Book List of the Week

Book List of the Week: Hartmut Esslinger

Matching design to technology

By Steve Kroeter February 10, 2014
Hartmut Esslinger, Product Designer: Founder of frog design (San Francisco and Munich)
View Hartmut Esslinger’s Book List

The founder of frog design, the company that worked with Apple in the 1980s to develop some of its most well-known products, Hartmut Esslinger has told the story of his years with Apple and Steve Jobs in two recent books: Design Forward and Keep It Simple (just released widely in the U.S. in January 2014), both from ARNOLDSCHE Art Publishers. Esslinger’s “lesson is about matching design to technology,” says Phil Patton, who reviewed Design Forward for Designers & Books as a Notable Design Book of 2013.

“Praise for Apple design,” Patton writes, “has tended to focus on Jonathan Ive and his staff and ignore the longstanding, but quite different contributions of Esslinger and Bob Brunner. In a reminder of the company’s earliest days, Esslinger includes photos of ‘concept’ products mocked up for Apple. These early Apple products suggest a wide level of experimentation. They include upright workstations, amazingly contemporary laptops, small computers (‘Baby Mac’) and the ’MacPhone,’ a slate with stylus and telephone handset—attached with a cord. In retrospect, the question that is clear and is the nature of Apple’s success was figuring out which technologies were mature enough for which designs.”

Covers for Hartmut Esslinger’s Design Forward and Keep it Simple (ARNOLDSCHE Art Publishers)

In Keep It Simple, subtitled “The Early Design Years of Apple,” Esslinger details his partnership as a designer with Jobs the entrepreneur, with the historically significant result that Steve Jobs made “strategic design” the core of Apple’s business strategy. In the process, as Esslinger describes in his book, Jobs had to overcome huge opposition both inside and outside of Apple.

“I read a lot of history,” Esslinger comments on the book list he sent to Designers & Books. Among the titles he chose, which range from John Steinbeck’s East of Eden to Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, is Meditations, the philosophical and spiritual reflections of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121–180), one of history’s great thinkers. Esslinger points out one of the aphorisms: “As a leader, do what you have to do and don’t try to be popular.”

Apple MacBook, study, with integrated touch screen, 1984 © Hartmut Esslinger and frog team. Photo: Rick English. From Keep It Simple (ARNOLDSCHE Art Publishers)

View Hartmut Esslinger’s Book List.

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