After having started my own design firm in 1969, the summer of 1970 turned out quite chaotic. I had finished my design studies in Schwäbisch Gmünd, and as my first wife’s father was dying of cancer, she wanted to be close. So, even as we already had a deal to rent a nice house in Schwäbisch Gmünd, we moved back to Altensteig in the Black Forest. At the same time, I also had completed my first designs of a HiFi and television line-up for WEGA to be released in the summer of 1971. The audio products seemed to be okay, but the television designs were bland due to the “furniture-like” production methods and WEGA’s still conservative marketing approach. I didn’t care about BRAUN—WEGA was the ODM for their TVs—but I felt, that my work didn’t stand up to BRIONVEGA’s designs by Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper. Therefore, despite all the personal stress, I proposed to WEGA’s CEO Dieter Motte that we make a fresh start with a more cutting-edge, space-age inspired approach. He was shocked and said that I could go ahead on my own for no money. However, I negotiated that WEGA would pay for the modelmaking, because I knew I couldn’t possibly produce all the necessary models on my own. (In the end the cost for modelmaking would be more than twice my original budget, which had included five models.)
Opting for structural ABS-foam for the housing, and using the new freedoms of shape for a more efficient and easier assembly process in the factory, I made my first sketches. The result was a few very rough, hand-formed foam models and technical drawings in pencil. But neither I nor any of the modelmakers I knew could master the required complex shapes. Then, my college friend Volkmar Rommel recommended that I should talk to Paul Hildinger, the former master modelmaker of the just defunct “hfg ulm” (Hochschule für Gestaltung / Design College), who now was self-employed and looking for work. I called Paul Hildinger and the next day I was on my way to Ulm with my drawings and a rough foam model in hand. We discussed what I hoped to achieve, and we also talked about the budget, which was important for him after the hfg’s closing. Anyway: Paul really liked my concepts—”finally not just straight boxes”—and we agreed on the fee and a 3-week work schedule.
After three weeks I got a call, and Paul sounded extremely happy. I wrote a check for the rest of the fee, jumped into my car and drove the 2 hours to Ulm. When I entered his small workshop, I couldn’t believe my eyes. He had converted my sparse drawings into perfect shapes. The unpainted model was made from pinewood, plywood, some “bondo” and finished as smooth as silk. When Paul moved a light-source across the shapes, there wasn’t a single dimple or wave. He also explained that a simple radius isn’t working well for the eyes, because where it ends, the adjunct surface drops down, so he would use a parabolic transition He also explained, that the compound corners around the cathode ray tube (CRT) required a slightly convex transition to avoid a visual bulge. He also used massive plywood for the very sculpted back-cover, using the thin layers as indicators for symmetry. I learned more about compound design in that hour then in my years of design study. After a nice joint dinner, we packed the model into my FIAT 128 wagon and I drove home—Very carefully.
The painting and finishing of the model took me just 2 days, and then I went to WEGA. The presentation cannot be described in words; the entire line-up for 1971 was started from scratch. Many more models (including entirely new products) were built during the refinement process that followed, and Paul Hildinger remained a fantastic partner until his actual retirement. His models also provided the toolmakers with 3D-templates they could copy directly into steel via negative casts made of sand-filled epoxy. All said, without Paul Hildinger’s skills, dedication and personal friendship, we wouldn’t have been able to bring the WEGA SYSTEM 3000 to the market in 1972. The success was phenomenal, and WEGA became an instant trendsetter in electronics and lifestyle. Revenues grew 4-fold within two years, and in 1974 SONY acquired WEGA, opening the next chapter for both the company and frog.