Harmut Esslinger’s Design Forward Shows the Early History of Mac and Apple Design


Harmut Esslinger is one of the people who shaped our lives in so many ways, but many of us—I certainly didn’t—probably don’t know his name. While today Jony Ive is “showcased” as part of Apple, in the past, the brilliant minds behind the designs that made Apple “Apple” weren’t so well known. Design site designboom received a copy of Harmut Esslinger’s new book Design Forward and shared some pictures of early Apple products that, you can see, influenced a lot of what would come later.

For the design crowd Design Forward is probably going to be a “must buy” book, for the rest of us, however, just looking at the pictures of early and prototype Apple products is fascinating enough. The introduction to the designboom post sets the stage for who Harmut Esslinger is and what his work means to us:

in german designer hartmut esslinger’s new book ‘design forward’, the founder of frog design overviews ‘strategic design’, and how innovative progression has sparked creative change in the consumer market, especially for one of the most successful american companies ever built: apple.

the official book launch happened at the opening event of an exhibition ‘german design standards – from bauhaus to globalisation’ on german design classics, during the BODW 2012 business of design week in hong kong. the exhibition has been a collaboration between the hong kong design institute (HKDI), the neue sammlung – the international design museum munich – and the red dot design museum in essen, germany. designboom met hartmut esslinger shortly before his presentation in hong kong and in that occasion we were given the first book copy.

he introduced us into the strategic planning of apple and his personal friendship with steven jobs. in this article, designboom takes a look back at esslinger’s designs of the early 80’s, where the images document prototypes, concepts and explorations of apple’s computers, laptops and tablets.

Via designboom (as are the e.e. cummings lack of capital letters)

Beyond the “Mac Phone” at the top of the post, look at the details of the “baby Mac” and laptop designs:


The curved keyboard (from 1985) we all know came into being with some of the wired and wireless models before the aluminum models we use now. Look at the details of the laptop, like the circular hinge, certainly looks like the first PowerBooks that would come out in the 1990s (and these were early 1980s prototypes). It’s these details, aspects that not only stand the test of time, but also inspire products that might not appear for years—or decades—that are a testament to design genius. I can’t help but wonder what we’ll see in twenty or more years when a similar book could be produced from Jony Ives’ works. There must be some amazing things that might never see the light of day, but could inspire generations of designs for years to come. Designboom has more pictures from the book and looking at them you can see how the industrial design style of Apple has been a long time coming, and how the past became what we see now in Apple products.

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