Industrial Design

Braun Audio Returns with the LE1 Reimagined by Precipice Design

Anyone that knows me, knows I am a huge fan of the industrial design work that Deiter rams did for Braun. His influence and the work he did for Braun can still be felt today on so many product lines by other companies like Apple. 

Braun has been absent from the audio world for more than two decades, but original stereo systems from the 50s, 60s, and 70s are still in demand. Not because they offer a superior audio experience, but because of the design and visual aesthetic they present.

The hottest Braun stereo collectible is probably the SK5 “Snow White’s Coffin” record player and radio. It is sublimely minimal in its execution with white powder-coated steel sandwiched between wooden side panels under a plexiglass case. The design was a radical departure for stereo gear when this was introduced in the 1950s. 

Snow White’s Coffin

One of my personal favorites from the Braun stereo family has always been the Braun Audio 1 from 1962. To me, it feels timeless. You can feel where it came from (the SK5) and understand the visual direction Rams was taking Braun over the next decade. 

1965 Braun Audio 1

In addition to the Audio 1, Braun introduced a set of minimalist speakers in 1959, the LE1. The LE1 is so simple in its design form. White rectangular slabs suspended on chrome tubular legs with a perforated black metal grill. The form is almost sculptural in quality and an even more radical departure from stereo systems of the day. You have to remember, in 1959 most stereo systems looked like a large wooden piece of furniture that would blend in with what was in your living room. The LE1 stands out. It’s meant to be seen as well as heard. 

The LE1 from 1959

The LE1 was the first electrostatic speaker available on the German market, the LE 1 provided a new housing for internal electronics produced by English engineering company Quad, then trading as Acoustical Manufacturing Co. Ltd. The LE 1’s electronics were based on the Quad ESL-57, producing a distinctively detailed sound that still stands up well against the standards of contemporary hi-fi systems today. At the time of its introduction, the speaker was technically and aesthetically ground-breaking. Within the Braun audio program of the late ‘50s, the LE 1 was intended to accompany the first Braun component Hi-Fi system, the Braun Studio 2. 

The 2019 LE01 Series

For the first time in 28 years, Braun is back in the audio business. Well sort of. Braun Audio is returning with a reinvention of the aforementioned LE speakers from 1959. A perfect reintroduction to the heritage of Braun Audio, the new LE Series focuses on the purity of design, purity of performance and the purity of sound Braun was known for in the past.

These beautifully minimalist speakers have been re-imagined by Precipice Design. The London-based design company developed all consumer and trade touchpoints including brand and product narratives, packaging, photography, iconography, digital assets (website, and mobile app), video content, and point of sale concepts, print catalogs, and advertising, helping to re-establish Braun in the premium audio sector.

When you look at the complete set of design materials that Precipice created for Braun you are immediately aware of the heritage of vintage Braun while positioning them squarely in the modern market place. The imagery that is used across all touchpoints echoes the minimalist aesthetic that Braun became known for, not simply in the products they produced but in the owner’s manuals, advertising, and packaging that was produced during their heyday.

As I looked at the new website that Precipice produced I was struck by how it so closely mirrored many of the Braun printed items I’ve seen from the 1960s an70s. The minimal color pallet, sparse layout, concise messaging. The same look and feel are carried over to the mobile app, and on to the packaging. With the packaging focusing on the purity of sound while focusing on the brand’s heritage. Only key information about the product shown on the packaging. The uncomplicated packaging is typical of Braun and reflects the aesthetics of the classic speaker through dark tones and a graphic of the speaker itself.

The speakers themselves are an homage to the original LE1 updated to reflect today’s taste and improved technologies. Where the original 1959 speaker would probably prove to be too large in today’s home environment, Precipice’s vision shows how the LE1 can be reimagined to fit more discreetly into one’s home.

The new speaker brings the same vision Ram’s had in 1959. A minimalist slab in white with a black grill floating above a chrome stand. The speaker is angled slightly backward, and the controls are almost invisible. Precipice also introduces a solid black version of the speaker and two additional sizes, all of which use the same visual language. 

Floor stands have been designed as well, but I have to say I don’t think they work as well. They seem rather chunky except where they have been extended and used with the smallest of the speakers.

There is no word on availability yet. I’m betting these will be available this fall for the Christmas shopping season. The product was introduced around the first of September this year so you would think they would be ready for sale by mid-November at the latest. Pricing will range from $1200.00 for the largest of the 3 down to $380.00 for the smallest.

I don’t need these, but I wouldn’t mind having them. Full information and specs are available on the Braun Audio website.

I Bought a CPO i3 Not C3PO. I Kind of Feel Like I’m Driving a Star Wars Car Though.

A little over a year ago I began looking for a new car. The lease on my GTI was coming to an end in August of 2019 and I was thinking about going electric. Since the VW electric models wouldn’t be available in America for another 12 to 18 months, I began researching the usual suspects, Tesla, Nissan, BMW, Chevy, etc. What I discovered was there are quite a few models available. All of them have pros and cons, and the prices ranged from reasonable to astronomical. What I didn’t expect was to find was what you could get if you looked at certified pre-owned models of specific brands.

After almost a year of looking, reading, watching YouTube, test driving, pricing, and pondering, I decided to purchase a certified pre-owned BMW i3. Why? Because I found out I could get into a 2-year-old car with about 20,000 miles on it for less than half the sticker price of the new car. And since it is a CPO BMW it comes with an additional warranty.

I chose this vehicle for several reasons. Proven Brand, Styling, Technology, Fun Factor, and Size. There is also that I never have to buy gas thing too.

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The styling can be quite polarizing. In most cases, people either love it or hate it. I love it. I feel like I’m driving a little space pod most of the time. It’s short, squat and tall. It doesn’t look like any other car on the road on both the exterior an on the interior.

With wheel s pushed close to the corners, it accentuates the stubby look of the i3. Its window line expands at the small rear doors, dips into the body line, then pinches together at the rear. Visually this creates a flow down the body line that I like quite a bit. One disadvantage to this is that the rear windows don’t lower. Technically it’s a 4 door car, but the rear coach (suicide doors) are more like funky half-size extensions of the front doors. The car sits on 19-inch wheels that seem impossibly thin, designed to reduce friction with the road and improve range. At times they almost look like mountain bike tires though. One nice thing that BMW did was to leave the iconic kidney grills on the front. Technically they don’t do anything, but without them, I’m not sure the i3 would read as a BMW since it’s such a styling departure from every other car they make.

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The interior is a mash-up of environmentally friendly materials produced from sustainable and recycled sources. The i3 I purchased doesn’t have leather seats, by choice. I actually prefer the look of the cloth seats over the leather or leather and cloth combo. If you did opt for the leather seats though, the tanning process is done with olive-leaf extract rather than chemicals to keep it greener. It’s hard to describe the materials used. You need to see them in person, and while at first, it might seem like a bit too much they work well together combining into a series of well-matched textures.

Another thing I love about this car is how big it feels on the inside. With no transmission hump, the floor is flat adding to the feeling of space. The interior roof gives plenty of headroom. At 6 foot 4, this is a big deal for me. I will say this, the back seat is cramped for someone my size. It’s probably cramped for anyone over 6 feet, to be honest. This is, after all, a car designed for city driving and to only seat 4 people. Cargo space is ample, and with the back seats folded down, it’s pretty amazing how much stuff you can get in this car.

From a technology perspective, the i3 doesn’t disappoint. Actually, for my model year, it does in aspect, (I’ll get to that in a minute). The i3 dash consists of 2 floating screens. There is the unit directly in front of the driver that contains the speedometer, battery usage, and the gauge showing energy use and regeneration. This screen can be configured to display any number of items from the iDrive system in the car.

The second screen is equally configurable and primarily houses the infotainment system which includes navigation, phone systems, messaging, radio and media displays and more. Below it is 6 buttons that can be programmed to do everything from radio presets to function as shortcut keys for any additional functionality.

All of this is connected to the center console dial of the iDrive system located in front of the center armrest. I’m not going to go into detail with all of the functionality here. Let’s just say that the system is deep and has a bit of a learning curve. Coming from 8 years of VW’s it was quite a bit different.

In addition to the built-in systems, there is also an iOS and Android app available that can be used to control the car remotely. It allows you to climatize the car, lock and unlock doors, set charge times, send destinations to the car, and more.

Other tech tidbits include the ability to lock the doors by touching a small patch of raised ribs on the door handle. Unlock the doors by simply sliding your hand inside the door handles. Unlock and lower the windows by holding the unlock button on the key fob. One foot driving using the regenerative braking system. Self-parking (yes it can park itself, but every driver should know how to parallel park or forfeit their driver’s license). Adaptive cruise control and more.

I didn’t get the REX (range extender) version. I don’t need the range extender. I never drive more than 120 miles in a day so the BEV (battery electric vehicle) i3 was perfect for my needs. After 90 days of ownership, I can honestly say I have never had any range anxiety at all. Frankly, I don’t think most drivers would. The navigation system can be configured to show you every charging station close by as you drive around town so you will always know where you can charge up if you need to.

One thing I wish this car had was Apple CarPlay. It doesn’t and I miss it. You can, however, upgrade the main head unit of the car with this upgrade from Bimmertech. I watched the install video and it looks like something anyone with a bit of technical know-how and set of tools could do themselves in a few hours. I have a feeling this voids the warranty on the car so I’ll be waiting a couple of years before I do this.

Speaking of upgrades, the battery is upgradable as well and Lion Smart announced an upgrade option a couple of months ago that would extend the range of BEV i3 to about 400 miles. No word on when this will arrive, or what it’ll cost but if you own an i3 and plan on keeping it for an extended period of time this is something you might want to look into.

One great thing about living in Kansas City is the fact that KCPL has partnered with ChargePoint and many local businesses to install level 2 charging stations all over the city. Each grocery store run, trip to the library, visit the Kaufman performing arts center, Nelson Atkins Musem, Restaurants in the Cross Roads or dozens of other places guarantee that I can plug the i3 in and charge it up.

Every Hy-Vee has at least 4 ChargePoint charging stations

As for fun factor, the i3 is a hoot to drive. It really is a blast. The electric motor delivers instant torque with a distinct “push you back in your seat” feeling. Acceleration is quick delivering a 0 to 60 time in about 7 seconds. It handles like a BMW with responsive steering. You have to drive the car to understand how the i3 performs.

The car is absolutely silent aside from a bit of road noise from the tires, and an almost imperceivable whine from the electric motor. It’s one of those things you notice at first and then become so used to it you don’t realize how loud the interior of other cars are until you ride in one with an internal combustion engine.

So, is a certified pre-owned BMW i3 worth it? Yes. Think about this, you can get a low mileage, highly optioned i3 for about half the price of new. If you get a CPO i3 you get 2 years of warranty on a car that require little to no maintenance. In my case, I got a $60,000 car for a little over $20,000. It had just over 20,000 miles on it, was a one-owner vehicle, and was purchased from a reputable BMW dealer here in the Kansas City area.

If you use a site like Car Gurus you can find plenty of examples just like this all of the United States, and depending on where you live have the car delivered to you for less than a grand. Sites like Carvana, and Carmax also have i3 inventories available for delivery. The only downside is the car won’t be BMW certified, and the warranty options might not be as good.

If you are in the market or are thinking about going electric, I highly recommend going with a CPO i3. Save your money and skip the Tesla. Skip the Bolt, Volt, Leaf, or any other traditional-looking EV sedan and get something a bit more unique looking.

Oh, and while you could buy new and get a $7500.00 federal tax credit, chances are it still won’t be as affordable as going with preowned. If you are curious about why EV’s depreciate so much, Doug Demuro has a great article here that answers, or attempts to answer that very question.

What Ya Got Cooking? Things are Heating Up on the Patio.

One of the disadvantages of living in some of the houses I have owned in the last 25 years is that they weren’t suited to owning a grill.

Union Hill had potential. I could have kept a grill in the garage, but the garage was off the basement and the idea of trucking up and down 18 steps to flip burgers had me worn out just thinking about it. Union Hill had an OK sized wooden deck, but how many fires started in Union Hill thanks to an unattended grill on a deck? I know of at least 3.

The house on Lloyd had no patio, and the deck was simply to narrow. If I wanted a grill it meant keeping it in the detached garage and hauling it out every time I wanted to use it. No thanks.

The loft had a small balcony but the idea of having a grill seemed rather bad. The balcony was small, and it was a multi-unit building. I didn’t want to be responsible for a possible fire.

Finally, after having the patio rebuilt at our current and permanent residence we got a grill. After spending most of the winter and spring trying to decide on a grill or a griddle and then trying to find something that wasn’t like every other product on the market we narrowed it down. The criteria were pretty simple. It had to look good, use propane, get hot enough to bake a pizza and be small enough to store in the garage in winter.

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Since it’s just my wife and I weren’t looking for anything that you could cook a whole turkey in, or with enough surface area to cook 24 hamburgers at once. We looked at everything from the Blackstone griddles to the Green Egg and finally settled in on the Fuego Element F21C-H. I have had the grill for a little over a month now and couldn’t be happier. It looks amazing cooks just as good and heats to over 600 degrees in less than 10 minutes – making the perfect cracker crust pizza.

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There is a ton of reviews on all versions of this grill on the internet so I’m not going to go into great detail about how to use it and comparisons with other products. Instead, I am going to talk about 2 things, assembly, packaging and design.

Design

First off I have to say that when the grill is assembled it looks like a statement piece rather than a cooking appliance. Designed by Robert Brunner, the former chief of design at Apple the Fuego Element F21C is a decidedly minimal piece of equipment and maintains quite the futuristic aesthetic. It looks like a tall metallic mushroom with a sort of 1980’s retro vibe to parts of it. I think it is the perforated metal sides that have me thinking that and I’m not sure why. Either way, the grill is quite a stunning piece of industrial design, and quite functional too.

The grill sits atop a four-wheeled base for improved portability and has a long, narrow column that stores the propane tank. All in all, the F21C only measures 21 inches wide by 32 inches tall, which means it’ll fit in on even more minute patio or balcony setups. The hinged lid is offset at 45 degrees so when you open it you are not putting your arm directly over the heat source (something that I really appreciated last week when the temps were hovering in the upper 90’s) The main door on the column has a spring release clasp that opens up to reveal the propane tank inside.

The diffuser tray which sits below the grate is designed to channel drippings away from the burner elements which is a plus. It is designed to help prevent the openings in the burners from getting clogged requiring additional cleaning. Grease and drippings are collected in a small tray that sits below the burner and can be removed simply by pulling the tray out from the front of the grill.

There are stainless steel handles that have dual functionality. They can be used to move the grill and they function as the support base and storage space for the optional side table.

My only real design grip is this. I use the optional table on the left side of the grill. It’s the side away from the lid. I did this because the ambient heat coming off the lid when it’s open is right above where the table sits on the right. The table is well designed and attaches to the grill by hooking under the arms of the handle and using a small support rod. When not in use it slips in between the handle and hangs next to the grill. If the table is stowed, you can’t open the door to access the propane tank. It gets me every single time. All in all, this is a pretty small complaint.

The cooking surface is 346 square inches which are plenty. According to Fuego, you can cook 18 to 20 burgers on this at one time. And the 15-pound porcelain-enamel cast iron grate provides a massive heat sink producing amazing sear marks.

Packaging

The Fuego grill came in a standard cardboard box. About 2 inches from the bottom was a dotted line with “cut here” icons indicating what to do. I used a standard box knife, cut all the way around and simply lifted the top 7/8 of the box off and set it aside. Inside there was a truck-load of Styrofoam. A ton of it. I’m still getting rid of it because I couldn’t get it all out on trash and recycling day and still have room for my regular trash and recycling. I wish they would figure out a way to completely do away with the foam, and replace it with something that is more environmentally friendly.

Everything was neatly packaged and laid out in a way that made sense as I took the parts out of the box. I was able to place everything in a logical order and get ready to assemble the grill in less than five minutes. And this brings me to the assembly portion of this post.

Assembly

I love it when an industrial design or engineer figure out how to create something that goes together quickly and is rock solid when assembled. Fuego nails this. The grill requires just 14 screws to go together and I had my grill built and ready to cook less than 30 minutes. I didn’t time how long it took to put it together but I do know cleaning up the packaging took longer.

All you need to put this together is a Phillips head screwdriver. You can do it with that but if you have a cordless drill with a Phillips head driver attachment I suggest using it. I put the grill together by myself, some of you might want a second set of hands but you don’t need it. The instructions are straight forward and easy to follow. There are a handful of YouTube videos that show people unboxing and assembling the grill if you have any doubts about the simplicity of it.

Accessories.

Get the cover if you are storing the grill outside. It’s not expensive and it does help protect it from the elements. With that said I’ll be storing the grill in my garage over the winter.

I recommend the table attachment. At least one of them. It really does come in handy when you are cooking. I’m not sure you need both of them, but I am toying with the idea of getting a second one.

Skip the Pizza Stone kit. The kit costs 40 bucks. It would have cost me 38 to ship it back to Fuego. The stone is the same kind you can pick up at Target for about $20.00. The pizza cutter was a joke. It was the cheapest one I think I have ever seen. It felt like a toy. As for the pizza Peel, the quality was slightly better than the cutter but not much. I ended up getting a non-folding one that isn’t as easy to store but doesn’t feel like it’s going to collapse under the weight of a medium-sized pie either.

Get the griddle. It’s made from the same material as the grate and it converts the grill into a flat-top in seconds. (Suggestion for Fuego. Make a split version. Half griddle half great. Especially for the 24C big brother version of this grill)

I’m out. I have skirt steak I need to get ready for tonight’s dinner.

RowFree is Helping Me Row Away My Evenings

I have used a Concept 2 rower for physical exercise for longer than I can remember. It is such a great workout and the C2 is built like a tank. If you can swing it, I highly recommend picking one up.

Like all rowers except for the Hydrow the workout can be a bit boring. You are going back and forth for 45 minutes to an hour with an occasional break for stretching or interval weight training. To combat the boredom I use a pair of Bluetooth earbuds that I have paired with my phone so I can listen to music or books on tape. I also have them paired with my Apple TV so if I feel inclined I can pull the rower into the downstairs media room/office and watch something on the TV while rowing.

The thing is, moving the rower is kind of a pain, and I never do it. Because of this, I started looking for a stand of some kind to hold my iPad and position it close enough to see the screen without hitting it as I rowed. I found nothing that I liked or that I thought would work. Then I found RowFree, and I’m in love.

The RowFree Mount is a quickly installed bracket that can be used with Concept2 rowers, BikeERG, and SkiERG to hold electronic devices like tablets, smartphones, and laptops.  The RowFree Mount is highly adjustable and can be used to quickly position your device exactly where you need it. 

Constructed from aluminum alloy, the bracket is light and durable. The bracket simply slips over the PM5 on my Concept 2 and then adjusts to hold my device directly in my line of sight for the entire workout routine. I love this thing. It is simple, functional design at its finest. It’s not over-thought or overly complicated. It has a simple function and it works. It doesn’t block the readout on my PM5 and it makes rowing a whole lot more enjoyable.

RowFree is a small business located in Bend, Oregon.  Their mission is to provide the best way to interact with tablets, smartphones, and laptops while rowing. I think they nailed it.

Slide Over With HMM

I spend most of my day working on a computer in programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, and Premier and on my iPad using apps like Art Rage, or Sketchbook. These tools allow me to create everything from illustrations to motion graphics and video. As great as all of these tools are, they can’t replace the tactile feeling of putting pen to paper and actually drawing.

As a designer, I am always looking for quality drafting tools and drawing implements. That pen or pencil with the right weight balance, and feel in the hand. While it seems like something that should be easy it’s not. The right tool makes all the difference and you can feel it as soon as you pick up a pen or pencil that has it.

Recently I discovered HMM, a Japanese company whose goal is to make “The Ordinary Classy”. The name stands for Human-Mechanic-Method and they specialize in the manufacture of finely crafted coffee ware and office accessories.

“We focus on polishing the details that make utensils unique and human. With selected materials and craftsmanship our products are classic and timeless. They are ready to embellish your daily life.” HMM

What I picked up from them is “Slide“. A winner of this year’s iF Design Award, Slide is a stylish and multi-functional ruler and pen in one. Finely crafted from milled aluminum, and coated in a matte black finish.

The sleek tool features a unique magnetic structure that allows the pen and ruler to be split up into two pieces, or be reassembled back into one with a feeling that is fluid, and smooth.

Slide has a triangular shape to the body with one side that is distinctively flat while the other two roll into a gently curved edge. It feels really comfortable in my hand. The pen writes and draws beautifully with smooth ink flow allowing for a lighter touch and more control. The pen can be used independently from the ruler or with it by simply pushing it forward to expose the tip. With the ruler attached to the pen, the back takes on the same gently curving arch with an almost indistinguishable seam between the pen and the ruler.

The ruler is all metric measurements. That makes sense since it is a Japanese product designed for the world market. That doesn’t bother me at all though. I’m not going to be using it for doing much measuring, I’ll be using it to help me draw straight lines when I need them.

The packaging is impressive as well. Well thought out and executed with sustainable materials. Slide comes in a matte black cardboard sleeve. Inside there is a stacked chipboard container that has been cut to hold the device in place. The container is wrapped in a black paper liner that contains simple instructions on how to refill the pen and use it.

Along with the packaging, there is a really well-designed catalog of HMM products. Minimal layout and simple type treatments really round out the emphasis on the quality HMM put into their product and package design.

McDonald’s Super Straw for Shamrock Shake’s.

So what do you do when you are the largest fast food provider in the world and you have just invented a layered two flavor shake that needs to have those flavors mix while eating? You hire a bunch of aerospace engineers to design a new straw for you, and that is exactly what McDonald’s did for the new Chocolate Shamrock Shake, one of four new seasonal McCafé beverages.

The new McCafé beverage has dual layers of chocolate shake below mint Shamrock Shake, and the new recipe presented McDonald’s with a unique challenge. How do you deliver the ideal flavor ratio of 50% chocolate and 50% mint in each sip, versus enjoying each flavor separately with a traditional straw. To solve the problem McDonald’s turned to highly-qualified engineering firms. JACE and NK Labs created the probably-more-revolutionary-than-actually-needed Suction Tube for Reverse Axial Withdrawal strawThe STRAW’s j-shape provides optimal flavor flow dynamics.

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Due to the STRAW’s unique design, only 2,000 were produced in time for Shamrock Shake season and it will only be available in select participating restaurants with the purchase of a Chocolate Shamrock Shake. Visit mcdonalds.mwnewsroom.com/US to learn where and when the lucky few will be distributed. (I don’t want the shake, but I definitely want the straw). And, like the seasonal offering of the McCafé Shamrock Chocolate offerings, the STRAW is also available for a limited time.

“It was a puzzling assignment but one with an ambitious goal,” said Seth Newburg, principal engineer and managing partner at NK Labs. “From a physics perspective, it’s actually quite difficult to deliver a proportional amount of both chocolate and mint flavors with each sip. But that’s exactly what we did. It’s a marvel of fluid dynamics. Thanks Fibonacci sequence.”

Panthella Mini

Verner Panton’s Panthella lamp, launched in 1971 and went on to become a design classic and is now being relaunched in a smaller version as the Panthella Mini. To help launch the new product and promote Panton’s iconic product, Frame. was commissioned by Louis Poulsen to create a spot for a lamp, and they nailed it. Frame not only captures the essence of the lamp design, they have created a look that mirrors the materials Panton used to create the original in this fun animated spot.

The legendary Danish designer Verner Panton is known for his use of powerful colors, organic shapes, and unconventional materials – designing everything from furniture to full art installations that looked, and probably felt, like an acid trip. Unsurprising, when you think that he completed a lot of his work in the 60’s.

As a starting point, we investigated Panton’s aesthetic universe and commenced designing a tour de force of lamps, eye-popping colors, and abstract shapes, inspired by the man himself. We were also encouraged by Louis Poulsen to give it our own personal touch so we had the freedom to interpret the unique style of Verner Panton with a unique twist and establish a lighter, more contemporary tone.

In the end, it was all about creating something warm, happy, alive, intelligent and playful – just like Panton himself. To create a setting for the lamps to shine (no pun intended) and allow the focus to remain on these beautifully designed objects.

Frame