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:
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.
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 FORA.tv
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.
The delightful designer Thomas Thwaites took the stage today to offer a close examination of a complex design challenge. Unlike his session peers from the State Department, he wasn’t addressing the problematic organism of the U.S. foreign policy, but rather the boggling complexities of, well, a toaster.
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:
Blog Object Oriented
We know at frog that good design can improve the experience for life’s problems both large and small. That’s why frog teamed up with Dune Road Design to create a product that alleviates the chaos and frustration of rogue headphone cords. Thus, the Sinch was born: a new, high-design answer to the problem of keeping smart device cords tangle-free.
Recently, Phaidon published a new monograph of Dieter Ram's work entitled "Dieter Rams, As Little Design As Possible" written by Sophie Lovell. To celebrate the launch of the book Phaidon hosted a panel discussion in their SoHo space which included Gary Hustwit, director of Objectified, Helvetica, and Urbanized; Zoe Coombes, co-founder of CMMNWLTH; and me, creative director here at frog; moderated by LinYee Yuan, editor of core77.com.
One of the discussion topics that stuck with me is the perception by some that Ram's products and other Modernist products are cold or anonymous. While it can be said that the work may be devoid of its own personality, I see this as a positive thing. It is because of theses devices' intentional neutrality that the personality of the user—rather than the personality of the designer or the whim of a particular fashion trend—overlays the object. The user's personality is imbued into the object over time, seemingly through some sort of osmosis. For example, my grandfather owned a Braun electric juicer designed by Rams. Over the course of many breakfasts, I observed my grandfather making orange juice for our family with that little appliance. It somehow became his juicer and I still think of my grandfather when I see it. When he passed away a little over a decade ago, we began the daunting task of going through his things, and I came across his juicer. This little white appliance evoked so many memories of my grandfather. It had taken on his personality. While Ram's objects may lack sentimentality, they can become the intense focus of it in a very powerful and personal way.
Automobiles are one of the most difficult objects to represent two dimentionally, yet they frequently fill the doodle-verse of many a designer. Perhaps their elusive complexity compels us to try to draw them onto the page. Or, maybe it is their emotional relevance, the way many people overlay their own personality onto vehicles, that begs designers to capture their essence on the page. Whatever the attraction, Adam Hubers, a designer at Chrysler and Matt Marrocco, an industrial designer and frequent core77 discussion forum poster, have been developing a book to help us to better understand how to translate these objects of desire onto the page. Contents include global automotive brands, global design schools, global auto show dates and locations, reference materials in both print and web format, commonly used proportions and packages, and 100+ pages of templates to practice with.
Check out the book's site and pre-order >>> HERE
Support them on Kickstarter >>> HERE
Blog Object Oriented
The design world seems to be drifting away from its heritage. More and more designers are becoming increasingly disconnected from the objects they design. Some of it has to do with the increasing obsession with rapid prototyping and slowly removing us, and our craft, from our work. But most of it has to do with the designer’s process and their need to insert themselves into the equation. Instead of starting with the user, or even the product, most designers are guilty of trying first to win an award, to create some new form for form’s sake, or simply just to wag their tail in the face of the user to show how clever they are.