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Q+A: frog design

Founded in 1969 in the Black Forest of Germany, frog represented the start of an era of emotional design at a time when most products were mostly function-oriented. Almost 50 years later and with 12 locations worldwide, frog is a global design and strategy firm that continues to advance the human experience through design and emotion.

We sat down with Erik Manley, the General Manager for frog New York and Boston, who told us what this innovative design firm is about and how they managed to change, adapt and innovate for the past half-century.

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What’s the history of frog design?

It’s a long history. frog has been around for almost 50 years and it was founded by Hartmut Esslinger in Germany. It started off most notably designing some of the first Apple products with Steve Jobs – that’s how we ended up in the United States. frog began primarily as an industrial design firm, and in the 90’s, we moved into digital design and more recently, it’s doing customer experience design and strategy for larger organizations. Today, we are a global design and strategy firm with the mission to advance the human experience through design.

What are some of the services you offer?

It’s everything from growth strategy (helping clients to figure out to how to grow their businesses), customer experience design (looking at every touch point in the person’s interaction with the brand, be it their services, products, or physical environment), to specific product design. This jukebox over here is a really good example. This is a company from the Midwest where there are lots of bars that have jukeboxes looking like old ATM’s. They came to us wanting to revitalize their business, so we took a human-centered design approach to their business and products. We did design research in bars to figure out how people were actually using jukeboxes, the physical product design, the mechanical engineering design, the digital design and the branding of this product which helped to transform their business! That’s the mixture of their growth strategy – how do they grow in the market – and the design.

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Is there a reason behind the name?

There are legends behind the name. No one really knows the real reason behind it but one legend has it that when our founder, Hartmut Esslinger, came to the United States from Germany he wanted something to signify his homeland, Germany. So one theory is that frog stands for the Federal Republic of Germany. The other is that the Black Forest, where Hartmut started the firm, is known to have an annual migration of frogs… So no one really knows.

Why DUMBO?

We used to be located at Hudson Square and were there for about 10 years but the space just wasn’t working for us so we started looking in different places. I happen to live in DUMBO and this whole complex had just started advertising so we decided to come and check out the place. As soon as we saw the space, we fell in love with it because it was exactly what we were looking for. It suited our purposes perfectly and, aesthetically we were able to make it exactly what we wanted. Although we did not intend to come to Brooklyn, this location has been proven great by design firms that have already been here like Huge, Big Spaceship and a number of other firms that we admire. It’s good to come to a place where we can be surrounded by a community of peers.

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How has being based in DUMBO helped your business?

I think it has been great for the people that work here. We approached the development of the studio the way we approach our projects. We thought about how people work and built the studio around it. The public space and private space is incredibly key because not only do we collaborate with each other internally but also we collaborate with our clients. So finding a space like this has dramatically improved the way we work together, particularly in DUMBO, which is really unique in that it has these buildings with massive open spaces. It has been awesome for our clients as well because they have their own access cards and can come here 24/7 if they want to, which enabled us to have better relationships with them. As for the neighborhood, there are two points. One is just being in a community where we know there’s a lot of design and technology going on, so it’s cool to be part of it in general. We’ve had events where we invited the community in – an open party where everyone was invited, and more recently “Design Week” – so it has been fun to engage the community in that respect. The other is just as individuals exploring the neighborhood. It has been fun for people to see the neighborhood change – especially for me as I’ve lived here for 12 years.

Favorite place in DUMBO?

Gran Electrica, because they have that amazing back patio. I love the food there! There are not too many places that we can sit in that back area like that. My wife and I go there all the time.