This German electrical and audio‐visual equipment manufacturer has for more than half a century been associated with high‐quality designs, many of which have featured prominently in museum collections and design competitions around the world. Its origins lay in the radio accessory manufacturing company founded in 1921 by Max Braun near Frankfurt. However, it was not until after the end of the Second World War that the company expanded its product range to include the domestic appliances upon which its international reputation soon began to emerge. Following the death of Max Braun in 1951 his sons Artur and Erwin took over the management of the company, diversifying into electric razors and audio equipment, including the Kombi radiogram by Wilhelm Wagenfeld. However, the establishment of the Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG) at Ulm in 1953 had a profound influence on the design of Braun products, cemented by the appointment of Dr Fritz Eicher, a lecturer from the HfG, as head of Braun's design department in 1956. This Ulm‐Braun axis had commenced in 1954 with the involvement of Eicher and fellow HfG lecturers Hans Gugelot and Otl Aicher. This was invigorated further through the employment of two graduates of the Wiesbaden Academy of Applied Art, Dieter Rams (who joined in 1955, becoming Braun's design director in 1960) and Gerd Alfred Müller. Epitomizing the functional aesthetic that was to become the hallmark of Braun products over succeeding decades was the elegant restraint of the ascetic Phonosuper SK4 radiogram of 1956, designed by Rams and Gugelot. This ‘look’ was further consolidated in Müller's design of the KM31 Kitchen Machine of 1957 with its clean sculptural forms punctuated by minimalist graphics. Such a visual presence was at the root of its corporate and brand identity. Braun products were increasingly widely exposed in the latter part of the 1950s, receiving favourable attention for their display (designed by Gugelot) at the Milan Triennale of 1957. They also featured at the Frankfurt Radio and Television Exposition and the Berlin International Building Exhibition where Braun products were displayed in the majority of show houses. The clean Modernist appearance of Braun products was closely identified with the international ‘Good Design’ ethos of the 1950s and 1960s and was in complete contrast to the extravagant styling of many ephemeral products, an iconic potential that was confirmed by the New York Museum of Modern Art's exhibition of Braun products in 1964 (a number of which had featured in MOMA's permanent collection since 1958. However, the company's absolute and exacting commitment to quality design did not equate with commercial success and the company was taken over by Gillette in 1967. This facilitated greater international market penetration and product diversity across a number of fields, from hairdryers to coffee machines and calculators to electric toothbrushes. Nonetheless the functionalist appearance remained an essential ingredient of the Braun agenda. By the 1990s, with the consumer appetite for originality and wit in everyday products undiminished by the economic recession of the 1980s, many Braun products took on a more colourful, less restrained appearance in order to remain competitive in the highly competitive market place for domestic goods.
Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.