Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Remember Typewriters?

Before Apple, Olivetti Made the Products Everyone Wanted

Slate.com  By Kristin Hohenadel June 7 2016

Advertisement for Olivetti typewriters designed by American photographer and graphic designer Henry Wolf (1969). Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti, Ivrea, Italy

The design aesthetic of the world’s most wanted laptops and smartphones is generally as slick as the products themselves. Even as the new Apple store design feels like an ostensible attempt to soften its interiors with ficus trees and warm, natural materials such as leather and wood, Apple’s overarching image has a decidedly corporate vibe. But back when typewriters ruled the day, iconic Italian manufacturer Olivetti created bold graphics, advertising, and showrooms that harnessed the selling power of great design but carried it off with a nostalgia-provoking dose of pure design flair and midcentury cool.

Olivetti Lettera 22, poster by Giovanni Pintori (1954). Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti, Ivrea, Italy

Olivetti was founded in 1908 as a typewriter manufacturing company. It created an in-house graphic design department in 1937, headed up by Italian graphic designer Giovanni Pintori from 1940 until 1967. “Recognising the importance of design over pure functionalism, a concept largely owed to the founder’s son, Adriano Olivetti, the company went on to produce some of the most important and iconic hand-typing devices and early computers of the 20th century,” the organizers of “Olivetti: Beyond Form and Function,” a new exhibition at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, said in a press release.

Poster for the Valentine typewriter, designed by Walter Ballmer (1969). Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti, Ivrea, Italy

The show features photographs, video, and ephemera from the Olivetti archives that focus on the postwar period through the 1960s, including the Lettera 22 (1950) and Valentine (1969) typewriters, as well as Italy’s first computer, the Elea 9003 (1959) and the first commercially produced desktop computer, the Programma 101 (1965).

Poster for the Divissuma 24 calculator, designed by Herbert Beyer (1950s).  Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti, Ivrea, Italy

The Olivetti typewriter was a looker, but the company made a habit of commissioning leading designers, architects, and artists—such as Le Corbusier and Milton Glaser—to help it create equally striking designs for everything from graphics to showrooms.

Olivetti Showroom in Barcelona, Spain, designed by BBPR (1965).  F. Català Roca/Navone Associati, Milan

Olivetti’s striking print and video ads were “considered pioneering for the ways in which they communicated complex, extensive information through a bold, simplified aesthetic,” the organizers write, “and through interior design and architecture, as seen in the company’s numerous showrooms and shop window displays which were conceptualised and transformed into unique installations.”

Olivetti Showroom in Venice, Italy, designed by Carlo Scarpa (1958).  Marco Ambrosi/Navone Associati, Milan

Olivetti Showroom in Venice, Italy, designed by Carlo Scarpa (1958).  Marco Ambrosi/Navone Associati, Milan

Olivetti Showroom in Venice, Italy, designed by Carlo Scarpa (1958). Marco Ambrosi/Navone Associati, Milan

Olivetti: Beyond Form and Function” is part of the London Festival of Architecture and runs until July 17.

A view of vintage typewriters at the exhibition Olivetti: Beyond Form and Function at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. Mark Blower

Kristin Hohenadel's writing on design has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Fast Company, Vogue, Elle Decor, Lonny, and Apartment Therapy.

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