The mesmerising graphic design of mid-century typewriter manufacturer Olivetti  

31 May 2016

Our craving for minimalism in today’s chaotic and information-heavy world is only further indulged when looking at the work of Olivetti, one of the leading manufacturers of typewriters of the mid-20th Century. Founded in 1908 by Camillo Olivetti in Italy, the company continually favoured design over pure functionalism and was responsible for some of the most iconic hand-typing devices and early computers of the era. 

While known for its technological advancements, the collateral Olivetti created to advertise its wares is equally as fascinating and in a new show at the ICA, Olivetti’s graphic and spatial design is on full display. A graphic designer’s dream, Olivetti: Beyond Form and Function showcases photographs, films and ephemera relating to Olivetti’s creative output and focuses largely on the industrial boom of the post-war era. 

Highlights include the beautifully designed posters that combine bold graphics and saturated photography seen throughout the 50s and 60s. These works and others embody the values of Olivetti’s design ethos, which communicated complex information through a simplified aesthetic that’s still emulated today. As well as posters and adverts, this approach was also adopted for its showrooms and window displays and an insight into the architecture and installations Olivetti commissioned can also be seen in the show.

Olivetti: Beyond Form and Function is on now at the ICA, London until 17 July 2016.


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


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


ICA: Olivetti Showroom, Venice, designed by Carlo Scarpa (1958). Photo: Marco Ambrosi, courtesy of Navone Associati, Milan


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


ICA: Advertisement for Olivetti typewriters including Valentine, designed by American photographer and graphic designer Henry Wolf, 1969


ICA: Olivetti Showroom, Barcelona, designed by BBPR (1965). Photo: F. Català Roca, courtesy of Navone Associati, Milan

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About the Author

Rebecca Fulleylove

Rebecca Fulleylove is a freelance writer and editor specialising in art, design and culture. She is also senior writer at Creative Review, having previously worked at Elephant, Google Arts & Culture, and It’s Nice That.

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