Six years after the birth of Apple Computer, co-founder and Chairman Steve Jobs decided his company sorely needed a unified design ethos. In the book "Design Forward," released in the U.S. today, legendary industrial designer Hartmut Esslinger, founder of Frog Design, reveals how his company and Jobs worked together to streamline Apple's sense of style.
The year is 1982, and each Apple product division has its own design head. Realizing the potential disarray that could result from this approach (and following a similar move by Xerox), several designers at the Cupertino, Calif., company host a competitive event between two prominent global design houses. "Apple would choose a final winner and then use that design as the framework for its new design language," says a passage in "Design Forward" provided to CNET by Arnoldsche Art Publishers.
In the book, Esslinger describes how he recognized the shortfalls of Apple's product development process, and wowed his interviewer, Jobs, who dreamed of selling a million Macs (a lofty goal in comparison with the 100,000 Apple II computers sold at the time).
"I offered Steve a number of proposals for meeting his goal. First, Apple would need totally different systems for engineering, third-party partnerships, manufacturing, and logistics as well as design. I also proposed that Apple could compensate for its lack of world-class mechanical engineering by using Sony, Canon, Samsung, and other electronic consumer companies in Asia as development and manufacturing partners. Most importantly, I explained, Apple needed one design team that directly reported to him, and that design had to be involved far ahead of any actual product development in Apple's strategic planning."
After passing the verbal test, Frog Design submitted an eclectic batch of mock computers in attempt to win a lucrative $2 million annual contract from Apple, and more importantly, permission to rule the design roost. The German design house won.
Among many other proposals, Jobs insisted that Esslinger create a computer that echoed Sony's simplistic yet sharp-as-a-tack design standard. A rather easy task for Esslinger, as the designer worked for the Japanese company before Apple. High assembly costs and a lack of cool left this idea on the backburner, however.
Workbench veered off the path of the other Mac computer prototypes with this curvy look.
Throughout "Design Forward," Hartmut Esslinger mentions what inspires his work, but this paragraph about Mac design is especially fascinating: "As I explored ideas for designing the 'face' of this new form, I looked at history, in particular Native American mythology, because I thought that Apple's design should be rooted in the West Coast's past. This search lead us to the geometric sand paintings of the Navajo, then on to the art of the Aztecs, whose carved stone reliefs often resembled astronauts. Those images inspired us to design Apple's computers to look like little people and to transform the display screen into a face."
In the book "Design Forward," Hartmut Esslinger says that being in the company of coders (and their monitors full of abstract-looking code) inspired Slate, a concept computer filled with lines and bar-shaped accents -- shedding the hard angles of past Apple devices. After shipping all of the prototypes to Apple, the two companies agreed on the Snow White design language, which often used white as a base color and focused on "lines, slates, and no angles."
The book sheds light on the finer details of Snow White design:
Slates with a zero-draft character shape, minimal surface texture, no paint, minimal transitional angles when needed (monitors), and volumes/sizes as small as possible.