Snow White Design Language


The Snow White design language was an industrial design language (an overarching scheme or style that guides the design of a complement of products) developed by German-American industrial designer Hartmut Esslinger’s Frog Design. Used by Apple Computer from 1984 to 1990, the scheme has vertical and horizontal stripes for decoration, ventilation, and the illusion that the computer enclosure is smaller than it actually is.

The design language boosted Apple’s global reputation, set design trends for the computer industry, and molded the perception of computers in the manufacturing and business world. Among other design features, Esslinger’s presentation of the Apple logo—a three-dimensional logo inlaid into the product case with the product name printed onto its surface—was included on nearly every product for several years.

In 1982, Apple officials looked outside the company and indeed the country for a designer who could help them establish the firm as a world-class company. ‘Snow White’ refers to the seven projects code-named after the Seven Dwarves on which the new design language was to be applied. Several designers were courted by Apple and the winner ultimately was Esslinger; the resulting style assumed the project’s code name. The Apple IIc computer, and its peripherals, were the first Snow White design.

Initially, Snow White debuted in a creamy off-white color known at Apple as ‘Fog’ but later other products moved to the warm gray ‘Platinum’ color, lighter than the previous Apple ‘Putty’ color, used throughout the Apple product line from 1987 on. Esslinger favored a bright-white color originally for the IIc, but Jerry Manock (designer of the Apple II housing) successfully argued that it would attract fingerprints. Nevertheless, Esslinger detested the original Apple beige-color and insisted all Snow White-styled products use the same off-white color as the IIc.

The distinguishing characteristics originated by the Snow White design language, in contrast to the original Apple industrial design style, include: minimal surface texturing; inlaid three-dimensional Apple logo (diamond cut to the exact shape); zero-draft enclosures, with no variances in case thickness and perpendicular walls; recessed international port identification icons; shallow horizontal and vertical lines, which run along any and all of the surfaces of the product, some of which act as vents; and simple unadorned ports and slots.

Any or all of these features indicate a Snow White Frog Design influence over an otherwise Apple designed product. In particular the first official implementation, the Apple IIc does not represent the complete set of design elements, while the Macintosh II includes all of them. Beginning in 1990 with the Macintosh LC, the Apple Industrial Design Group gradually altered and phased out the use of the Snow White language.

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