January 13, 2016

Remembering Richard Sapper, Designer of the IBM ThinkPad

The design community ended 2015 by saying goodbye to the iconic Richard Sapper, who passed away on December 31 at the age of 83.

Both his peers and critics alike described Sapper’s designs as “forward thinking” and “groundbreaking,” as he regularly incorporated new materials and techniques into his work. Throughout Sapper’s career he designed for companies such as Mercedes, Pirelli, and Fiat, but it was the ThinkPad 700C laptop that he designed for IBM in 1992 and the 9090 espresso maker he created for Alessi in 1979 that put his name on the map.

Alberto Alessi, the founder of Alessi, worked closely with Sapper for nearly 40 years and recalls his capability to take a piece of everyday merchandise and infuse character into it through his design. “He was unequalled for his surgical precision in translating the presence of his imagination into real industrial products close to perfection,” Alessi said in a written statement he released after Sapper’s death. “He has created for us some of the most iconic and timeless products of the last decades. And he has done much more: He has contributed to the building of the Alessi identity as an Italian design factory by helping us to understand with his projects and his design practice that industrial products may not be just merchandise, that they can have a soul, a hint of transcendence.”

In addition to his work for Alessi, Sapper also designed the stackable K 1340 chair for Kartell, the Genia modular sheet-metal bookshelf for B&B Italia, and the Tantalo table clock for Artemide.

“He was always loyal to the principle, ‘My thinking process usually starts from a thing that I feel does not exist,’ wrote Alessi. “[He would] work on only a few projects at the same time, and only on those that really interested him. Like all good designers should do.”

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