In 2015, Philips is celebrating 90 years of design at the company. Designers at Philips have touched the lives of many people – through their thoughtful design of light bulbs, radios, televisions and CDs, X-ray equipment and MRI scanners, to coffee makers and shavers. With a rich history of innovating to improve people’s lives, today Philips Design is making a bigger and bolder impact than ever before on both the company and on the world.
Here is how it all began.
For Philips, it all started back in 1925 when the young architect Louis Kalff joined the company. He had written a letter to Anton Philips, President of Philips, to tell him what he thought of the company’s advertising and how it could be improved. Just a few days later he was called into the head office to be offered a job. He was initially placed in charge of the Advertising Section, with the task of bringing all Philips publicity material together and modernizing it by standardizing the Philips colors.
Kalff introduced the first official wordmark that became the model for the standardized and protected Philips wordmark, as it still appears today. Louis Kalff’s first advertisement for Philips was for Duplo car lights in 1925.
Right: Philips vintage poster by Louis Kalff – 1928
In 1929 he started a department for design of lighting products. Louis Kalff designed numerous lamps for Philips that are highly sought after and collectible today.
“Light isn’t a technical matter, it’s a physical one” Louis Kalff
The design of the lamps was minimal and fluid. They were created to light the desk below it, but with a circular cut-out in the aluminium hood, the lamps also illuminate above it.
When Philips made its first radios, Kalff helped define the choice of form, color and material. This striking and instantly recognizable radio stands out as key in the move towards the importance of styling and design at Philips. Previous radio designs were boxy and impersonal, but the Chapel, designed by Kalff, was shapely and incorporated the stars and waves of the Philips logo.
He also designed the Philips Philishave. This pioneering rotary electric razor, the Philishave, was clearly influenced by his background as an architect. It was shaped like a Greek column with tapering sides. From a distance the shaver bore some resemblance to a cigar – inspiring its nickname.
Left: Chapel Radio (1931) Right: Philips Philishave (1939)
In subsequent years, others who had studied architecture, interior design or graphics were also recruited to design products. Kalff was soon involved in more exhibition and interior design for Philips presentations at trade fairs, where he first became involved in exploring the uses and possibilities for lighting in exhibitions, shops and interiors.
Louis Kalff, worked on several iconic architecture projects for Philips, including the Astronomical Observatory (1937) in Eindhoven, built to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the company, and the Evoluon (1966) in Eindhoven.
The Evoluon, a futuristic building that resembled a flying saucer, was built as a Philips exhibition center, housing the Man and Progress Museum, which guided public visitors through the latest technology and Philips’ specific contributions to the technological revolution.
The Philips Pavilion , 1958 World Fair – Brussels, Belgium
Kalff also initiated the Philips Pavilion at the 1958 World Fair in Brussels, where Philips wanted to showcase the company’s cutting-edge technology. This multimedia experience, known as Le Poème Électronique, was designed by the world-famous architect Le Corbusier, architect and composer Iannis Xenakis, and avant-garde composer Varèse, who combined electronic music with a series of images depicting the evolution of mankind. All electronics were integrated into the pavilion’s walls, creating an ‘ambient’ experience, a revolutionary concept at the time.
Louis Kalff worked at Philips from 1925 to 1960.