Good industrial design is not artful packaging, but strategy. Hartmut Esslinger has tirelessly championed this idea for decades. When it comes to cars, the renowned designer favors consummate symmetry. He drives two 911
Upon approaching the only modern house on this secluded street in Los Gatos, it is obvious where the automotive loyalties of the owner lie. Behind the glass door of the garage sits an eye-catching Speed Yellow
Not one for privacy, Mr. Esslinger? “I like to see my
And, of course, a bit of Esslinger. After all, the man of the house is a leading industrial designer and founder of an institution of revolutionary product design. Esslinger originally established Esslinger Design in Mutlangen, Germany, near Stuttgart, in 1969, but renamed the company frog design thirteen years later. With his legendary designs, success came rather quickly: the Tribel showerhead created for Hansgrohe in 1974 was a huge success, selling fifteen million units. The black box design for Sony’s Trinitron TV brought an end to the era of wood paneling in the entertainment electronics industry.
Esslinger’s vision has shaped the products of countless international companies—including Disney, Louis Vuitton, Lufthansa, Microsoft, Olympus, and SAP. But sleek design was not the only way he accumulated such a prominent customer base. Esslinger has long advocated the idea that design should not just be artful packaging, but rather must be a strategic component of every company. It is the lifelong philosophy of an unconventional thinker who, frustrated with the “idea of beautification and the elitist chatter of many of my fellow students,” never completed his university studies.
No one took Esslinger’s message to heart more than
“It was never boring with him,” Esslinger reminisces, bowing his head wistfully. Jobs died in 2011 at the age of just 56. The
Although Esslinger likes to display his
Esslinger circles the 911 in his immaculate garage. The
He is also a man of habit: Esslinger owns another
But why buy two cabriolets, same model and color? “Just playing it safe,” explains Esslinger. He doesn’t want to be distracted by an unfamiliar color. “So when I buy a new 911, I’ll have to buy two,” he chuckles as he slides into the blue seat—after swapping his Birkenstock sandals for raspberry-red sneakers and putting on a matching white-dotted scarf and a royal blue coat.
Esslinger heads off on his favorite route: the Old Santa Cruz Highway, a winding road that crawls through the sparsely populated Santa Cruz Mountains, which separate Los Gatos and Silicon Valley from the Pacific. The 911 glides toward the surfer city of Santa Cruz, and the journey proves to be no less colorful than Esslinger’s attire: the Speed Yellow perfectly matching the center line of the road, the vibrant green leaves, and the red-brown trunks of the redwoods, which seem to tower even higher into the heavens from the frog’s-eye view of the 911. The route has a meditative quality, says Esslinger, who usually prefers the purr of the engine to music.
Esslinger and his wife sold frog a few years ago, but remain the largest private shareholders. He has barely slowed his pace since stepping back in 2008. He is the chief design officer of the Chinese media and technology company LeEco (formerly Letv), teaches strategic design at the DeTao Masters Academy in Shanghai, which he helped establish, and advises CEOs on the development of global brands. “I’m a workaholic,” concedes Esslinger. He parks his
By Helene Laube
Photos by Albrecht Fuchs