The exhibition you can see here caused the man responsible for it at Braun, Dr. Malzan, a major headache. Not because he was lacking material but rather because he did not know what he should leave out without presenting an incomplete impression of what we do and – almost more important – of what we want.
As a matter of course, the individual products are in the focus. They are surely – in particular after Mr. Wend Fischer's honorable words – very proud and thankful that they have the chance to be here. Nevertheless, the manner they are presented does not seem quite appropriate. Because they were not built to take on the role of a sculpture or leave alone a mannequin, but to do something, to do work. This is the core of their actual quality. It is also the scale for assessing their beauty. This is why this exhibition was deemed to be incomplete. Some things could not be shown at all, others that would have been worth to show in more detail are only represented in a picture. Therefore, I have to call upon your imagination and I hope that you manage to envisage the face of our company from all the different individual features you can see here.
Please allow me to offer you some support by telling you about the motives and thoughts that resulted in what you can see here and about the methods and means we used on the way.
It has been twelve years now since Braun has begun to give its devices a new face.
Starting point was a product range divided into four groups: radio and phono units, kitchen appliances, electric shaver, and elektronic flash units. The face of these devices was no different from that of the usual competition – it was a nondescript face. Partly it was boringly decent but coarse, partly – like that of the radio units – it was spruced up and speculatively dishonest. It was a face that we did not like. Why? We realized that the outside of the devices did not match their interior. 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 relation to man and his environment.
We thought of these men as likeable persons – a little bit like we wanted to be ourselves: intelligent and natural with a feeling for authenticity and quality. Men whose home did not reflect a stage decoration for unrealizable great dreams, but whose home was simple, tasteful, practical, and even cozy. A home where the objects did not govern men 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. 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 standards what good radio design should look like. As our capacities were not sufficient, we looked for external help. We found friends at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm. In particular Hans Gugelot for the product design and Otl Aicher for the informative design. Not only did they create the first real standards that were decisive for our initial success, they also developed the methods with us that should determine our following work. Later, Herbert Hirche joined as another colleague.
It was a crazy time. In a little less than one year the entire radio range had a new face. A face we liked better and – when presented for the first time at the 1955 Electronic Exhibition in Düsseldorf – with a sensational effect. 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. An experienced dealer put his hand on Erwin Braun's shoulder and said full of sorrow: "Young man, what you are doing here is your ruin." And there were colleagues within the company that regarded myself as some sort of a gravedigger.
But there was approval and enthusiasm by those people whose judgment was most important to us and who now no longer had to hide their radios behind curtains and bars to be confronted only with their acoustics.
They were people from all social classes – in particular a considerable number of architects. They were of great help for us with the difficult task to ensure that our devices were even presented at shops at all; because they looked alien and slightly pathetic among the pompous competition and at the same time provocative and unmasking. Only after the demand had really picked up, they successfully claimed their position and I think that it is no coincidence that it was the well-established dealers of all who were not very interested in Braun devices in the beginning. After the radio units we set about redesigning all other devices – not only from the exterior but also the technology. It was a long way full of experiences that lead to what you can see in this exhibition today.
I tried to explain that this development was strongly determined by personal and human impetus. And I think that it is decisive that this impetus were given by the top management, by the owners, the brothers Erwin and Artur Braun. Both were very young when they had to take over the company's management in 1951 after their father had died. This was no easy task and both of them wanted to do a good job. But they said to themselves if we have to work hard – and managing such a company responsibly is hard work – we want at least produce something that we like, something we fully support.
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 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. Inevitably, this resulted in thinking in programs and complexions. When looking at all of our kitchen machines here you will notice that the individual devices – even if they have to fulfill very different functions – perfectly fit together like the different parts of a service.
This tendency towards complexion becomes even more apparent in our radio units. The radio units that were our starting point of giving a new face to the company primarily were 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 design – a design that opted out of the mass market altogether and this mere fact increased the demands; and also increased the demands as regards the technical performance whereat our customers often forgot that these increased demands were not justified by the price they had paid. However, we thought these demands were legitimate even though they troubled us; they reflected our own thinking.
I think it was a consistent and logic development that resulted in the complex and highquality music systems you can see here. These are devices that follow the modular design principle also with respect to the technology. They may be placed on top or next to each other; it was even taken care of that the design of the individual controls adds up to a uniform and consistent impression.
The attempt to achieve structured consistency, however, does not only become apparent in technical development – it also applies to advertising. You can see some advertising material in the exhibition: displays, brochures, user manuals, letter paper, and forms. They were created with the support of a standard system that Otl Aicher had developed for us at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm. You can also see it here. This standard system is by no means an ideology as it is sometimes interpreted. It is an aid – a means that enables a more efficient working process while still achieving a consistent, mutually concentrating effect of the individual means of expression.
For the graphic designer and advertiser it is an auxiliary structure he has to fill with life. This is for sure no easy task when trying to fulfill the difficult task to do the advertising. But I made the experience that being tied to a graphical structure never prevented a good man from presenting a spirited and effective message. On the contrary – it often prevented the poorer from covering up unimaginative ideas by graphic hocus-pocus.
The advertising message in text and image should correspond to those people we had focused on when getting to work with redesigning our devices. Do you remember – we thought of them as likeable persons and, thus, we did not want to persuade them but rather convince them by means of information. And we thought of them as intelligent persons. Thus, we cannot believe that they entirely lost their ability to differentiate even in the drumfire of general advertising.
Let me finally say some words about our devices and their design because they are not only the focus of this exhibition but also the focus of all our efforts. You will for sure be able to recognize a family likeness among the individual devices – even if they are entirely different devices such as an electric razor and a high-fidelity system. Is it coincidence or intentional style? In professional circles, the "Braun style" is talked about many a time. Does it really exist? Actually, I should know – but the only thing I know is that it was not our intention to lead the way in terms of style. We try to solve the tasks we are confronted with as good and as reasonable as possible and we are happy if the result is something that we like – which unfortunately is not always the case.
If the devices that are presented here show a familial relation, then the reason is surely not because they are backed by certain stylistic intentions, possibly even based on an ideology, but because they have been created by a group of people working to the same experiences and methods, by people who came together because they had similar attitudes and a similar taste. Of course there are people who have a different taste. They have every right to. They sometimes think that our devices are boring and square – although most of them are not square at all. They think that each shade of gray is joyless and miss the human touch. There would be much to say about that – in particular about the gray color.
I made the experience that people who often lack the human touch themselves demand exactly those things to show it that simply are not suitable for it. I can imagine an efficient kitchen machine, but I can by no stretch of my imagination imagine a happy kitchen machine with that particular human touch.
This is only important to us insofar: We do not only strive to design functional devices, but we also try to make them – in every last detail – as beautiful as possible. And I think that a little bit of joy is always part of beauty.
Maybe you can discover part of it in this exhibition that is to show the face of the Braun enterprise. We would be really pleased if you found some likeable features in this face.
This speech was given by Fritz Eichler on the occasion of the exhibition opening at Die Neue Sammlung in Munich at July 11, 1966.
In: Eichler, F.: »Gesagt!« by Dr. Fritz Eichler, Kronberg 1973, 18-22.
Source:Eichler, F.: The face of a Company. In: Jatzke-Wigand, H.; Klatt, J.: The Development of the Braun Design. In: Design+Design zero, Hamburg December 2011, 1. Auflage, 56-63