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Style and Innovation in Olivetti

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Design
Wordcount: 2162 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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between style and innovation


The story of how Olivetti, the leading Italian company for typewriters, has revolutionised, changed the Italian industrial world and transformed the typewriter into a design element.

The Olivetti’s

Since the time of engineer Camillo, La Olivetti was noted, in addition to the quality of the products, for its inclusion in the typewriter market, then dominated by US and German products, even for modern cultural policy and corporate democracy. From the diffusion of social and health services to workers, which reached its peak in 1933 with the passage of the company management to his son Adriano. These, after an American experience of industrial organization in 1925, in 1931 began to form a group of designers, artists, advertisers, as well as factory technicians charged with verifying the times of realization, that is to say that team of experts able to perform the various components of industrial production long desired by the culture of design. The artists Bruno Munari, Luigi Veronesi, Xanti Schawinsky, the architects Luigi Figini and Gino Pollini, the studio Boggeri, Persico and Nizzoli were involved in various ways, even at different times, Nizzoli being one of the principal makers of the style Olivetti. His are in fact the typewriters Lexicon (1948), Lettera 22 (1950), the calculator Divisumma 24 (1955), the typewriter Diapason (1959). Later Olivetti produced, designed by Mario Bellini, the typewriter Praxis 35, the Divisumma 18 (1973), the electronic word processing system ETV 240 and even more famous, designed this time by Ettore Sottsass Jr., typewriters Praxis 48 (1964), the Lettera 36 and the Valentine (1969).

As has been observed,

«Already at the beginning of the fifties, the interest in Italian industrial design is alive: the first prestigious exhibition was the exhibition that, in 1952, in New York, the Museum of the Modern Art dedicated to the Olivetti. This is how the success of the motto is established to write that “it must not be a trinket with ornaments of questionable taste but must have a serious and elegant appearance at the same time”, as Camillo Olivetti wrote in 1912, and a recognition of the contribution that more than half a century ago, Ivrea was given the aesthetic quality – as well as the “modernity” – of a product for the office»(PANSERA, 1993)


On the model of these products, many others. In short, companies and other uses, but of the same size or equally equipped with a shell to defend the internal mechanism, resumed the Olivettiano style – the objects that have been most influenced there are: machines for sewing Mirella by Necchi (1957) designed by Nizzoli, but the one called 1100 / 2 (1956) by Borletti, designed by Marco Zanuso; the other by Mangiarotti and Morassutti produced by Salmoiraghi (1958), ect., in short, as already mentioned, the Olivetti style influences much of the Italian production of the time. But the Ivrea company also remembers other factors, although not always directly relevant to the field of design, which must be mentioned precisely because they contribute to the aforementioned image and style.

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In the meantime, on the industrial policy, after the absorption of the Underwood Corporation in 1959, the company tightened cooperation agreements with several companies, including Bull and General Electric, progressively adding to the typewriter computing machines, office furniture, machine tools and electronic calculators. All products that, like those mentioned above, profoundly renew the entire design process, from design to execution, from sales outlets – the one in Venice designed by Carlo Scarpa and the New York one by BBPR – to advertising graphics.

Convinto councillor of unity among all the sectors of human activity, Adriano Olivetti took into account the relationship between the factory and the territory, from which the concept of “Community” was born, as he defined his political movement, the publishing house and the magazine of the same name. The idea of the factory and the environmentally friendly surrounding environment is the basis of many company settlements, among which the Pozzuoli plant stands out, built between 1931 and 1954 and designed by Luigi Cosenza. In humanistic camp, Adriano was director of the Valle d’Aosta master plan, president of the I.N.U., Ivrea’s mayor and promoter of a network of local administrations, especially in the Canavese area, which tried to implement some “community” principles. In the publishing sector, Adriano founded the prestigious edition of Comunità, the cited homonym periodical, the Zodiac and the bimonthly Sele arte, the latter directed by Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti. Thinking back to how many urban planners, architects, designers, sociologists, storytellers, etc. they have been in contact with Olivetti, it is difficult to find one that is not more or less directly linked to this movement, obviously opposed by right-wing capitalism as well as left-wing anti-racism that found the univocal rival in the Olivetti movement. Returning to the field of design, the most effective and concise judgment on the work of Olivetti is that of Enzo Fratelli:

«in the context of high-tech products there is Olivetti, an industry that due to its exceptional tradition of promoting design culture could “dictate” in itself a history of Italian design, located on the design included in the office machine and furnishing systems for the office, even if this “enlightened commission” has extended to industrial, social, residential architecture, up to the urban plans of the settlements»(FRATEILI, 1989)


No doubt that the whole activity of Adriano Olivetti has its unmistakable style, but in the field of design this must be specified. And this was done better than the others by Paolo Fossati, obtaining it from the opener of the company’s most celebrated designer:

«Nizzoli accentuates the characteristics of externalisation of the machine, even if it seeks an integration in the technical details, and if it identifies some themes of use of the object (readability of the figures, simplification of the manipulation of the button, more conceptual logic of the instruments). In fact, Nizzoli inaugurates the exaltation of what is then defined as “the function of the machine in the office”, a solution that self-publishes the object as something that hides its industrial presence in the continuous attention to details of craftsmanship. […] Nizzoli has a cultural memory to postpone, […] proposing on its own (as Zevi observes) an alacrity of the artisan type, reassembled on the industry. At this point, the artisan is no longer the type of brianzolo’s craftsman that differentiates his furniture to make it more appealing, and he does so by exaggerating the personal feature of the amount of work immersed, but craftsman is the sense of individual participation, the individual put hand to the object as a procedure of mechanical intuition, while aiming to conceal it, to differentiate it from what it actually is, and it must be to achieve those results»(FOSSATI, 1972)

On the theme of style and especially on the work of Nizzoli, a return to the distinction already made between “discrete” and “continuous” Rationalism, examining its most successful typewriters: The Lexicon 80 and the Lettera 22. Giacomo Bosoni writes:

«The coverage of both typewriters, obtained by die-casting, allows Nizzoli to conceive an extremely plastic coating, which, especially in the case of the Lexicon 80, is underlined by the curves and lines determined by the mating of the two pieces, cover and cover; made in fact, in that aesthetically continuous form, thanks to the type of die-casting production process. The formal syntax adopted for Lettera 22 is instead more graphic than plastic, as Mario Labò observes in his essay on industrial aesthetics at Olivetti: “a simple form, almost a parallelepiped, in which the surfaces are rigidly stretched and the right angles they are flying at the corners according to the curve of the minimum radius “. a form therefore ideal for the reduced size and other features necessary for a lightweight laptop, as the lettera 22 was conceived»(BOSONI, 1982)


The corporate image

what is remarkable is what Sibjlle Kircherer observes in an essay on the art of creating a business style:

«In the industrial world, the Style can be easily understood as a purely aesthetic and commercial meaning. instead it is a much more complex phenomenon, which proves not only vital for the aesthetics of the time of the companies but which fears to become more and more a question of interest, more generally cultural, given the dizzying growth that the impact and the power of industries have in determining the quality of life in our modern society»(KICHERER, 1990)

among the company’s subject of its examination, the author deals in particular with that of Olivetti, considered in the period between 1924, the year in which Adriano began to take care of the company before his direction undertaken in 1933, and the beginning of the ’70s.

«Adriano Olivetti developed with the help of Renzo Zorzi, a cultural model that could be continued even after his death and which gave fruit for a long time despite the not always flourishing economic situation of the company. […] determined to make use of the most modern technologies and working methods, he took advantage of the many and by then surprising US innovations, but at the same time he refused those implications that seemed to impose the inhuman ways of life and work. […] alongside investments aimed at technologically and productively renewing the company, Olivetti took care of the architecture of its plants, of the offices, built houses and social services, offering all its collaborators information and study opportunities. in this way […] Adriano Olivetti was scratching the foundations of one of the first and most complete examples of “corporate design”, long before this definition was coined precisely on the basis of his theories and his achievements. […] the charm of this vision of corporate design lies in the clear and immediate recognition of its goals and its quality, which was able to express itself even with pure research, usually neglected because far from an economic advantage, as the exploration of alphabets of remote civilizations or studies on the technological and human implications of the diffusion of electronics, which in the years between 1955 and 1960 were extremely advanced.»(V. PASCA, 2004)


In conclusion, the Olivetti style has revolutionised the office world in stylish and introducing the technology and the industrialisation of it while maintaining a common thread with craftsmanship by developing alternative design models. But it is above all with Adriano Olivetti that the Olivetti style has its maximum expression with the introduction of the American method within the working environments and developing a working group of collaborators and researchers able to experiment and evolve an instrument like the to write obsolete and cumbersome, as it had been up to that moment; but not only also in the conception of working spaces in offices.


  • BOSONI, G., 1982. olivetti: il periodo di Nizzoli. In: v. gregotti, ed. il disegno del prodotto industriale, italia 1860 1980. milano : electa, p. 298.
  • FOSSATI, P., 1972. In: il design in italia. torino: einaudi editore, pp. 37-38.
  • FRATEILI, E., 1989. In: continuità e trasformazione, una storia del disegno industriale italiano 1928/1988. milano: Alberto Greco editori , pp. 121-123.
  • KICHERER, S., 1990. l’arte di creare uno stile d’impresa, la vera sfida del design managment. domus n719, settembre.
  • PANSERA, A., 1993. In: storia del designo industriale italiano. Roma Bari: editori laterza, p. 129.
  • V. PASCA, D. R., 2004. sulla corporate image. domus n.120, may.


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