Timeless Designs: The Braun SK2 Radio (1955)

Jeffrey Zeldman recently published a post on what’s working in design in 2015. It inspired me to look back along the decades to examine timeless designs that inform our thinking today. From there, I dug into the history of the radio as televisions transitioned into households.

Note: this is my first Medium article, I desire to grow as a writer and thought-leader, and your feedback is welcome.

Imagine the radio from 1945 to 1955.

A 1940s depiction of a family listening to the radio.

In 1945, the radio was the primary source of news, entertainment, and education for the American family. If you were interested in watching the “Super Bowl”, a close game between the then Cleveland Rams and the Washington Redskins, you tuned into the radio. The Academy Awards were broadcasted in its entirety for the first time by a young, up-and-coming radio network, ABC. The death of Franklin Roosevelt and an announcement of surrender from World War II by Japan’s emperor marked some of the reasons families gathered around their radio. The radio was arguably the most important household item in 1945.

But what happens just a decade later? Times change, of course. Once a luxury for the well-off, televisions now pour into booming families across the country. By 1955, televisions are the medium of the times.

And like many technologies today, the radio is forced to adapt. Where once the radio was the living room mantle piece, they were now considered clunky and obtrusive compared to the emanating television.

So how, dear reader, does the radio manage to stick around?

It becomes beautiful, simple, and useful.

SK2 — Artur Bruan and Fritz Eichler, 1955.

It no longer intrudes into the living space. Instead, it blends with it.

SK2 — Artur Bruan and Fritz Eichler, 1955.

It makes way for new products, new designers, and new imaginations.

SK2 — Artur Bruan and Fritz Eichler, 1955.

Designed in 1955, the Braun SK2 came about as a reflection from Artur Braun and Fritz Eichler that radio users were tired of “inflated grandeur” and desired simple, functional products. Relative to other devices of their day, Braun and Eichler’s omitted any unnecessary features, allowing the product to quietly impress and to hand the user the power of its function.

The SK2 brought Braun back to relevance amongst the noise of new technologies. Their radios and other products were commonly found in homes as well as museum glass cases. That same year the SK2 was produced, Braun hired a 23 year-old architect and interior designer, Dieter Rams.

“Good design is making something intelligible and memorable. Great design is making something memorable and meaningful.” — Dieter Rams

Great design is universal and timeless, living through decades and after phases of disruption. If you look through today’s most sought-after products, how many of their design concepts lived also in that SK2 radio in 1955?

When Dieter Rams wrote his “10 Principles of Good Design”, he expected his tenets to mutate and change over time. But as we know, when something is good — its good for a very long time.