Design (2018 | Issue 3)

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Design Made in Germany

Design Made in Germany

From cars to kitchens, pens to watches, German industrial design is all about innovation, functionality and, of course, quality you can count on! The “Made in Germany” label is an assurance in its own right. What’s Up, Germany? delves into the world of industrial, product and automotive design. Ready for a heady historical ride?!

Germany has a long and rich history of industrial design. Four design institutions have had a huge impact on industrial design and other design-related fields in Germany and around the world. Established in 1907, the Deutscher Werkbund played a pivotal role in driving the industrial design movement. This association of artists, architects, designers and industrialists integrated traditional craftsmanship with mass production techniques and commerce. From 1919 onwards, the Bauhaus school had a huge impact on industrial design worldwide. It was a force to reckon with and its influence permeated into the fields of architecture, typography and interior design. It focussed on the utility of a product and adopted a minimalistic approach. The ultimate goal was to create a Gesamtkunstwerk or “total work of art”.

After the Second World War, design education was re-established by Max Bill, a former student of the Bauhaus, at the Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG) in Ulm. The Ulm School of Design saw itself as the Bauhaus’ successor and aimed to integrate art and science. In 1953, the Rat für Formgebung or the German Design Council was founded in Frankfurt to promote a holistic concept of design that included economic and cultural factors. It introduced the popular German Design Award to honour projects that have majorly contributed to the design landscape. The iconic German fashion designer Jil Sander received the 2018 Personality Prize from the design council.

The T3 Pocket Radio (1958)Image: Braun/Apple ( T3 Pocket Radio (1958)Image: Braun/Apple (, via Wikimedia Commons

Design Superstar

While on the subject of German industrial design, one man deserves a special mention: Dieter Rams. Strongly influenced by the Bauhaus movement, this designer believed good design should be “less, but better”. From 1961–1995, he was the head of design at the consumer products company Braun. He created some of the most groundbreaking everyday domestic products that were both user-friendly and aesthetic: the minimalist ET66 calculator, the SK4 record player, Braun’s Audio1 hi-fi system, the T2 cylinder cigarette lighter, the TG60 tape recorder, the DN50 Visotronic digital alarm clock, and many more. It would be no exaggeration to say this man changed the face of product design forever! Apple’s chief design officer, Jonathan Ives, has acknowledged Rams’ influence on his work. Rams’ T3 pocket radio is said to be the inspiration behind Apple’s iPod!

Beyond the Box

Today, product design in Germany has reached another level altogether. There are lots of exciting experiments going on in the design of contemporary products. Consumers are spoilt for choice! Their shopping list can extend from futuristic kitchens that morph into different shapes at the touch of a button to sleek pens designed along Bauhausian lines, from high-end textile furniture with metal frames to concrete canvas stools. The output is bold, minimalist and forward-looking. Using sustainable materials is increasingly a priority for most German designers and consumers. The idea is to make environmentalism and design work together. Conscious consumerism is cool!