What can today’s designers learn from Braun?

Ben Wilson, industrial designer and director of communications at Braun, discusses what young designers are still getting wrong about Dieter Rams and why our obsession with aesthetics is holding good design back

Dieter Rams, and his work at Braun, are held in almost universal high regard in the design community and beyond. The electrical goods company, which dates back to the early 1920s, is often seen as the epitome of good design, with vintage products much sought after and selling for large sums. But according to Ben Wilson, industrial designer and director of communications at the company, many often ignore a critical part of Braun’s design philosophy – focusing so much on products’ appearance that they miss what has made them so successful in the first place.

“It’s more than just the products, it’s about the way the products are made – the thinking that’s gone into making them and the way they are to be experienced in the real world,” he explains to CR. “The Germans have a great word for it – ‘haltung’. There’s no English translation for it. It’s a word which I’ve been talking about for the last 10 years in the realm of English-speaking designers, because it epitomises what makes Braun design so unique. It’s a way of doing things. It’s an approach. It’s a set of steps that lead to a certain type of design.”

Braun’s haltung, as Wilson describes it, is based around three principles: useful, simple, and built to last. Products should answer a need consumers have, they should solve it in as accessible and straightforward a way as possible, and they should prioritise longevity. As Wilson says, “It’s quite a simple recipe to make good design.”

What they didn’t copy was the haltung. They didn’t copy the way of doing things, they copied the aesthetic

Even so, when Braun began to espouse this philosophy in the early 50s, major competitors raised their eyebrows at the “very clean, modernist objects which look like something from a spaceship” that were the result. But it didn’t take long for them to see that Braun was onto something. “Everyone started to realise that there was something going on – a bigger picture, leading to better objects and different objects that can be integrated into Modernist architecture and very future-looking design spaces,” explains Wilson.