Graphic 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.

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The Look of Things to Come?

I spend a lot of time looking at other people design work. It’s the nature of my job and something that helps to keep me current with design trends that are emerging. Over the last few months, something I’ve noticed with more frequency is the emergence of minimalist 3D animation paired with pastels that leans almost to abstraction. I have a feeling this is going to become a hot look over the next 18 months and will run the risk like so many other trends of jumping the shark as it gets picked up by every agency and marketing firm in the world. It looks cool now, and I’m really liking it, but that feeling may change if it becomes oversaturated the way the sketchbook look, the retro 80’s look, the ugly design look, the you name it you’ve seen to much of it looks did.

For the 50th Anniversary of Man on the Moon I Picked Up the NASA Graphics Standards Manual

On July 20th, 1969 I was seven and a half years old and I still remember being glued to the TV as the first live broadcast from the lunar surface was beamed back to Earth. The family was downstairs in our family room/office. Walter Cronkite was giving the play by play and then they cut to a grainy picture of Neal Armstrong as he stepped off the ladder and spoke his now famous line. ” That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

I have always been a bit of a space nut. I think being born at the beginning of the space race helped solidify that in me. I’ve been fascinated with everything from the space flight itself to the amazing illustrations produced for NASA.

With this year marking the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, I decided to break down and pick up a copy of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Graphic Standards Manual. It’s been out for a few years and has been on my short list so I finally decided to pull the trigger and pick it up.

For a designer and self-professed space nerd, this is pure heaven. This is a few hundred pages of the design systems put in place by Richard Danne, Bruce Blackburn, and the staff at Danne & Blackburn in 1974.

This reissue is a modern spin on the original which was a series of bound documents designed to be distributed to internally and externally to coordinate the NASA brand for the world. The reissue book is all about faithfully reproducing what Danne & Blackburn while infusing history and additional details. Details like the anti-static foil sleeve that it arrives in.

The book is an authoritative reference compiled from scans of 35mm slides presented to NASA in 1974, normally shielded from those without clearance.

The manual covers everything from spaceship graphics to brochures, including specific details on how to type a letter using the NASA letterhead.

This is the ultimate “brand bible” for the formidable application of a graphic identity system in an otherworldly institution. The NASA Graphics Standard Manual is a meticulous facsimile of Danne & Blackburn’s 1974 re-branding of the agency. An authoritative reference compiled from scans of Danne’s own personal copy, the book also includes an introduction by Danne, alongside an extended essay on the culture of the agency by Christopher Bonanos.

DixonBaxi Designs Eurosport Home of the Olympics

I talk a lot about cohesive brand voice or cohesive visual voice across all touch points of a campaign. Many times I think I’m getting through to a client, and I’m not, so I end up looking up examples to show them. I usually track down digital and print components, static images, and PDF’s, then try and get them to wrap their head around how it also applies to video, motion graphics, audio, and all the other little bits and pieces that go into a full blown OMNI channel campaign. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Today I found a great example that I think will help in the future.

The video below from DixonBaxi shows the campaign they have created to support Eurosport’s coverage of the Olympics for the next eight years. This is a huge project with hundreds of touchpoints that people will engage with. All of them need to have a look and feel that resonates the same way. From the editing of video all the way down to the static graphical content in print items. As you watch the video you will begin to see a very specific cadence that takes place in the way the clips are cut together. There is the establishment of a color pallet that gets picked up and used through out the campaign as well. About 15 seconds in they begin to hint at the graphics and animation, and then they roll out each component of the entire system showing how and where it will be used. From bus stop signs to tablet interfaces and everything in between. If you want to get a more in depth look, or just browse through the system at your own pace, they have it broken down on a really well-designed web page for you.

W + K Sao Paulo’s New Identity System

Most people think of branding as a logo. And most people think of a logo as visual identity. A logo is one component of your visual identity system which makes up one part of your brand.  A great example of this is Weiden and Kennedy Sao Paulo new visual identity which is shown in the video below. They break down the inspiration for the logo design and then show how it is translated across a series of touch points as part of a larger identity system. No this doesn’t establish their branding. Branding is much larger than just a logo, visual identity system or editorial voice. Branding encompasses everything that establishes a relationship with a product, company, or service. The example in the video is one hell of an awesome logo and identity system though.

The 1977 EPA Graphic Standards System

Well, thanks to Kickstarter I’ll be dropping 80 bucks on yet another design book. The 1977 EPA Graphic Standards System is being reissued, and it is a gorgeous piece of graphic design. If you have seen any of the other Graphic Standards books that have been reissued, like the one for NASA, or the New York Metro, you know how these can be a valuable resource and source of inspiration.

Designed by Chermayeff & Geismar the book will be reissued as a hardcover book printed in 14 Pantone® colors. It will come with a slip-case and the reissue will also include 48 pages of photographs from the EPA-commissioned Documerica Project (1970-1977). If you want to see what you are getting for your money the video below gives you a brief history of the system and shows off the original book as well as the new reissue. For a bit of irony, Republican President Richard Nixon narrates sections of the video dedicating the founding of the EPA. I wonder if 47 years from now we will all be watching a video where President Trump kills it?

Design is Future

When I began my design career a few decades ago, the majority of the work I produced was passive, printed material. Design was broken into a few various genres, but almost all of it was passive in some form or another. I started my career as a graphic designer, but over the course of time, thanks to technology that was being defined and invented in the late 1980’s my function as a designer changed. By that I mean the work I did went from I created something, people looked at it and I had no real feedback loop to determine the overall impact or experience that was achieved by the final piece. As computer technology changed the toolset I used to create visual images, it also changed the way people interacted with design, and began to blur the definition of what a designer is and the roles they play in business, product development, brand interaction, and ultimately what we call user experiences today. I no longer define my career as “Graphic Design”. Graphic design is simply one element of a multi-faceted set of disciplines that I practice on a daily basis. “Designer” is a more realistic term, because like so many in the field today, you are called upon to wear so many different hats, and develop work that interacts directly with business, marketing, engineering, advertising and more.

As computer technology changed the toolset I used to create visual images, it also changed the way people interacted with design, and began to blur the definition of what a designer is and the roles they play in business, product development, brand interaction, and ultimately what we call user experiences today. I no longer define my career as “Graphic Design”. Graphic design is simply one element of a multi-faceted set of disciplines that I practice on a daily basis. “Designer” is a more realistic term, because like so many in the field today, you are called upon to wear so many different hats, and develop work that interacts directly with business, marketing, engineering, advertising and more.

The 30 minute film below is from the “Design is Future Congresstival” held at Disseny Hub Barcelona each year in June. It showcases the main highlights and strong ideas from the 15 speakers that took part in the Design is Future 2016, as well as from the presenter and curators of the event. These individuals speak directly to what the role of design is in today’s world, and the impact it has. Design is no longer the last mile. The point at which someone says “Make it look good”. It is no longer styling, it has evolved for the better as more people have become aware of its impact in the last 20 or so years. The video is really worth watching if you are involved in any aspect of design. As Doug Powel, Design Principal and Director of Design Education at IBM says, “This is an amazing time to be a designer”, and I couldn’t agree more.