Frog celebrates 50 years of innovative design with exhibition of iconic products

Frog's designs for Sony products

The design company Frog has had a huge global impact over the last five decades, but many consumers may be unaware of the iconic products the studio has helped design and put out in the world. A new exhibition by the company helps put those inventions in perspective.

From the first Apple desktops to the Sony Walkman, to the Sony Trinitron TV and the Fizzics beer spout, the innovations from Frog are astounding, and the design firm keeps pushing the boundaries while looking to its past to stay inspired.

One of the world’s most prominent and successful industrial design firms will mark its 50-year anniversary with a special multimedia and interactive exhibition that looks ahead to the future of innovation and design through the lens of some of the firm’s most iconic product designs. The exhibition will be showcased as a celebration at Frog’s New York studio in Dumbo, Brooklyn.

Andy Zimmerman, Frog’s current president, said: “Throughout our history, Frog has emphasized customer experience and human-centered design, and those principles have never been more relevant. At the same time, much has changed and our work today is much broader than it was a decade ago, encompassing not only product and service design, but also architectural design, venture design, growth strategy and organization activation.”

Frog began in 1969 in the Black Forest of Germany when Hartmut Esslinger founded Esslinger Design. His designs were in response to the mostly function-oriented products of the day. Early designs for German electronics brand Wega and then Sony set in motion Esslinger’s popularity for his vision. He caught the eye of Steve Jobs, who helped move the company to the Bay Area, where the name was changed and where Esslinger developed the first design language for Apple and its personal computers. From there, the company entered the digital era, and even though Esslinger sold a majority stake of the company to Aricent in 2005, his design vision remains.

The 50th anniversary retrospective is an impressive array of designs that changed industries. Included are a Wega all-in-one turntable-cassette player-radio tuner that is now part of the design collection at the Museum of Modern Art, the Vadem Clio – an early convertible tablet computer, and GE’s UX Center of Excellence for internal knowledge-sharing and collaboration.

“GE’s UX work was a really big deal,” Sean Rhodes, Frog’s executive creative director, told The Drum, as it helped really establish Frog as a leader in modern digital design.

For the exhibition, Frog is presenting a diverse and eclectic collection of exhibits and installations on publicly known products and services.

A 24-foot-wide video wall shows an animated timeline of Frog innovations over the past 50 years in an immersive, theatre-style experience, while an augmented reality (AR) wall that uses image-tracking technology and tokens to reveal animations and details about signature frog products and services includes innovations such as for Apple’s ‘Snow White’ design language, Yamaha’s FZ750 motorcycle and the BNY Mellon design language, brought to life through the Frog50 app.

Other groundbreaking designs on display include AT&T’s Digital Answering Machine from 1990, the TouchTunes’ Virtuo Digital Jukebox from 2010, and Heatworks’ Tetra Dishwasher (2018), an energy-efficient countertop dishwasher that uses Heatworks’ proprietary Ohmic Array water heating technology. Rhodes said that the Heatworks dishwasher was on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and Kanye West even came by to say it was “the coolest thing” he had seen.

Also at the exhibit is a set of photographs by famed photographers Helmut Newton and Dietmar Henneka, who took artistic shots of Esslinger’s designs.

Earlier this year, similar exhibitions celebrating Frog’s semi-centennial anniversary were held in Austin, Texas during South by Southwest (SXSW) and at the firm’s Munich and Milan studios. Later this year, exhibitions will be staged in other locations where Frog has studios, including San Francisco next month. Those who can't see the exhibition in person can get a feel for it at Frog's interactive web page.

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