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The Philadelphia Museum of Art presents a comprehensive museum survey of Dieter Rams's work
TG 60 Tape Recorder, 1965. Designed by Dieter Rams. Made by Braun AG, Taunus, Germany, founded 1921. © Museum Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt am Main. Photo by Sebastian Struch.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- The Philadelphia Museum of Art is presenting 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.

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.”

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