Daily Features

Apple Before Apple: Five Designers That Inspired the Revolutionary Brand

Spotlighting the prolific designers and companies who have played a part in the shaping of Apple’s design philosophy.

By Stela Razzaque, Superscript November 1, 2013

Apple has unquestionably produced some of the most iconic designs of our time, and radically changed the way we live, work, and play. The company’s recent unveiling of its new line of iPhones and iPads, which has already brought about a revolution in the way we interact with technology, have generated a renewed interest in the way the technological objects we touch every day are designed.

Like all great designers, even Apple has drawn inspiration from its design predecessors. Here are five industrial designers and companies whose work set the standard long before Steve Jobs took the helm at the larger-than-life-brand.

Braun and Dieter Rams

The German electrical goods company, Braun, founded in 1921, initially hired Dieter Rams to modernize their interior spaces. Rams quickly went on to become the company’s Chief Design Officer, and played a pivotal role in the company’s ongoing success. Braun products are best known for their by clean, ergonomic forms, that are free from unnecessary ornamentation. Steve Jobs admired the work of Dieter Rams whose influence can be seen in the design evolution of Apple products.

Polaroid and Edwin Land

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Founder of the Polaroid Corporation in 1937 and inventor of instant photography, Edwin Land was as prolific in his time as Steve Jobs has been in ours. Land’s most notable achievement was the folding SX-70 camera of the 1970’s, which was considered a luxury product in its time. The cutting-edge design would collapse down into a pocket-size flat prism with a beautiful finish of brushed chrome and leather. The consumer sensation it caused can be likened to the iPod when it was introduced thirty years later. Steve Jobs considered Land his hero and a person who had a profound influence on his career. In 1985, Jobs told an interviewer, “The man is a national treasure. I don’t understand why people like that can’t be held up as models.”

Frog and Hartmut Esslinger

The Book

Keep it Simple Hartmut Esslinger

The German-American industrial designer and inventor founded the design consultancy Frog in 1969. With an initial focus on industrial design, Frog expanded to consumer electronics and computers. In 1982, Esslinger entered into a contract with Apple with the goal to transform it from a “Silicon-Valley Start-Up,” to a revolutionary global brand. In his recent book, Keep It Simple: The Early Design Years of Apple, Esslinger recalled discussions with Steve Jobs, urging the young visionary to “rethink Apple’s existing design process, and the way it placed designers at the mercy of engineering.” Esslinger explained to Jobs that Apple needed a sole design team and leader reporting directly to him. The implementation of this idea alone was revolutionary for the Apple brand.

Bang & Olufsen and Peter Bang and Sven Olufsen

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Steve Jobs Walter Isaacson

Long before the days of Apple’s reign, Bang & Olufsen led the consumer tech industry with its high-end home theaters, music systems, telephones, and speakers. Founded in 1925 by Peter Bang and Sven Olufsen, the company is best known for its distinctive and elegant designs. Bang and Olufsen has remained committed to following their own path, and have secured a massive fan following with their innovative designs and impeccable craftsmanship.

Sony and Nobutoshi Kihara

The Book

Design Forward Hartmut Esslinger

It’s hard to believe that this global leader in electronics and entertainment products began as a small radio repair shop in a bomb-damaged building of Tokyo in 1946.The company went on to become a multinational conglomeration, creating Japan's first tape recorder and the world’s first portable music player, the Walkman. During the iPhone design process, Apple looked to Sony for inspiration. Steve Jobs and his team were inspired by Sony’s vision for a cutting-edge phone, which included details like rounded corners, a lack of buttons and ornamentation, and an ability to fit into the palm of the user’s hand.

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