Hartmut Esslinger's Book: A Fine Line

Hartmut Esslinger, founder of frog design, has written a book, A Fine Line: How Design Strategies are Shaping the Future of Business, which has just launched. It’s an inspiring mix of personal biography, memoire of the design world in the 80’s and 90’s, and philosophy about the role of design in business.

Available on Amazon and at book retailers nationwide.

Here is a short excerpt, and you can visit the book’s site for more…

Even in these dark, uncertain early years, my youth was influenced by beauty as well as war. As Germany began to rebuild its industrial infrastructure after the war, my parents started a small business in textiles and, on my tenth birthday, we moved to the small town of Altensteig. There my parents bought a live-in commercial space downtown, where they opened a clothing store. That move brought aesthetics into my life on a daily basis. I was surrounded by nice clothes, the latest fashion magazines, and visiting fashion shows, not to mention an ever-changing parade of attractive and exotic fashion models.

By the time I entered high school, my creative drive had emerged. Whenever I saw a car—still an oddity in my small village—I drew it, and eventually filled countless notebooks with sketches of cars, motorcycles, and ships, all of my own design. My mother, seeing the drawings as a waste of time and a warning sign of future social decline, burned my sketchbooks, declaring “All artists end up in the gutter,” as I watched the bright pages of my notebooks curl up and turn to ash in the family hearth. After high school, I joined the German army and then entered school to train as an engineer, but even my commanders and professors understood that my creative energies and interests were driving me toward a different future than their training could provide. Eventually, I was forced to choose between my parents’ goals for my life and my own. I chose to pursue a life in design.

Today, frog helps its clients create defendable, multi-billion-dollar yearly revenues, and frog-designed products, media solutions, and experiences are everywhere. “With a little help from our friends,” partners, peers, and clients, my wife Patricia and I built frog design into a strategic agency jewel with over 450 employees and nine offices located in cities around the world. The company represents the permanent vanguard in the arena of strategic design and business innovation.

Naturally, any reasonable person may wonder why such major global giants as Disney, Microsoft, General Electric, and Motorola turn to an agency such as frog for advice and solutions when they have all the resources on earth at their disposal. Our long-term colleague Steven Skov-Holt answered this question eloquently many years ago: “Our clients and client companies come to creative agencies because they need … radical solutions that they can’t get through their own internal groups [and]… because tender, fresh new ideas have trouble surviving the toxicity of most corporate settings.”

But we never take our eyes off of the business goals that have driven our success. We—and our clients—understand that design is an integral part of any successful business strategy, and not an artistic “boutique” profession. A temperamental clutch of self-absorbed artists won’t form a solid foundation for a sustainable business model. Business design the “frog way” involves attracting the best people to the table, and then providing the environment and leadership necessary to allow everyone to work better by working together. That idea is the secret to frog’s success, and the secret to most strategic professional alliances. It’s also the central focus of innovative business leaders who are seeking to establish a foothold in an ever-evolving world economy.