By Gerrit Terstiege.
There is obviously no shortage of extensive, voluminous and richly illustrated books about Dieter Rams and his work. Frankfurt-based design historian Klaus Klemp has now published an annotated catalogue raisonné in close collaboration with Rams. Surprisingly, there is much to discover in it!
Yet another book about the wonderful record players, projectors, table lighters and modular furniture by Dieter Rams? Naturally, it gives cause to ask if it is really necessary? After all, his works have been investigated and explored by countless renowned expert authors over recent decades, including Hans Wichmann, François Burkhardt, Uta Brandes, Jo Klatt, Günter Staeffler, Hartmut Jatzke-Wigand, Fritz Frenkler and Sophie Lovell.
Then just three years ago there came a large-format publication by Dutch designer and author Cees W. de Jong. This volume celebrated the beauty of the designs with generously dimensioned illustrations, some of them across double-page spreads. However, a number appeared almost too beautiful, and it was very clear that some touching up had taken place thanks to Photoshop – a 60-year-old timber, metal or plastic surface simply does not look the way it did on day one. The result was a feast for the eyes that left a feeling of ambivalence.
Objective documentation of Rams’ work
The recently published catalogue, on the other hand, has an almost humble air about it. It is not a typical coffee table book, nor does it feed a cult of personality. There is not a single portrait of Rams throughout the entire book; it is characterised by serving wholly as objective documentation of the objects, most of which have been rephotographed. It is safe to assume that this publication is exactly as Rams would have wanted it. In some ways, it could even potentially be seen as his final design.
Klemp, the author and a professor at HfG Offenbach, as well as an exhibition organiser at the Museum Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt for many years, has been on the board of the Dieter and Ingeborg Rams Foundation since 2009 and has published quite a lot about the designer in recent years. Accordingly, he is very close to the person and subject of this publication.
Design classics alongside unrealised designs
A book like this should ideally be written through intimate dialogue, and not from a distance. In doing so, it has avoided becoming a look from outside that makes comparisons and seeks aesthetic links to other disciplines. The focus rests entirely on the now 88-year-old’s oeuvre, which not only consists of the Braun designs and those for Vitsoe, but also includes products for FSB, Tecnolumen, Rosenthal and Expo 2000. Yes, it even portrays the elegant ladies’ handbag that Rams technically only designed for his wife and a few select friends in the 1960s, which was rereleased by Frankfurt-based label Tsatsas two years ago.
What makes this book surprising are the large number of amazing designs that for some reason were never produced. It is quite thrilling in this respect, showing for example that one of his masterpieces, the T1000 world band receiver, was once also envisaged as featuring a large cover. Even a theoretically delicate device such as an electronic voltmeter, that is, an oscilloscope, could be given a fine form with designer flair.
Another design, named outdoor 2000, from the year 1978, was meant to become Braun’s answer to the forthcoming boom boxes – but nothing became of that either. There were numerous innovative ideas and likely many months that went into the work developing this model. These study projects are now integrated into the book’s chronological sequence, presenting them for the first time in the formal and aesthetic contexts of each decade.
A virtue of the designer: persistence
Incidentally, the reader of the volume learns how persistence is one of the key virtues of design. At large companies there are numerous people who decide on the future of a design idea. It is often forgotten that even a designer like Rams, appreciated across the world today, was occasionally unable to decide a battle in his favour at Braun. It is just as important not to forget the excellent designers in his team, including Gerd A. Müller, Reinhold Weiss, Dietrich Lubs, Peter Hartwein, Roland Ullmann, Florian Seiffert and Robert Oberheim. Or Fritz Eichler, the crucial strategic mastermind at Braun. Or Hans Gugelot, the father of modular design. They all played a major part in Braun’s enabling of designs that left a lasting, international mark on the image of German design. It was a shared struggle, a shared search – requiring courage, team spirit and consistency.
In his foreword, Rams – also surprisingly – quotes philosopher Karl Popper: “Since we can never know anything for sure, it is simply not worth searching for certainty; but it is well worth searching for truth. We expand our knowledge on the basis of trial and error, and correcting errors.”
There is indeed no need to ask whether this catalogue raisonné is necessary. It is the reflection of a substantial oeuvre – and, as such, indispensable and enriching.
344 pages, approx. 300 illustrations
Portrait: Photo: Sabine Schirdewahn / © Dieter and Ingeborg Rams Foundation
Product images: Andreas Kugel
Image 1: T 3, 1958, pocket receiver (in leather case), Dieter Rams, HfG Ulm, Braun, 8,2 × 18,8 × 4 cm, 0,45 kg, plastics, DM 120. Credit: Photo Andreas Kugel / BRAUN P&G, BraunSammlung Kronberg (Page 42)
Image 2: phase 3, 1972, alarm clock, Dieter Rams, Dietrich Lubs, Braun. 9,5 × 11 × 6 cm, 0,25 kg, plastics, acrylic glass, DM 48. Credit: Photo Andreas Kugel / © Copyright Dieter Rams Archive (p. 194)
Image 3: 606 Shelf system, (RZ 60), 1960, Shelf system, Dieter Rams, Vitsoe+Zapf / sdr+ / De Padova / Vitsoe. Various formats and weights. Anodized aluminum, powder-coated sheet steel, painted wood or veneered wood. Different prices. Credit: Photo Andreas Kugel / © Copyright Dieter Rams Archive (p. 68-69)
Image 4: 620 (RZ 62), 1962, armchair program, high back rest, Dieter Rams, Vitsoe+Zapf / sdr+ / Vitsoe. 92 × 66 × 79 cm, ca. 50 kg, beech wood, metal, Sheet Moulding Compound, leather or fabric, DM 1.960–2.080 (prices from 1973). Credit: Photo Andreas Kugel / © Copyright Dieter Rams Archive (p. 94)
Image 5: Tsatsas 931, 2018, handbag, Dieter Rams, Tsatsas. 17 × 24,5 × 6,5 cm, 0,47 kg, calfskin and lamb nappa leather EUR 900 (prices from 2020). Credit: Photo Andreas Kugel / © Copyright Dieter Rams Archive (p. 334)
Image 6: FS 1000, 1962, model for a portable television set, Dieter Rams, Braun. Credit: Photo Andreas Kugel (p. 103)
Image 7: Housing prototype for oscilloscope HM 107, around 1966, Dieter Rams, Braun / Hameg. Credit: Photo Andreas Kugel (p. 141)
Image 8: outdoor 2000, 1978, model for a mobile music combination, Dieter Rams (study). Credit: Photo Andreas Kugel (p. 256)