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The High-Tech Old Soul
Lauren Murrow | Photo: Alanna Hale | November 16, 2016
Industrial designer Robert Brunner infuses smart technology with an artisan’s sense of craft.
“Everyone wants to be like Apple,” says Robert Brunner, founder of the North Beach design studio Ammunition. He should know: As Apple’s original director of industrial design, he created some of the company’s early icons. (His Powerbook 160 laptop currently resides in the permanent collection at SFMOMA.) “What I’ve found challenging,” he adds, “is companies that just want their version of the i-Whatever.”
Instead, Brunner has gone broad in the nine years since founding the 50-person Ammunition studio, designing such cultural touchstones as the Beats by Dre headphones, the Lyft Glowstache, and Polaroid’s Cube and Snap cameras.
The San Jose native calls himself a “true child of the tech industry.” His father, a mechanical engineer at IBM in the ’60s, was one of the inventors of the technology in early disk drives. “I grew up around these giant 12-inch disk platters,” Brunner says. After a childhood spent tinkering, he honed his craft with stints at Lunar Design, Apple, and Pentagram before launching his studio. Earlier this year, Ammunition won the prestigious Cooper Hewitt National Design Award for product design.
Today, Brunner runs his company with an overarching philosophy: Make simple, meaningful things. “We’re excited when we get to build things without microprocessors in them,” he says. This winter, that will include the June Oven—a superpowered intelligent oven—and the Ember, a temperature-adjustable travel mug. Brunner invited us into his Lower Haight home for a glimpse at the stuff that inspires him, from hand-me-down furniture to his own personal island.
Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco