He is THE industrial design guru and has revolutionized consumer electronics. Hartmut Esslinger knew Steve Jobs like no other, is actively committed to environmental protection and warns of climate crises and steadily growing fascism.


This is an extract of the new 2021 Print Magazine “The Reconnect Issue”, which is available here!


Mr. Esslinger, you are a real industrial design guru. What makes a professional designer for you and what is the difference between classic design and utility design?

Well … design is always for use, so-called “classic design” has either survived obsolescence through technical progress or style changes – e.g. furniture and furnishings – or if it is new – just stylistics. Design is an integrative profession based on science, technology, economics, anthropology (roughly translated as human- and cultural studies) and ecology, based on whether we design artificial objects, experiences and concepts and combine them with emotional appeal.


When you started working with Apple in the 1980s, did you already suspect how successful and innovative the brand would be one day?


That might sound a bit arrogant now, but together with my friends at SONY we revolutionized consumer electronics from 1974 with the “International Style”. After SONY rejected my suggestion to develop personal computers as the “Next Big Thing”, I went to Apple and met Steve Jobs. It was clear to both of us from the start that we would celebrate global success – even if the path to get there was very difficult. I recommend reading my Apple book “Ingeniously Easy” here.



As a designer in such a rapidly changing industry, it is important to always keep your finger on the pulse. How do you do that? Where do you get your inspiration from?

Curiosity. I like to travel for work – hopefully soon again – and watch people what and how they do something. I read a lot and the internet is an incredible medium. And then it’s the daydreams in which I imagine how something could work.



The world is full of great inventions and designs, do you think it is possible to top them and develop something particularly revolutionary?

Charles Duell, head of the US patent office, said in 1899: “Everything that can be invented has been invented …”. People get creative, especially in crises, and I hope that the climate catastrophe and the energy turnaround that goes with it will accelerate the end to the Fossil time. We have to rehabilitate our earth, because our nature is not indefinitely resilient. Even more important are social and mental reforms: Less is more.



Read the full interview in our print magazine – The Reconnect Issue – to find out more about Hartmut Esslinger’s fascinating career, how he worked together with Steve Jobs and his thoughts on real good industrial design.

Along with other exclusive interviews with legends in the industry like gallerist Johann König, documentary photographer Martha Cooper and designer Erich Brechbuehl, the fourth Forward Magazine print issue is out now!