Design

Form Follows Emotion

Forty years ago, the first Apple Macintosh computer was launched. The rest? Is technical history. Incidentally, a German was responsible for the design of the first Mac: Hartmut Esslinger and his office FROG-Design.

  • Text
    Bernd Haase
  • Fotos
    unsplash.com

There is no bigger stage. It is 22 January 1984 and the Los Angeles Raiders and the Washington Redskins are facing each other in Super Bowl XVIII at Tampa Stadium in Florida. Almost eighty million people are watching on their television sets. The outcome of the game is quickly clear. At the break, the Raiders are leading 21 to 3, and in the end, the third - and to date last - title for the Raiders, who are now based in Las Vegas. But history is made during the break in the game. With a one-minute advert. It shows: a colourless and gloomy world. Expressionless workers in lockstep. On a huge screen, Big Brother invokes the "unification of thought". A dystopian scene. Borrowed directly from George Orwell's novel "1984".

But yes, this is the USA. And even well-made entertainment likes to have a happy ending, especially when directed by a master of his trade like the then still young Ridley Scott. It comes running along in the form of a young woman in sportswear. A sledgehammer in her hand. Pursued by the thought police. But she is unstoppable. Hurls the hammer at the screen. A bright light shines. A voice announces:

"On 24 January, Apple Computer will introduce 'Macintosh'. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984'."

Two days later, Apple founder Steve Jobs presented the Apple Macintosh 128K with Bob Dylan's song line "The Times They Are A-Changin'". The device was named after the apple variety "Macintosh", "128K" stands for the available RAM. What was truly revolutionary, however, was the square box next to the computer, called the "mouse", and what was displayed on the monitor: a graphical user interface instead of flashing command lines, on which the displayed elements could be operated intuitively. Apple did not invent either of these things. But the company from Cupertino, California, made these technologies suitable for mass use for the first time in 1984. Fittingly, the computer itself announced in a robotic voice: "Hello, my name is Macintosh. I'm not used to speaking in front of a lot of people, but I'd like to tell you what I thought when I first encountered an IBM mainframe: don't trust a computer you can't lift."

Hartmut Esslinger. Credit: Porsche / Albrecht Fuchs.
Hartmut Esslinger. Credit: Porsche / Albrecht Fuchs.
The villain is therefore clearly named. The "Mac" becomes a cult object, but also quickly reveals that although it is cool, it cannot do as much as its competitors. The period that followed was - to put it mildly - difficult. Until the 1990s, when Steve Jobs returned after his temporary departure and, together with designer Jonathan Ive, reinvented the Mac once again.

But back to the first Macintosh. A German was also significantly involved here: the designer Hartmut Esslinger with his office FROG-Design. "FROG" stands for "Federal Republic of Germany" and exported German design all over the world at the time. Naturally under the premise of "form follows function". Esslinger, however, expanded the whole thing to include "form follows emotion". As a passionate Porsche driver, he knows this anyway and still appreciates it in his yellow 911 Cabriolet. And "form follows emotion" is also what characterises Apple products to this day.

By the way: If you want to find out more about German design, how it changed the world and continues to shape style today, you can look forward to the book "Einfach Deutsch. A declaration of love to German style". ramp editor Michael Köckritz explores what makes German style so special in this opulent illustrated book just in time for the 75th anniversary of the Federal Republic of Germany. The book will be published by teNeues on 20 April 2024.

Bernd Haase

Bernd Haase

Head of Text & Editor
He had a very clear career plan from a very early age: He wanted to be a rock star. Then he was allowed to join the school band. Because he wrote the lyrics (and because nobody, but really nobody, wanted to play bass). But it didn't last long. He switched basses with his father's Triumph Adler, realised that it also sounded nice, and decided to write about the dark side of the music business. But it turned out to be an internship at the local newspaper. Stayed quite a long time. It was much more exciting than I thought. After that, I worked as an editor for various newspapers, covering the finer things from cinema to music to travel. I also came across ramp. And stayed. It really is as exciting as I thought.

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