Catching Up With Hartmut Esslinger, Design Genius

The founder of Frog Design–whose works helped transform both Sony and Apple into high-design brands–talks with Gizmodo about his work, and his new book.

Hartmut Esslinger


For sheer influence, Hartmut Esslinger is hard to top: Not only did he found Frog Design, he also helped transform not one, but two consumer electronics brands into design powerhouses. Beginning in the mid 1970s, he first worked with Sony on its Trinitron and Wega ranges. Shortly after, in the early 1980s, he began working with Apple, creating the “Snow White” design language, which began with the legendary Apple IIc, and reigned in Cupertino from 1984 to 1990.

As part of their ongoing series of posts looking back at design in 1979, Gizmodo interviewed Esslinger, who just came out with a book, A Fine Line. One of the most interesting points he makes is that our current situation isn’t too different from 1979:

What design trends were hot in the late 1970s that are coming back around now? Which trends from the 1970s will NEVER come back?


The late 1970s were very much defined by the shock of the oil crisis
and the subsequent recession especially here in the United States. In
Europe and Japan, there was a wider acceptance of energy-saving and
ecologically responsible product strategies. The hot design trends were
“personalization and miniaturization”–SONY’s Walkman being the best
manifestation–and with the Japanese domination of electronic consumer
electronics making professional-grade technology–e.g. cameras –
accessible and affordable to millions. This also was a time, when the
United States lost out big time in this field. The late 1970s also were
the “Golden Age” of product design–and this trend will return for
product experiences and hyper-convergence–which means to design how
people feel.

Does the mean we’re heading into another golden age now? Read the rest of the interview–which proves Esslinger remains as far-sighted and future-forward as ever.


[Via Gizmodo]


About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.