees' health.
I do not want to explain in detail at this point all the considerations that were more and more concentrated to form an overall corporate concept. I only want to state that it was a long-term concept. It was less focused on making one single product as successful as possible in a time period as short as possible, but it rather aimed at winning trust through systematic work and through increasing quality, which we believed would pay off in the long run.
The prerequisite for this was an ever-closer interaction of all those involved – an interaction of marketing, technical development and design – right from the start: from the idea and concept of a product, through development, to its final formal design and its presentation to the public. It was also a prerequisite that the design departments, both product and advertising design, not only worked together in direct living contact with all other participants, but also lived with them in the same building, that it was a common cause.
Only in this way was it possible to give a character and thus a face to the complex and diverse programs, which on the one hand were rather selection-driven (like our studio equipment or our cameras), or which on the other hand were rather consumer goods influenced by the mass market (like our electric shavers or kitchen appliances), a face that showed that they came from one family despite their diversity. It was important to us that our customers got the impression that it was a good family, a family with a strong character – a special family. Our products, their technical quality and the quality of their design were one side of the coin in achieving this. The other side was the statement about these products. It was clear to us that its character had to correspond to the character of the products in order to bring it to full effect.
We created an organizing principle that enabled us to achieve the uniform character image also in information and advertising that our devices communicated in their formal design by developing a standard system that helped us not only to work more economically but also to achieve a uniform, mutually condensing effect of all communicative means of expression.
We were aware that all these systems could only be aids, that they could only provide the framework that had to be filled with life. Because advertising eventually is about the effect. And the right effect for us was: lively, convincing information about our products. Remember, we thought the people we had in mind when we started to redesign our products were likeable. And today we still think they are likeable. That is why we do not want to persuade them, but win them over by convincing them with credible information. And we thought of them as intelligent. That is why we cannot believe that they have completely lost their ability to discriminate in the concentrated drumfire of advertising – whether they belong to a simpler or, so to speak, a higher social class. There are people who pretend to know for sure, who think it is necessary to put on different faces and speak different languages. We do not know. We only know that there is something wrong with people who pretend to know for sure – simply because nobody can know for sure. But we have made the experience that in the long run it is worthwhile to have a character and therefore a face – also – and perhaps especially – for the so-called common man.
So much about the background, the intentions and methods of our work. But let me – so as not to become too abstract – add a few more visual points of view. Let me use a small example to demonstrate what we think about when we go to work and why we finally do it how we do it.
There are two questions that we keep on asking ourselves in our work. One is: Why (actually)? The other: What happens if? What happens, for example, if, like on these two letterheads, one character is large and the other is smaller? Or what happens, for example, if the character on the Sixtant is larger or smaller? What is more likeable, what is a sign of higher precision and what is a sign of more trust? Perhaps the large Braun is more prominent, but certainly also more obtrusive and disharmonious.
Doesn't it become uncomfortably independent (one actually knows that they bought a Braun)? Doesn't it even trigger counter-reactions in the buyers – unconsciously deep inside, without them noticing it immediately? Sure, many may not even notice it. But should you do it anyway, just to reassure yourself? Shouldn't you think about the fact that the device is made for the people who bought it to use it every day, and that it is perhaps an insult for them to be confronted with complacent advertising every day? These are all questions that arise when you ask yourself what happens if. Perhaps you have come to think that this is all too much about being human. So let me conclude on a subject which is more real and which can be condensed in the very brutal question: Can you make money with all of that? This is also a crucial and pressing question for us. It is triggered by the problem that accompanies the birth of a device in many minds, causes quite some frowning and also affects its appearance. It expresses itself in the questions: Will the device be accepted on the market, will it be able to successfully survive within the competition, is its form right, is it effective?
Justified and necessary questions from an entrepreneurial point of view, which are all the more pressing the fiercer the competition and the more consumption-oriented the device is. When Max Braun his first model during the war, this problem did not yet exist. And when the first Braun shaver, the S 50, was launched in 1950, there were still no sales problems. The market was new and unsaturated. There were no form problems yet either. We did it as well as we knew it (and we still knew little). The shear blade principle we used proved to be an advanced and fortunate technical solution; it was functional and capable of development.
The next device, the Braun 300 de Luxe, became bigger and more powerful. On the outside it cannot deny self-satisfied and somewhat thickly applied pride, which only seemed justified retrospectively because the device achieved a top position on the market. With the Braun Combi, no fundamentally new form was possible yet. The head, now made of metal, was redesigned, because a new part was added (a shearing comb, which extended the function of the device considerably) – the somewhat inflated body form had to remain. Merely by a kind of face operation we tried to make it calmer and simpler. Only a completely new technical design, the Braun SM 3, enabled a farther reaching new exterior design. They were determined by the following considerations: An electric shaver is, according to its character, a hygienic device; a tool that has to fulfil a function directly on humans and comes into direct contact with them in two ways: It must be pleasant, safe and yet movable in the hand, and it must adapt to the different shapes of the face (a requirement that was taken into account from the very beginning with Braun shavers). We tried to realize these demands in a harmonious and closed form. There were no speculative views on the market impact. They did not enter the discussion until later.
The market had changed over time. It was saturated and therefore became accordingly difficult. Some competitors not only worked with quantitatively superior advertising, they also tried to achieve prestige by richly bedizened devices. And they were successful. Did the simple form of the SM 3 in contrast not appear poor and actually endanger its market position? It did. Remington went through the roof and we declined accordingly. But why?
Was it the form?
In such situations it is all too human and obvious to look for motifs in what is at first accessible and tangible, the exterior of a device.
And it is all too easy to forget that in most cases a whole series of factors combine that are certainly more important than the form. Couldn't it be about the more effective advertising of the competition? Or wasn't it perhaps the price? In our case, the price of the Braun device was significantly lower than that of the competition. Could it not be that precisely because of this the simplicity of its form was not perceived as a special value but rather as cheaper? For the development of the Sixtant, increasing consideration was given to the sales effect of the form. The new device was more valuable from its function – it should now also represent a higher value in its appearance. There are different ways to achieve this. Should we follow the road of the successful competition? Wasn't that the safest thing to do?
Shouldn't we give it an even more eye-catching, richer-looking form and function than those? We did it our way. We kept the basic form, because we thought it was good and right in terms of function, and tried to achieve the increase in value through a higher material value. The plastic housing of the Sixtant got, as you know, a dark dash-dot matted surface; the metal head was also polished dash-dot matt. That was all.
I believe that if we had tried to get a recipe for certain success from a market research institute back then – then the Sixtant would certainly have looked very different. And I am convinced, definitely not black. You know about its success. For me it is proof that one should be cautious with blanket assessments of the external form's effects on the sales success also of mass consumer goods.
What was the reason for its success? The form? I am very tempted to affirm this question. But wasn't it rather because the Sixtant had to offer a very special performance? And was it perhaps also because of the price, which was now above that of the competition? It would have certainly succeeded if it had looked different. But that way its special form was linked to its sales success, it was noticed, even by people who were otherwise immune to formal matters and therefore more easily fall victim to speculative seductions. The form was thus also by them perceived as something special. Not only by them, also by the competition.
The fact that more and more black electric shavers were entering the market was certainly not so much out of aesthetic appreciation, but because people regarded their appearance as a decisive factor for sales success. If the Sixtant had been inadequate in its technical function and thus a failure, what would have happened? Would one not have looked for the blame for it in its unusual appearance first, which stood out from the normal taste of the market? And would the actual causes not have receded into the background? And would there perhaps not be less black electric shavers on the market (I assume even none)? I think one should not overestimate the form's effect on the sales success of technical devices. Design cannot replace technical performance. If a device is technically and functionally poor, neither a good nor a bad form, therefore not even an eccentric speculative one, can help it to live a longer successful life. The more advanced the technical performance and the higher the functional value of a device, the more likely it is that you will be able to afford a good form – even with a wide-spread consumer product.
With all of this in mind, one should also not forget the psychological effects of the effort for good, consistent product design – both internally and externally. With the increasing demands we have made on the form of our devices over the years, a higher awareness for technical quality has developed naturally along with it.
When looking at short-term success, one should not ignore its long-term confidence-building effect. And although one cannot put it in numbers directly, I am convinced that it can be part of a company's important capital.
Eichler, F.:The Face of a Company Lecture at Wholesale Conference 23.06.1969 : In: Eichler, F.: "Gesagt" von Dr. Fritz Eichler 1963…1972, Kronberg 1973, 18-22 und bewahrt im Archiv von Artur Braun, Königstein/Ts., Ordner: Braun Personen