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Benjamin Hubert on Dieter Rams’s modular hi-fi system

A sound system that speaks for itself

Benjamin Hubert on a modular hi-fi system designed by Dieter Rams, the father of modern product design

Benjamin Hubert on a modular hi-fi system designed by Dieter Rams, the father of modern product design

April/May 2019

I’m a fan of objects that speak for themselves, particularly when you’re using them for the first time. Very few designs speak more clearly than those of Dieter Rams. Rams, who is 86, has made everything from furniture to watches. But he is best known for the work he did at Braun, a German electronics company, where he was creative director between 1961 and 1995, and where he designed things like radios, razors and record players. His obsession with making clear what each control does and how it works has made him the father of modern product design.

My favourite of Rams’s pieces is this wall-mounted music system. Comprised of two speakers, a tape recorder and a control unit, it was first made in 1964 and came out in several versions over a period of about 15 years. Each shares the same visual semantics. The dials and interfaces are tactile, and because their form is so simple their functionality is extremely intuitive, whether you want to adjust the volume, change the track or replace the wheels. Large but visually balanced, it straddles the line between art and functionality. I’ve always wanted to have one in my own apartment.

I first saw this audio system at the Braun Museum in Germany, when I was looking at Rams’s products in their archives. For me, as for many industrial designers, Rams is an exceptionally influential figure, and his impact on the design of consumer goods and electronics affects our thinking at my studio, Layer. Like Rams, we’re methodical and rigorous in terms of functionality. “Less is more” and “function driving form” are our guiding principles. Our collection of small consumer electronics, Nolii, are similarly practical objects that have grown from strict geometric roots.

If you talk to any designer, they are interested in influence. That includes the people we create things for: we are trying to influence how they live now and in the future. Rams’s pieces were made to help with everyday problems in the simplest way possible. And they were made to speak for themselves.

Benjamin Hubert was talking to Kylie Warner