The future as seen through a toothbrush?

The Times of the New York variety ran this article on a toothbrush today, and there are some very interesting points brought up. Most notably this:

Will anyone ever liken the Sonic Complete to Cézanne’s favorite mountain? Not likely. But why has Braun squandered its design credentials? The explanation is the same as for every other company that has lost them.

Once those companies were at the forefront of dazzling new technologies, which were translated by crack engineers and gifted designers — backed by gutsy management — into equally dazzling products that enabled the rest of us to do something new, or to do something better. And now they’re not. Maybe technology moved on, or they lost something special: their engineering edge, a great designer like Mr. Rams, managerial chutzpah, whatever.

That’s what happened to Braun and other once-hot brands, like Sony and Bang & Olufsen, and could eventually happen to Apple. And that’s why the Sonic Complete’s stylistic shortcomings seem so very, very sad.

I’ll hate on Apple all day if I have to, but you have to admit for the last few years they’ve been rock solid in terms of maintaining their aesthetic. I mean, absolutely beautiful products top to bottom. But will there come a day when they merge with another company to build something as wacky as an electric toothbrush? Are there currently other brands doing this and we are witnessing their downfall?

I can’t see them merging with anyone, in fact I see them as the other extreme, becoming less relevant due to their very controlled, guarded methodology. It has worked for them so far, they’ve been setting the bar, will they do that long into the future?

I’ll jump on this only as I’ve elsewhere hated on the trend aesthetic for toothbrushes, razors, coffee machines and the like (products that tend to always be overly stylized, spaceship looking, overmolded santoprene garbage).

As I see it there are two issues., to somewhat oversimplify

  1. Many consumers are uneducated in design and think that more is more.

  2. Marketers and branding people (as well as designers) are to blame for this. Restraint is the most difficult thing in design, and esp. in the US where more flash and sizzle is valued over quality and design, the lowest common denominator wins.

Restraint and good design takes vision from the top. The ethos of “add more features and graphics” is driven by not having a clear brand platform and vision and thus instead of one really good thing, all those at the table try to add 5 mediocre things. Every sticks their fingers in the pie, and in the end you get a pie full of finger holes!

As for Apple cobranding with another company I can see it, if the fit was right for their growing empire. As an example of a recent good job, check out the Puma Phone. They didn’t do the hardware, but worked very closely on it from what I’ve heard and designed the complete experience (UI) from the ground up. As a result it fits the brand, and extends the sportslifestyle position in a good way, unlike the countless “slap a Ferrari logo on it” notebooks, alarm clocks, etc.

Apple has indeed collaborated with others in the past. One example that comes to mind is the Nike+ technology that syncs a dongle with the iphone to record your workout/run. The brand rub off for both companies was positive, and the design and marketing was shared and fit both companies.

If apple was going to do something like this again, I could see it with perhaps a car company (as I think has been previously rumored) to provide a complete in/out of car experience, or perhaps even with a hifi speaker/tv company. Imagine a home stereo set-up that automagically synced with the TV, stereo, cable box + iPhone, iPad, etc. AppleTV was them getting their toes wet, but not much of an attempt. The only thing is there really isn’t a mainstream brand that fits the quality and design of Apple. Samsung is close, but also a competitor so will never happen. B&O I could see, but too niche, upper-end.

What would be really interesting is to see Apple get into new products categories. Ones they’ve even dabbled with in the past. Apple Camera? Apple game console? Apple printer? All supports the ecosystem. These could be done without a cobranding or merger.


Great post rkuchinsky :stuck_out_tongue:

the apple car?

And Apple was in involved in the development of this car. Don’t know on which level.

I’d love to see more apple-design in other products. And I’m not talking about looks or the ‘i’. Methodology, asking the right questions…and yes they are highly influenced by Dieter Rams, which is not a bad thing.


Jonathan Ive would be nowhere without Steve Jobs.

“Good Design” needs the backing of a strong shareholder.
Dieter Rams once had it with the BRAUN family in times when BRAUN was copied as a role model
by the even more successful SONY guys. (This is covered to some extend by the great book
“Design, concept, realisation” by Wolfgang Schmittel.)

When BRAUN was sold to Gillette the end was nigh, but they didn’t see the writing on the wall.
The corporate guys unloaded themselves of Dieter Rams by shifting him into retirement. The
last 10 years BRAUN design “prospered” during a tenure that allowed designers much greater
freedom (like using free radii…)

The design community didn’t like it, but I can’t say anything about the success in the market
place. The average consumer is not design savy, as already pointed out above.

I hope though, that the very success of the “ramsesque” designs at Apple took some attention
throughout P&G.

Since last fall they brought in a new head of Design for BRAUN: Mr. Oliver Grabes
He tought Industrial Design until just recently at the highly regarded University of Wuppertal.
Judging by the projects he guided as a mentor he will be the ideal guy to turn BRAUN around.
Just give him some time.

I hope though that the decade of greatness at Apple carries on for some infinite time.

All the best

Yours mo-i

Ok so you have to ask why is flash and sizzle valued over quality and design? Does it mean that it’s the better product? No. Will it match the decor of your home? Probably not. Being so space-age must mean it will last longer right? In the landfill yes, in your use, probably not.

So what is it?

The quick sale. Sales and marketing has dialed down sales to a split-second, impulse impression on a shelf because that gets the attention immediately and tilts the customer towards the purchase, after that, usually, all bets are off. To designers this seems incredibly cheap, to designers that care further this is incredibly irresponsible. This approach gives an impression of quality to the less informed, or less design savvy. All those folks sitting around interjecting their “ideas”, putting more holes in the pie, are attaching as many reasons to their product to get that quick impulse purchase, not to build brand loyalty, or make a responsible product, but to get money. Consider how the majority of salesmen pitch, it’s the same thing, on a shelf.

We all know Apple can establish customer loyal with (debatable) quality products, and certainly great design aesthetics, but taking that path takes foresight, money, backing from the top, and guts.

Going for the quick sale with a cheap POS product that grabs the attention of the ignorant masses brings in the easy money, and so what if they never buy your product again, there’s a sucker born every minute right?

I believe as long as Apple does what it does, they will be spared the fate of the slow slip into insignificance such as Braun or B&O.
yes, B&O had the sliding cd player doors but it was gimmicky and they didn’t follow up as the technology became slowly obsolete.

What differentiates Apple from those companies is that there success in the core is not about free radii or flashy designs.
It’s about experiences (UI) and a completely unparalleled ease of use. It is astonishing how hassle free using a mac product is. So easy in fact, that it makes you forget that you ever used anything else or would imagine using anything else in the future. Amazing.

Yes, I can see Apple co-branding but sooner or later, it will hi-jack the product and turn it into one of their’s. It has to do with the clear philosophy of quality control. Apple is so big that they will never give up the driver seat. Crash? Maybe but never give up the wheel.

Ahh… but I’m sure the same could be said of Braun in it’s heyday, right? But, the earlier point about Apple needing Steve Jobs is exactly why Apple won’t fail any time soon. If someone else, let’s say Amazon, or Samsung, or some other massive corporation were to buy Apple and try to maintain what they’re currently doing they’d have a tough time without Jobs.

Excellent 2 points there RK. Most of the consumer product purchasing public are ignorant to good design (but not necessarily by their own fault), which is why your second point strikes with so much truth. Marketers and designers that put out things like the Mach5 Turbo, Hitachi Drills, and other over styled products are much more to blame than the public. Obviously the success of Apple tells you that some part of the public knows what good design looks like, and the rest follow.

To quote the managing director of a company I worked for recently : “a brand is a business tool, nothing more”, I found this incredibly sad, and except for a few notable exceptions, the careless attitude was universal from top to bottom.

Unless you have company-wide belief that what each individual does actually matters, is valued and that you and your career are part of something bigger and more important as part of society, you’ll keep getting the majority of soul-less businesses looking in envy through the windows of Apple, wondering how they can find the cheapest, cheatiest way to achieve the same thing… don’t! - integrity and a craftsmanship attitude made Apple and Braun great, and that’s not a game you can cheat at.

A Brand is a business tool, for sure.
MBA types are not in the game because they like to play. They like to make money.
Me too.

Thus my question about the BRAUN Brand as a business case. Gillette willfully destroyed
the designerly Brand that Rams built. But what did they get in return? Does one know?

To come back to the toothbrush itself. It isn’t the segment leading product. The ones from
Philips have much superiour batteries, nicer User Interface and better ergonomics.

BRAUN will have to up the game a lot. Are they willing too ?

All the best

yours mo-i

The MBA types were probably so eager to increase ROI, they didn’t notice that they were reducing a respected business to a commodity brand :wink:


Jobs had/has pancreatic cancer which metastasized to his liver. It was deemed bad enough for him to buy a new liver in Tennessee. In addition to the cancer, he now has a lifetime of anti-rejection meds with horrible side-effects. His length of tenure at Apple is questionable at best.

And on a side note of all of the toothbrush bashing going around. If you are in the ICU on a ventilator, you have a 20% chance of getting pneumonia. If you get pneumonia, you have a 30-50% chance of dying. Comprehensive oral care can reduce the chances of getting pneumonia to nearly zero. Please, don’t call it “just” a toothbrush.

Hey Mr. 914,

If you open up a comparison to cars I would see it like that:

You were overly critical of the mini. There are some tacky elements expecially at the dash, but
despite being retro it is a purposeful design.

The Geely Beauty Leopard isn’t. The use of wild untuned graphics is comparable to the ones used
by Oral-B.

yours mo-i

I agree completely. The next time you’re in the dentist chair, ask him/her about the finer points of gum disease and how it affects EVERYTHING in your body, including heart function. The first time I learned the gory details, I practically spent 6 months with a tooth brush in my mouth.