Dieter Rams: Principled Design
Exhibition dates: November 18, 2018–April 14, 2019
Press preview: November 16, 2018 at 9:00 a.m.
This November, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will present an exhibition surveying the career of one of the most influential industrial designers living today: Dieter Rams. Principled Design presents the prolific body of work he has produced—from radios, clocks, and cameras to kitchen appliances and furniture—and examines the longevity and impact of his design philosophies. From his earliest years designing for German manufacturer Braun to his ongoing projects with Vitsœ, the furniture company he co-founded in 1959, the exhibition celebrates his distinctive approach to integrating form, material, and color to create designs that are both functional and beautiful. Principled Design is the most comprehensive museum survey of Rams’s work to appear at an East Coast museum in three decades. Collab, the Museum’s group for modern and contemporary design, will honor Rams with its Design Excellence Award on Saturday, November 17. The press preview will be on Friday, November 16 at 9:00 a.m.
Known for his “less is better” approach, Rams redefined the criteria for successful mass-produced design in his “Ten Principles of Good Design." These tenets, which espouse concepts such as simplicity and sustainability, appear as overarching guidelines throughout the exhibition, which begins with a section that situates Rams in the milieu of postwar West Germany. Individual works document the origins of Rams’s collaborations with Braun and his role in building the company’s connection with the Ulm School of Design, which was founded in 1953 to continue the Bauhaus mission of uniting art and industry.
Rams’s designs for stereo equipment and radios comprise the largest portion of the exhibition. His iconic SK 4 Radio-Phonograph from 1956 illustrates his success in designing devices that link internal technology with outer form. The acrylic cover for the turntable, which earned the nickname, “Snow White’s Coffin,” was a radical modern statement in its moment. Rams’s firm belief in intuitive user controls is highlighted through works like the T3 Pocket Transistor Radio, designed in 1958.
Among Rams’s furniture designs for Vitsœ is the modular 606 Universal Shelving System, which can adapt to a user’s changing needs over time, exemplifying his ideas about sustainability. In another section of the exhibition, visitors can try out Rams’s modular seating, examine archival documents from Braun and Vitsœ that illustrate how Rams’s design approach guided the development of their corporate identities, and browse a selection of publications on his work and the broader history of industrial design. Additionally, examples of Rams’s sketches, mock-ups, and working models illustrate the three-dimensional thinking required in the design process. These archival works, along with the majority of the objects on view, are on loan from the Museum Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt.
The exhibition also includes work by other designers and manufacturers, from Sony radios to Yamaha stereos, that underscore the powerful influence of the Braun approach over time. Jonathan Ive’s iPod, designed for Apple in 2001, illuminates how Rams’s 1958 T3 Pocket Transistor Radio directly inspired one of the most iconic products of the digital age. Ive has credited Rams’s work as an inspiration.
Colin Fanning, Project Assistant Curator, said: “Dieter Rams advocated the principles of corporate responsibility through design before there was a widespread appreciation for the idea. His minimalist aesthetics were an outgrowth of his belief in a durable, rational design, attempting to make objects that could resist the habits of wastefulness—an important reminder today as we confront the mounting ecological impacts of our systems of production and consumption.”
Collab Student Design Competition
In conjunction with the exhibition, this year’s Collab Student Design Competition will challenge college students to design a small appliance for the home or office using four of more of Rams’s principles of good design. On Monday, November 12, a panel of judges will assess the most creative and innovative designs. The student designs will be on display at the Museum through Friday, November 16. Visitors can cast their votes for the People’s Choice Award. Winners will be presented at the Design Excellence Award Ceremony, presented by Collab, on Saturday, November 17.
The Collab Design Excellence Award presentation ceremony and opening celebration for the exhibition will take place on Saturday, November 17. Dieter Rams will present a brief talk on his work at the event.
Filmmaker Gary Hustwit will be premiering his Rams documentary at International House on Wednesday, November 28, as part of a major multi-city release tour for the film. A portion of the film will be included in the exhibition at the Museum. The film’s release coincides with Vitsœ’s 60th anniversary.
Collab will host a design film program at the Museum on Saturday, March 30, including a Q&A with filmmaker Gary Hustwit.
About Dieter Rams
Born in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1932, Rams initially trained as an architect and interior designer, pausing to complete a carpentry apprenticeship before finishing his studies in 1953. In 1955, he began working for the manufacturer Braun and ultimately oversaw every element of the company’s design identity. At the age of 86, Rams continues his work at Vitsœ. He will be the 32nd recipient of the Collab Design Excellence Award.
Principled Design marks a return to Philadelphia for the designer. In 1983, he participated in the opening symposium for the Museum’s seminal exhibition Design since 1945, organized by Kathryn Hiesinger, The J. Mahlon Buck, Jr. Family Senior Curator of European Decorative Arts after 1700, and contributed an essay to the exhibition catalogue. When notified of his selection for the 2018 Collab Design Excellence Award, Rams responded: “It’s an honor for me to be in Philadelphia again, because I remember well the group exhibition in 1983.”
Collab is a group of design professionals and enthusiasts who support modern and contemporary design at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Its members experience design year-round through exhibition previews, design-inspired field trips, special access to the Museum’s world-class design collection, lectures, and opportunities to meet and learn from design curators and visionaries.
About the Collab Design Excellence Award
Each year, Collab presents the Design Excellence Award to a design professional or manufacturer whose impact on the field is inspirational. Past recipients have included Rolf Fehlbaum, Marc Newson, Paula Scher and Seymour Chwast, Zaha Hadid, Alberto Alessi, Marcel Wanders, Frank O. Gehry, and most recently, Patricia Urquiola.
Colin Fanning, Project Assistant Curator
Collab Gallery, Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building
This exhibition is made possible by The Lisa S. Roberts and David W. Seltzer Endowment Fund in Support of the Collab Design Excellence Award Exhibition. Additional support is provided by Collab, the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen and other generous donors. In-kind support has been provided by Vitsœ.