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News, thoughts, and analysis on product design.

The Story Behind the 1985 frog FZ750

Every few weeks I get a request for information about the classic frog FZ750 concept designed by our founder Hartmut Esslinger in 1985. The frog FZ was a bit of a superstar, appearing on the cover of various magazines including Cycle World in the US and Motorad in Germany. In 1990 it appeared on the cover of Business week with Esslinger. Hartmut was the only living designer thus honored since Raymond Loewy in 1934. I always felt the frog FZ, sometimes called "The Rana", was special for a few reasons. Being designed in 1985, just three years after frog entered into its contract with Apple and opened the California studio, it was the personification of the hopes, dreams, and ambitions of frog at that time. It also influenced the generation of mortorbikes that followed. The Honda Hurricane was so influenced by the frog FZ that Honda offered one to Hartmut as a gift!

After having a prominent place in our client area for the last twenty five years, we prepared the frog FZ to enter the permant collection of the SFMOMA this month. There it will be on display as the iconic part of design history it is. As part of the restoration and preparation process, we spoke with Hartmut to document the entire story on how the FZ came to be. Read the following for the full scoop:

The Path Less Followed; Why I Didn’t Work at Circuit City

A student recently asked me how I got my first professional job as a designer. It reminded me of a particularly difficult journey I hadn’t thought of in years. Looking at my resume my path seems almost predestined. It was easy for me to almost forget how difficult it was to transition from student to professional. It almost didn’t happen at all.

My last year in design school, I was doing sponsored projects for both Nike and Nissan. The Nike project was going extremely well and resulted in Nike flying me out to their headquarters outside of Portland, Oregon a couple of times to meet with the team and David Schenone, then the head of footwear design. A few months out from graduation, Dave made me an offer to come out to Nike full-time. Arrogantly, I asked if I could defer my decision until after graduation so I could weigh all of my options. I wanted to finish up my project for Nissan and I was hoping it also might turn into an offer.

Little did I know that many companies were having a difficult year. In fact it was one of the worst sales quarters Nike had ever seen. I wrapped up the program with Nissan and they expressed interest in me coming there, but they wanted me to get a couple years of experience first. Nike informed me that I was at the top of their list, but they had a 6-12 month hiring freeze. Interest from other companies like Seadoo and Bombardier also cooled when they readjusted their budgets.

Design Doing: The Handcrafted Footwear of Nick Maloy


Often we get caught up in talk of Design Thinking, sensemaking and synthesis. While moving post it notes is sometimes a necessary means to an end to sort things out, it always warms my heart to see some real Design DOING. There is something so authentic about a designer just getting in and making something, because making is thinking. As Mark Rolston, the Chief Creative officer at frog once said to me, working with your hands is the highest form of thinking. I found another wonderful example of this in the handcrafted footwear of Nick Maloy.

Integrating the Museum Into the City, the New SFMOMA Expansion

Earlier this year I was asked to join the accessions committee for the Architecture and Design Department of the SFMOMA. It seems it was an opportune time, as the museum is making some exciting changes, most notable of which is a new expansion of the museum itself. The expansion project will double the existing gallery space to 130,000 square feet, and will also heavily modify the existing galleries to differ in scale, materials, and lighting specifically designed to showcase a range of art, from photography to installation, video, painting, and sculpture.

Discussing Industrial Design, SFMOMA Panel Discussion at swissnex

A few weeks ago swissnex San Francisco hosted an SFMOMA Architecture and Design Forum panel discussion on the topic of Dieter Rams and the effect of Modernism on today's design landscape. Panelists included Yves Behar of Fuse Project, Cathy Baily of Heath Ceramics, Markus Diebel of InCase, and myself, Michael DiTullo of frog. The event was moderated by SFMOMA Architecture and Design curator Joseph Becker. We recieved some fantastic questions from the audience as well as from Joseph, including inquiries on the "tyranny of good design", what the shape of the designer of the future will be, and the impact of smart products on industrial design. I think you will enjoy the video below documented by Fora TV. You can jump to individual clips of specific questions on their site here.

swissnex: Around Dieter Rams from swissnex San Francisco on

Living in a World of Talismans

A talisman is a physical object that purports powers and meaning beyond the physical. Humans have been making talismans for centuries, we are wired to give physical objects meaning. Take for example an engagement ring. A band of metal with a polished stone mounted on it. It has no hard drive, no 4g connection, no moving parts, and yet I can't think of another object that has a higher amount of meaning per ounce. It is the physical embodiment of a promise, of a future together. It embodies all the complexities of love, trust, and hope in a single object. It is a tribal indicator to all who see it and a reminder to the wearer. Few gestures mean more than putting on an engagement ring.


Interview with John Maeda (VIDEO)

Last week we had John Maeda, President of the Rhode Island School of Design and author of "The Laws of Simplicity" in the frog San Francisco studio. John presented to a group of RISD alumni and frogs about how the school is responding and influencing the world around it, as well as to update us on an initiative he is spearheading called "STEM to STEAM". STEM represents a movement to refocus education in the United States on the specific fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. STEM to STEAM seeks to add Art to that formula, something I entirely agree on. The problems that will challenge us in the decades to come will not be the same as yesterday. Creativity is not a silver bullet, but coupling it with our more traditional focus on left brain learning will surely yield new results.

Before the presentation, I sat down with John in our studio library and we talked about what he is passionate about, as well as trading a few RISD stories. There are several RISD alum at frog spread throughout the world including Executive Creative Director Nick de la Mare (MID'95), and Creative Director Jonas Damon (BFA'93 ID). I myself am an alum (BFA'98 ID). Check out the video, which is a bit of a sneak peak into the type of content that will be covered in Designmind's upcoming "Passion" issue, and please, support STEM to STEAM!

Design Addict Congress: San Luis Potosi, Mexico

Last week I was down in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, to speak at the Design Addict Congress, a series of lectures and workshops focused on industrial design at the The Tecnológico de Monterrey’s SLP campus. In attendence were over 300 designers and design students from all over Mexico. The Tecnológico de Monterrey was founded in 1943 by Eugenio Garza Sada. Along with a group of Mexican businessmen, Sada envisioned a cutting-edge educational institution for Mexico. Today the Tecnológico has more than 30 campuses throughout Mexico and nearly 50,000 undergraduate students.

At this year's Design Addict Congress, speakers were invited to give a lecture to the entire audience, as well as a workshop to smaller groups. Speakers included Karim Rashid, Don Lehman of More/Real, Matali Crasset, Alberto Villarreal, Antonio Aguilar of Electrolux, and myself, Michael DiTullo from frog. The San Luis Potosi campus has one of the younger design programs in the Tecnológico system of schools, and in my experience those younger design programs tend to be a little more open, hungrier for reality, and full of eager students. That was certainly the case here. Everywhere we went we encountered eager, bright, and very passionate design students.

Preserving the Old School

Carl Olsen was the head of the College for Creative Studies Transportation Design program from 1987-2000. Having previously been Director of Style for Citroen, Director of Design at Ogle Design Ltd., and Tutor in Transportation Design Royal College of Art London, Carl brought a distinct flavor to the program, adding to its already established reputation as a transportation design powerhouse.

One of our designers at frog, Amina Horozic, a CCS grad herself, brought it to my attention that Carl had preserved much of his best student's work and placed it in a convenient online archive. Check out the dozen or so deep galleries, some with sub galleries, of some of the most fantastic transportation work from that era. You might recognize many of the student names, like Ralph Gilles, currently the CEO of the SRT brand and senior vice-president of design at Chrysler.

Enjoy the galleries HERE.

Nurturing the Desire to Keep


About four years ago I had the rare opportunity to start collaborating with Jonathan Ward, founder of Icon. Jonathan and his team hand build limited edition vehicles in California. Calling them vehicles is almost an insult, they are rolling testaments to what happens when you go the extra mile on every single detail. The vehicles don’t have headlights, they have LED assemblies made by the same people who made the lights for the Mars rover. They don’t have paint jobs, they have electrostatically applied powder coated finishes. The emblems are hand cast by a jeweler. The upholstery is made by Chilewich. When people say things like “They don’t build them like they used to,” tell them to look up Jonathan.

This is not the kind of object you use and toss. Its very existence nurtures its owner’s desire to keep it, to take care of it and be proud of it. Working with Jonathan reminds me a bit of something that frog’s founder, Hartmut Esslinger, once wrote: