When buying electric products, a compromise is likely unavoidable. I feel this way with electronics more than with most other products. This is partly because you never really know what’s inside the shell, and often the shell doesn’t look or feel good to begin with. It usually doesn’t help that they are made out of one of my least favorite materials – plastic.
My first electric shaver was an old one my father didn’t use anymore – a Braun Micron from the ’70s. It’s made out of plastic and aluminum. In some old products, plastic has the ability to look good. Having come to a full understanding of plastic’s negative environmental impact and the widespread use of low quality plastics today, products made of this ubiquitous material are usually a visual and psychological turn-off for me.
Max Braun introduced his first model of electric shavers, the S50, in 1951. He founded Braun in 1921, but true success arrived when the S50 came out. Previously, the company had thrived by manufacturing radios and record players, until the factory was destroyed during WWII. Production resumed again in 1947 after the war had ended and the factory had been rebuilt.
The company’s excellent reputation for design and quality is mainly due to Dieter Rams. He joined the company in 1956 as one of 16 designers and started overseeing product design in 1961. He kept this position for an incredible 34 years. Rams, who also began designing furniture 1957 – is still an active designer and design consultant today.
Under Rams guidance, the classic Braun shavers appeared on the market. The Sixtant was a thick and solid little piece of machinery whose operating sound would make you believe that inside, a small locomotive was powering the thing. There is an air of myth around the model, as most of them still function perfectly today. And the two parts that require repeated exchange are still widely available – the block of blades and the thin metal foil that wraps around it.
Rams’s credo is “less, but better”. In an interview with Design Boom he is asked to describe his style: “In Japanese they say ‘wabi sabi’. Together these two concepts mean ‘tranquility, simplicity, balance’, but also ‘liveliness’. This is a point of reference for me… I have always been interested in mixing materials, in my earliest furniture designs. I mixed wood with plastic or aluminum”.
About whether form follows function, Rams says “yes, form has to come after function, I can’t conceive of it in any other way. There are certainly psychological functions as well, it is a matter of balancing the aesthetic content with regard to use.” As other designers of influence, he names Jasper Morisson and George Nelson.
After Rams left Braun, the design of their products went downhill. Their current product line is a disaster in my mind. It probably didn’t help much in terms of design and quality when the company was swallowed by Procter and Gamble.
Unless you still have an old Braun, a wet shave seems the only solution.
Leading image: Early Braun electric shave, 1951. (Photo by marratime @ Picasa)
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