Life and career
Esslinger was born in Beuren (Simmersfeld), in Germany's Black Forest. At age 25, Esslinger finished his studies at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Schwäbisch Gmünd in Schwäbisch Gmünd. After vicious criticism of a radio clock he designed while in school, he started his own design agency in 1969, later renamed Frogdesign. For his first client, German avant-garde consumer electronics company Wega, he created the first "full plastics" color TV and HiFi series "Wega system 3000". His work for Wega won him instant international fame. In 1974, Esslinger was hired by Sony - Sony also acquired Wega shortly after - and he was instrumental in creating a global design image for Sony, especially with the Sony Trinitron and personal music products. The Sony-Wega Music System Concept 51K was chosen by the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
As of 1976, Esslinger also worked for Louis Vuitton.
In 1982 he entered into an exclusive $1,000,000 per year contract with Apple Computer to create a design strategy which transformed Apple from a "Silicon Valley Start-Up" into a global brand. Setting up shop in California for the first time, Esslinger and Frogdesign created the "Snow White design language" which was applied to all Apple product lines from 1984 to 1990, commencing with the Apple IIc and including the Macintosh computer. The original Apple IIc was acquired by the Whitney Museum of Art in New York and Time voted it Design of the Year. Soon after Steve Jobs' departure, Esslinger broke his own contract with Apple and followed Jobs to NeXT.
Other major client engagements include Lufthansa's global design and brand strategy, SAP's corporate identity and software user interface, Microsoft Windows branding and user interface design, Siemens, NEC, Olympus, HP, Motorola and General Electric.
In December 1990 Esslinger was featured on the cover of BusinessWeek the only living designer thus honored since Raymond Loewy in 1934. Esslinger is a founding Professor of the Hochschule fuer Gestaltung in Karlsruhe, Germany and since 2006 he is a Professor for convergent industrial design at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, Austria. In 1996, Esslinger was awarded an honorary doctorate of Fine Arts by the Parsons School of Design, New York.
In 2009 Esslinger published A Fine Line in which he explores business solutions that are environmentally sustainable and contribute to an enduring global economy.
In recent years, Frogdesign has survived two acquisitions. In 2006 it was purchased by Flextronics. Soon afterwards it was purchased by the leveraged buyout firm KKR as part of a group several of Flextronics units and packaged into a software company called Aricent.
Esslinger is a DeTao Master of Industrial Design with The Beijing DeTao Masters Academy (DTMA) in Shanghai, China.
- Hartmut Esslinger und frogdesign. von Hartmut Esslinger und Uta Brandes, 1992 Steidl Verlag, Göttingen, ISBN 3-88243-215-2
- Frog: Form Follows Emotion (Cutting Edge S.) von Fay Sweet, 1999 Thames and Hudson Ltd., ISBN 0-500-01917-7
- Frogdesign von Hartmut Esslinger und Volker Fischer, 2000 Edition Axel Menges, ISBN 3-930698-05-6
- A Fine Line: How Design Strategies Are Shaping the Future of Business von Hartmut Esslinger, 2009 Jossey-Bass, ISBN 0-470-45102-5