Get to Know Award-Winning San Francisco Design Studio, Ammunition

Partners Robert Brunner, Brett Wickens and Matt Rolandson of Ammunition.Already lauded for iconic products like Beats by Dre and the Polaroid Cube, San Francisco design studio Ammunition has now been recognized with one of the industry’s highest honors, the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award. Founded in 2007, Ammunition’s studios in San Francisco and Brooklyn are home to 60 creatives, led by partners Robert Brunner, Matt Rolandson and Brett Wickens, who bring expertise in physical and digital product design, service design, strategic advising and beyond to clients ranging from Lyft to Williams-Sonoma to UNICEF. We sat down with Brunner to find out what makes Ammunition tick.

What differentiates Ammunition from other studios?
When you look at the world of design and product design, you usually have two types of studio: one you might refer to as strategic, like the IDEOs of the world, that are very high level, business-oriented and are thinking about design strategy. The other end of the spectrum is more the boutique model, where you have a studio driven by an individual who has a very strong identity, like Philippe Starck or Mark Newson. I wouldn’t call us a hybrid, but we believe in having that very strong point of view and using it to solve complex business problems. We’ve managed to build an organizational culture that focuses on both, which is pretty rare, and I think it’s validated by the number of things that we actually get to market.

The Square Stand, designed by Ammunition.To ensure a product is fully realized, your services go far beyond product design to management consulting as well.
It’s not just the designer’s job to make something great, there’s a whole chain of people who have to be committed to doing it. If you don’t have the culture that supports it, it probably won’t happen­—or it might happen once but never again. So we also offer management consulting around design. You can design beautiful things, but if you want them to come out that way, and keep coming out that way, you’re going to have to look at how you engineer, manufacture and market.

Lets talk about smart home, and one of your latest projects, Savant, a universal remote control.
People don’t say they need a smart home, but they’ll tell you they have difficulty with all of their A/V components or with sorting out all of their different content sources. The Savant remote can control over 300,000 devices and services in the home. It connects with everything you have—from entertainment systems to lighting—and it puts it all under one umbrella.

Ammunition worked with Williams-Sonoma to design the Cooks' Tools.And I’d be happy to have that remote on my table.
That was the idea—its machined aluminum, laser-etched, very sculptural, very elegant.

What’s your snapshot of the San Francisco product design community right now?
The design culture here is incredible. The talent comes here­—this is the mecca, especially for product design. We have people on our team from all over the world. It is an incredible and a healthy environment, where people are constantly moving around.  There’s such a depth of talent and opportunity here. It's the place to be!

A version of this article appeared in the November/December 2016 issue of SFC&G (San Francisco Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Intelligent Design.