Barnes & Noble Taps Kindle Designer For Its Athena e-Book Reader

Yes, it’s true. The much-anticipated device from Barnes & Noble, which has been eliciting oohs and ahs since leaked photos appeared on Gizmodo , was designed by Ammunition Partners, a San Francisco firm headed by former Apple design chief Robert Brunner.

Although Amazon has never confirmed this, two sources tell me that Brunner’s team also designed the initial Kindle for Amazon in 2007. Back then, the Net giant had yet to design a hardware product of its own, so relied heavily on Ammunition to come up with the look and feel for the device. Brunner, among other things, is famous for overseeing design of Apple’s first laptop.

Actually, Ammunition worked with Project 126, a secretive Amazon subsidiary that’s holed up just down the street from Apple in Cupertino. The group’s staff is chock full of experts in wireless technology, software interface design and other disciplines. It’s president is Greg Zehr, a former vp of engineering for PowerBooks at Apple. The group’s charter, according to its website, is to “develop easy-to-use, highly integrated consumer products to serve Amazon customers.” The first of those was the Kindle.

For whatever reason—could it be the decidedly negative reviews of that initial effort?—Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos soon decided to show Ammunition the door. Instead, he hired his own internal industrial design team, to be led by an alumnus of frogdesign, the famed Silicon Valley design shop created by Hartmut Esslinger. Indeed, many frog alums are also at Lab 126, says the blog Kindle Review.

Word is that the Athena will be announced sometime next week. A Barnes & Noble spokesperson declined to confirm this, nor did she say whether Ammunition was involved in the design of the unconfirmed product. Amazon also declined to comment for this story. So did Brunner.

Here’s an excellent side-by-side comparison of Kindle and Athena, from the blog Kindle Review.

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