How does culture affect the design philosophy in a place? — German vs. North American Design. (Part II)
Insights from different angles and inspiring points of view
Read part I of the article here
The objects that surround us every day tell the story of our culture, the ideas we live our lives in. Often it is only when we travel and feel the strangeness of a new place that we recognize the differences to the place we left. In this series, we hope to highlight the ways that regional design philosophies can differ, how these philosophies impact the objects we interact with every day, and how they can sometimes be combined to create a truly innovative solution. In the second part of the series, we will talk about North American design.
North American Design
North American design pushes the boundaries of what is probable in the name of what is possible. Around the same time that Rams was developing his phonograph, new technology was pushing higher fidelity music into homes, and with it, mono speakers were developed. Ray and Charles Eames designed these speakers for Stephens Trusonic in 1956. The Eames speakers are emblematic of US design philosophy.
“North American design pushes the boundaries of what is probable in the name of what is possible.”
The molded plywood housing featured here is an evolution of the minimal German aesthetic, influenced and softened by American designers such as Raymond Loewy. By wrapping the rounded square exterior of the speaker, the Eames’ were able to create a streamlined, yet minimal look. The stand is almost playful with its four-legged stand, yet innovative with its molded plywood wrap, creating dynamism despite rather straightforward speaker parts. Although German design is often described as being timeless, this example shows how US design is similar yet different. The Eames’ design is rooted in its era, channeling the joy and anxieties of the time into bold, playful, yet iconic choices that are still rooted in some of the authenticity and minimalism of their former Bauhaus teachers.
“…The Eames’ design is clearly rooted in its era, channeling the joy and anxieties of the time into bold, playful, yet iconic choices that are still rooted in some of the authenticity and minimalism of their former Bauhaus teachers”.
So, where do those design values come from?
In the 1930’s the designers that had left Bauhaus flooded into the US where they were free to continue to develop their ideas and foundations. Several colleges gained illustrious former Bauhaus alums such as Cranbrook in Michigan, where Ray and Charles Eames graduated from. Several new institutes were founded, including the Black Mountain College in North Carolina and IIT in Chicago.
Around the time that the Bauhaus designers were fleeing Germany, several designers were making their mark in the US. Raymond Loewy, Norman Bel Geddes, and a bit later, Henry Dreyfuss were transitioning from commercial artists to designers by creating products for mass production imbued with their own style, using “streamlined” design elements to communicate speed and efficiency for the user. Loewy’s Pennsylvania Railway trains, and Henry Dreyfuss’s Hoover, provided an emotional depth of personality that products coming out Europe did not have. These designers were using advertising and marketing techniques to appeal to the consumer.
Meanwhile, the Bauhaus designers that fled to the US were busy teaching a new generation of designers their principles. These young designers could not help but be influenced by Loewy, Bel Geddes, and Dreyfuss, so design and architecture luminaries such as Philip Johnson, IM Pei, Ray and Charles Eames, Harry Bertoia, Florence Knoll, Eero Saarinen, Dale Fahnstrom, as well as Katherine and Michael McCoy, continued the evolution of the German design principles imbued with the ideas on how to appeal gleaned from marketing and advertising.
Over time, this evolved into human-centered or user-centered design principles, where the people that use or influence the use of products or systems provide feedback and influence the design process.
“Today while there are still some regional or local preferences on design, user-centered design and the application of design thinking have gone global. We look to the brand and the needs of the end-users to shape the function and aesthetic”.
Today while there are still some regional or local preferences on design, user-centered design, and the application of design thinking have gone global. We look to the brand and the needs of the end-users to shape the function and aesthetic. We keep true to the principles of precise German engineering. We use the results of research and synthesis to be considerate to the cultural and emotional needs, imbuing personality that is needed for acceptance locally. Design does not exist in a vacuum — everyday culture shifts. People change, and we borrow from one another towards greater solutions. As designers at TEAMS, we exist as a global collective. This collaboration allows bringing multiple design philosophies to the table, for ultimately better products.