In­dus­trial de­sign guru Hart­mut Esslinger; Am­s­ter­dam’s Joe Merino shop

The Weekend Australian - Life - - FOOD & WINE - STEPHEN BROOK

For Har­mut Esslinger, emo­tional ap­peal is an es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ent of the well-de­signed prod­uct

FORM fol­lows func­tion, the de­sign mantra goes, but not in Hart­mut Esslinger’s de­sign world. For him, form fol­lows emo­tion. “In mod­ern prod­ucts, there’s a lack of emo­tion and emo­tional ap­peal is re­ally miss­ing right now,” says the Ger­man-born de­signer, who di­vides his time between there and the US.

And don’t get him started on the de­sign mantra of func­tional sim­plic­ity. “That’s not beau­ti­ful. That’s bor­ing. At one point in Ger­many, de­sign sank into this ma­nia of sim­plic­ity and I said, ‘No­body feels any­thing about this stuff any more, you need more emo­tion.’ It was con­sid­ered emo­tion wouldn’t work in Ger­many but I said ‘it sells bet­ter’.”

Be­fore Jonathan Ive there was Esslinger. His Frog de­sign group was called in by Steve Jobs in the 1980s to help shape Ap­ple’s trans­for­ma­tion. That started with the Ap­ple IIc, which was launched in 1984, the same year as the Mac­in­tosh, but the sim­pler home com­puter out­sold its more so­phis­ti­cated sta­ble­mate for years.

In 1983 Esslinger pitched up at Ap­ple as a de­sign con- sul­tant, urg­ing Jobs to re­vamp pro­cesses that placed de­sign­ers at the mercy of en­gi­neers. Esslinger wanted one de­sign leader at Ap­ple, in­volved years ahead of any ac­tual prod­uct devel­op­ment. He got it.

Thus, the Ap­ple IIc, the first to en­cap­su­late Esslinger’s “Snow White” de­sign scheme for Ap­ple: hor­i­zon­tal and ver­ti­cal stripes to give the il­lu­sion of a re­duc­tion in the ma­chine’s vol­ume, a three-di­men­sional Ap­ple logo in­laid on the prod­uct case and an off-white colour scheme. More than 400,000 units sold that first year.

Esslinger says now of the Ap­ple IIc: “That was a lit­tle bit like a lit­tle friend; com­put­ers had been hos­tile be­fore.”

It was de­signed to im­part a par­tic­u­lar mes­sage to con­sumers: “I am an in­tel­li­gent be­ing, I am not a stupid ra­dio just play­ing mu­sic.”

Esslinger is on the phone from Ger­many’s Black For­est, a pas­sion­ate and ex­u­ber­ant ad­vo­cate ex­pound­ing his unique world­view. While many of his fa­mous de­signs are now mu­seum pieces, he looks res­o­lutely to the future. Esslinger is talk­ing in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the ex­hi­bi­tion In

ter­face: Peo­ple, Ma­chines, De­sign at Syd­ney’s Pow­er­house Mu­seum. It is a world of iconic prod­ucts, of Olivetti elec­tric typewrit­ers, Braun ra­dios and Ap­ple com­put­ers, telling the story of how a hand­ful of in­dus­trial vi­sion­ar­ies trans­formed clunky ma­chines, el­e­vat­ing the in­dus­try in the process.

Other de­sign­ers fea­tured in­clude Di­eter Rams, the Ger­man in­dus­trial de­signer for Braun who was such a strong ad­vo­cate for func­tional sim­plic­ity; Jobs and Steve Woz­niak, co-founders of Ap­ple; Doug En­gel­bart, a sem­i­nal fig­ure in com­puter in­ter­face de­sign; and Olivetti de­sign­ers Mar­cello Niz­zoli, Et­tore Sottsass and Mario Bellini.

“There’s crazy stuff in there that I for­got ex­isted — the old typewrit­ers I like,” Esslinger says.

The ex­hi­bi­tion con­tains a rare Ap­ple I com­puter and the Xerox Alto com­puter that trans­formed Jobs’s vi­sion of per­sonal com­put­ing. When Jobs was shown the Xerox Alto, he im­me­di­ately re­alised it was the future, even if Xerox didn’t. “It was the com­bus­tion en­gine of the in­for­ma­tion age, it ac­cel­er­ated it,” says Esslinger of the de­vice. “How blind ex­ec­u­tives were not to recog­nise what they had in their hand.”

“The Mac, it was stolen from Xerox but we con­verted it into an ex­pe­ri­ence that was not about the of­fice — it was about writ­ing po­etry or what­ever.” In­deed, an early Ap­ple II ad­ver­tise­ment fea­tured the com­puter on a kitchen ta­ble, and Jobs was in­spired to model the Ap­ple II case on a Cuisi­nart elec­tric mixer he saw while wan­der­ing through the kitchen ap­pli­ance sec­tion of Macy’s depart­ment store.

“It’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand as a de­signer you have to cre­ate a plat­form and in­vite peo­ple into it and they dis­cover stuff they never thought of be­fore. That is the emo­tional stuff that de­sign has to do,” Esslinger says. “Each in­nova-

Har­mut Esslinger, left; Braun ra­dio and record player combo from 1963, be­low; Blick­ens­der­fer 6 type­writer from 1906, bot­tom left

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