SK4 record player, 1956. Design: Dieter Rams and Hans Gugelot. Manufacturer: Braun

In our new feature called Modernist Product of the Month we try and cast a little light on some of the products that have shaped modern life and modern design. We have featured Dieter Rams in our August Modernist of the Month post. We will now focus on the SK4 record player, made in 1956, designed by Dieter Rams and Hans Gugelot and of course manufactured by Braun.

As head of design at Braun, Dieter Rams (1932-) emerged as one of the most influential industrial designers of the late 20th century by defining an elegant, legible, yet rigorous visual language for its products.

Good design is innovative.
Good design makes a product useful.
Good design is aesthetic.
Good design makes a product understandable.
Good design is unobtrusive.
Good design is honest.
Good design is long-lasting.
Good design is thorough down to the last detail.
Good design is environmentally friendly.
Good design is as little design as possible.
Copyright Dieter Rams, amended March 2003 and October 2009

These ten principles defined Dieter Rams’ approach to “good design”. Each of the hundreds of products he developed during forty years with Braun, was unerringly elegant and supremely versatile. Units were made in modular sizes to be stacked vertically or horizontally. Buttons, switches and dials were reduced to a minimum and arranged in an orderly manner. Rams even devised a system of colour coding for Braun’s products, which were made in white and grey. The only splash of colour was the switches and dials.

Rams’ objective was to design useful products which would be easy to operate. Yet he achieved much more by dint of the formal elegance and technical virtuosity of his work. Rams’ designs always looked effortless with an exquisite simplicity borne from rigorous tests and experiments with new materials and an obsessive attention to detail to ensure that each piece appeared flawlessly coherent. Dieter Rams remains an enduring inspiration for younger designers, notably Jonathan Ive and Jasper Morrison, who have acknowledged his influence in their work at Apple and Rowenta respectively.

In this video Dieter talks of his designs for the Sk4 record player, and his wish to move away from the ‘wooden box’ designs. He also goes on to talk about his general approch to working.

SK4 record player, 1956

SK4 record player, 1956. Console detail (image Modernica)

SK4 record player, 1956. Console layout (image altertuemliches)

When he arrived at Braun, Rams applied his architectural skills to the design of exhibition sets and offices, but became increasingly interested in products. In 1956 he worked with the Ulm tutor Hans Gugelot on the development of the SK4 radio and record player. Abandoning the traditional wooden cabinet, they devised an unapologetically industrial metal case for the SK4 with two pale wooden sides. The operating panel was positioned on the top next to the turntable, rather than hidden away at the side. Originally the cover was to have been made of metal, but it vibrated too much in tests and was replaced with transparent plastic which exposed the mechanics of the record player. Rather than being repulsed by the sight of electrical apparatus, consumers considered it chic and transparent lids became an industry standard. The plastic lid also gave the SK4 its nickname – “Snow White’s Coffin”.

The minimal design composition and muted tones are referenced in the products of other companies especially Apple.

Good design is as little design as possible. - Dieter Rams


Source: Design Museum, Modernica, Altertuemliches

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