The following is the introduction to Design Forward: Creative Strategies for Sustainable Change by frog’s founder Hartmut Esslinger. The book will be released on Feburary 16, 2013 and is available for pre-order now.
After a long career with frog — the design agency I founded in 1969 — and as a creative consultant for some of the world’s best and most successful entrepreneurs, executives, and companies, I wrote my first book, A Fine Line — How Design Strategies Are Shaping the Future of Business. In that book, I focused on the corporate side of the business-design alliance and outlined why Strategic Design is most successful when it is an integral part of a company’s innovation and business strategy. Due to both the business focus and the limited space, A Fine Line wasn’t as complete as many would have wished, and I fielded many questions about organization and process in the field of design and in the working relationship between business and design. Because A Fine Line was published in German, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, the feedback was — and still is — global in nature. I used the questions, comments, and criticism that I received about my first book as my motivation for writing Design Forward as well as for structuring the information I offer within it.
A major takeaway of the recent Samsung/Apple patent dispute: Physical objects have retained their power in the digital age. The battle wasn’t centered so much on technical innovations but design patents--specifically, the physical look of the iPad versus that of the Samsung Galaxy Tab.
Smartphones, laptops, and tablets are very much like ships from the colonial days of the past. Then, the countries with the best merchant navies dominated the seas and, as a result, became the richest and most powerful nations in the world. Today, we have shifted from shipping physical goods to digitally transmitting services and media, and companies with the best vessels control the digital trade.
Yet smartphones, tablets, and laptops are more than just vessels and delivery mechanisms for digital content. In the digital age, physical devices also serve as emblems of the complex, software-based goods and services they bring to life. In a world of ever-shifting software and application development, these symbols offer a sense of permanence and consistency. For many technology firms, iconic physical devices have replaced corporate logos as the primary representations of brand identity. Familiar artifacts, like Apple’s iPhone, serve as functional, usable, three-dimensional trademarks, simultaneously expressing the ecosystem, content, and brand values in one powerful statement.
One of the questions I get asked most often is from engineers looking to break into design. It’s usually along the lines of:
“I’m working as an engineer at a company on really technical aspects of projects and I don’t feel creatively challenged. I’d like to get more involved on the front end design side working at a design and innovation firm like frog. What should I do?”
Making the transition from hardcore mechanical engineering specialist to design engineer generalist is a tough one, but it is doable if you are really dedicated to making it happen. Luck has a lot to do with it, but here are a few tips based on my personal experience and the experience of people I’ve worked with.
The Golden Ratio is mathematically elegant, which is why people like it. It can also be found in nature, which is why people give it credence. But neither of these things means that people prefer this proportion in designed objects or the built environment.
If you want to access people on a visceral level by using the Golden Rectangle as your template for design, then good luck. Fact of the matter is no scientific or neurophysiological data supports the idea that the Golden Ratio is pleasant to the human eye. And there is zero evidence that the brain responds positively (or at all) when presented with it. No instinctual draw, no magic power and no supernatural or psychological force is at play when this proportion is used as the basis for a design.
Last week was the culmination of a 16-week Industrial Design junior level class from the California College of the Arts (CCA). The class was divided into two groups with two different subject areas for the students to choose from. Myself, Max Burton from frog and Karson Shadley from Shape Field Office taught a segment on ‘wearable sound’ and Chris Luomanen of Thing-Tank and Rob Swinton from Huge Design taught a segment on ‘personal mobile safety.’ To enhance the level of realism and to develop connections with the local professional design community, we held the final presentation of the students’ work at frog design in our San Francisco studio and Lunar‘s head office in Potrero Hill with many local industrial design professionals as guest critics.
The course is intended to emulate a real-life design project. Students go through the entire design process from choosing an end user and discovering opportunity areas through design research. They then go onto concept exploration, sketching, model-making, 3D CAD and rendering and final presentation. We put an equal emphasis on problem solving and a rigorous design process as we did on the final physical form factor. In today’s competitive marketplace for industrial design it is essential that students demonstrate their capacity for original-thinking and problem-solving skills as well as the high mastery of skills that are fundamental to be a successful industrial designer.
As designers we enjoy figuring out new ways of interacting with the world around us. Clients often come to us with raw, just-invented technologies, and we help add a human perspective. New technologies prompt new forms, and we look for meaning in form. A product’s personality is the sum expression of the content it delivers, the function it performs, the behavior it elicits, and the aesthetic it portrays.
Ever since the birth of the bicycle nearly two hundred years ago, designers, builders, and manufacturers have been inspired to evolve this two-wheeled mode of transportation. The motorcycle developed as an offshoot, and it too continues evolving through inspired technological advancement. Today we are facing the normalization of electric vehicles, and are looking at this technology to once again create a distinctive influence on state of two-wheeled transportation design. The introduction of new technologies often serves as an impetus for industrial designers to rethink the design of familiar archetypes.
Having been in San Francisco for nearly a year, I was excited to head back to Switzerland this Autumn and revisit my roots. In October the Alps are still free of snow and the grass is a lush green. An ideal time to explore the Confederation Helvetica.
After all the feedback I got on my last motorcycle-related post, and having had to answer a lot of requests from folks since about which is the best first bike to buy, I decided to make a handy flowchart to determine exactly which bike is right for you. Just work your way down the chart to motorcycling bliss.
A few weekends ago, during Oakland’s Art Murmur, my friend and I swung by a rather small gallery to check out the work on display. It was near closing time, and we were obviously late to the party. Aside from the gallery owner, some fancy cheese, broken up crackers, half-empty bottles of cheap wine and the two nouveau-hipsteresque gentlemen in all black, there was nobody else in there. The pieces were hung in the back half of the space and resembled some sort of indigenous dream catchers. At first glance I thought that they might have been remnants of an archeological dig, rather than contemporary art created just few months prior—there was simply a certain air of primitive authenticity to them.