Hartmut Esslinger is a German-American industrial designer and inventor. He is best known for founding the design consultancy Frog Design Inc. (stylized as frog).
Life and Career
Hartmut Esslinger was born on 5 June 1944, in Beuren (Simmersfeld), in Germany’s Black Forest. At age 25, Esslinger finished his studies at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Schwäbisch Gmünd. After facing vicious criticism of a radio clock he designed while in school and the disapproval of his mother (who burned his sketchbooks), he started his own design agency in 1969, later renamed Frog design.
For his first client, German avant-garde electronics company Wega, he created the first “full plastics” color TV and HiFi series “Wega system 3000”. His work for Wega won him instant international fame and in 1974, Esslinger was hired by Sony, that also acquired Wega shortly after. The German designer was instrumental in creating a global design image for Sony, especially with the Sony Trinitron and personal music products which were chosen to be exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. As of 1976, Esslinger also worked for Louis Vuitton.
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The Apple Era
In 1982, upon moving to California, Esslinger signed an exclusive $2,000,000 per year contract to work for Steve Jobs and Apple Computer as the lead designer for Apple’s “Snow White” design language, launched with great fanfare and commercial success. Over a career spanning more than forty years, Esslinger worked with firms in diverse fields of industry and technology. His innovative approach to design refined Louis Sullivan’s classic motto of “form follows function” into frog’s slogan of “form follows emotion”, pioneering a global design philosophy, especially to electronics, that sought a comprehensive approach to both the aesthetics and functionality of the industrial design.
During the 1980s and early 90s, frog moved to support the technological and cultural disruptions that clients were facing. Engineering, branding, and packaging became part of frog’s core offering, working for clients such as Sun Microsystems, Packard Bell, Lufthansa, and Olympus. In the mid-1990s, frog led another dramatic shift in the design industry by incorporating software design for web and mobile.
Esslinger’s Awards and the Contribution to an Enduring Global Economy
Esslinger is a founding Professor of the Hochschule fur Gestaltung in Karlsruhe, Germany and since 2006 he is a Professor for convergent industrial design at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, Austria. In 1996, Esslinger was awarded an honorary doctorate of Fine Arts by the Parsons School of Design, New York City. Since 2012 Esslinger has served as a DeTao Master of Industrial Design with The Beijing DeTao Masters Academy (DTMA) in Shanghai, China.
In 2009 Esslinger published A Fine Line in which he explores business solutions that are environmentally sustainable and contribute to an enduring global economy.
Chronological List of Esslinger’s Honors
- 1969 Bundespreis Gute Form (Federal Design Award) – German Design Council;
- 1991 Lucky Strike Design Award – Raymond Loewy Foundation;
- 1993 Design Team of the Year – Red Dot Design Awards;
- 1996 Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts – Parsons School of Design;
- 2013 Honorary Royal Designer for Industry – Royal Society of Arts;
- 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award – Cooper Hewitt National Design Awards;
- 2017 World Design Medal – World Design Organization.