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.
In the book "Design Forward," Hartmut Esslinger describes how the prototype Apple computer seen above -- called Americana -- drew inspiration from "classical American design statements, especially Raymond Loewy's streamlined designs for Studebaker and other automotive clients, the Electrolux line of household appliances, Gestetner's office products, and (naturally) the Coke bottle." Alas, Americana wasn't innovative enough.
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.
The prototype Macintosh Studies desktops might remind you of an early version of the Macintosh computer, which Apple introduced two years after the creation of this concept. What do you think about the blue casing?
Apple engineer Bill Atkinson often inspired Esslinger to dream up concept devices that utilized technologies such as a flat-screen touch interface, or a telephone. This early vision of a MacBook proposed something truly radical: a large touch-screen display. According to a passage in "Design Forward," Steve Jobs showed this conceptual laptop to the Mac team in 1983 and said the company needed to build the device -- drawing audible gasps from the group. Apple finally introduced its first portable computer – the gargantuan Macintosh Portable -- in 1989, and later debuted an actual laptop computer series known as the PowerBook in 1991.
Marvel at a prototype dual-screen, flat-screen workstation that supports a conventional keyboard. It would take many years before consumers could afford (and hardware could support) dual-monitor configurations.
Eleven years before Apple introduced its first tablet (the Newton MessagePad 100 in 1993), Hartmut Esslinger proposed a radical tablet computer design –- amusingly titled Bashful –- with an accompanying stylus.
Feast your eyes on a conceptual Macphone with a touch-screen display. In 1984, Hartmut Esslinger envisioned the device as an enhanced communications tool capable of sending handwritten notes to those in one's contact list. Wondering about the initials? The SJ stands for Steve Jobs, while JS stands for then-CEO John Sculley.
Steve Jobs requested that Frog Design occasionally implement the color black-anthracite into its designs, as evidenced in the business-oriented Jonathan Mac. Below the monitor, those thin shells would contain separate Disk II and 3.5-inch floppy disk drives, as well as a monster 20MB hard drive. During his time with NeXT, Steve Jobs used a variation of the Jonathan Mac design for the NeXTstation desktop computer.
Toward the end of Hartmut Esslinger's stint with Apple, the prolific designer conceived of the Baby Mac, which nearly came to fruition after a steady development. In 1985, the device disappeared from the table after Steve Jobs left the company owing to constant clashes with then-CEO John Sculley.
The Baby Mac meant a lot to Hartmut Esslinger, who says in "Design Forward" that it stands as his "best design never to be produced." The designer pushed for cutting-edge features: "We worked with Toshiba on a new cathode ray tube (CRT) front in order to avoid the cheap look of a regular CRT screen, and we also looked at flat-screen technology. To make the Mac as small as possible, we experimented with wireless keyboard and mouse connections."