The iconic IBM selectric typewriter turned 50 years old on July 31 2011 and continues to make appearances on the Emmy-nominated show Mad Men. More so, it continues to stand out as a much loved, and universally recognizable icon of an era.
The IBM ® Selectric typewriter was a radical innovation that completely disrupted the business typewriter market. It transformed the speed, accuracy and flexibility with which people could generate the written word, and helped pave the way for the use of typewriter keyboards as the primary method for humans to interact with computers.
The Selectric typewriter, launched in 1961, was an overnight hit. “Sales of [the Selectric] in the first 30 days exceeded the forecast for six months. We figured in our branch office that we’d sell 50 or 60 and sold 500 to 600,” IBM salesman John Vinlove told USA Today in 1986 for a story about the typewriter’s 25th anniversary. The manufacturing facility expected to make 20,000 Selectric typewriters in its first year. By the end of 1961, they had orders for 80,000. And by 1986, more than 13 million Selectric typewriters had been sold. For more than 25 years, the Selectric was the typewriter found on most office desks.
With 2800 parts, many designed from scratch, the Selectric was a radical departure even for IBM, which had been in the typewriter business since the 1930s and was already a market leader. It took seven years to work out the manufacturing and design challenges before the first Selectric was ready for sale.
At the physical heart of the Selectric typewriter’s innovation was a golf-ball-shaped type head that replaced the conventional typewriter’s basket of type bars. The design eliminated the bane of rapid typing: jammed type bars. And with no bars to jam, typists’ speed and productivity soared.
The golf ball typing element was designed by an engineering team led by Horace “Bud” Beattie. The team members, according to a 1961 advertisement for the Selectric, “began their search by forgetting the past fifty years of typewriter design.” The first type head design had been shaped more like a mushroom, but under Beattie’s direction, IBM engineer John Hickerson revised the type head toward its ultimate spherical configuration.
One other innovation in the design—a changeable typeface—was borrowed from a turn-of-the-century model, the Blickensderfer typewriter. Although it is not documented, it is believed that the Selectric name was inspired by adding this changeable typeface selection to an electric typewriter. By making the golf ball interchangeable, the Selectric enabled different fonts, including italics, scientific notation and other languages, to be swapped in. With the addition in 1964 of a magnetic tape system for storing characters, the Magnetic Tape Selectric Typewriter (MT/ST) model became the first, albeit analog, word-processor device.
The aesthetic design of the Selectric was the responsibility of Eliot Noyes, an architect and industrial designer who served as consulting design director to IBM for 21 years. The elegant, curvaceous form he created followed the Selectric typewriter’s distinctive function: the golf ball, which moved across the page, eliminated the traditional carriage return. That enabled the Selectric to operate in a smaller footprint and opened up possibilities for a new profile. For the Selectric, Noyes drew on some of the sculptural qualities of Olivetti typewriters in Italy. The result was a patented, timeless shape, and a high-water mark for IBM’s industrial design and product innovation. “A writer’s machine if ever there was one,” noted Jane Smiley in Writers on Writing, Vol. II.
Less well-known is the Selectric typewriter’s role as one of the first computer terminals. While personal computers, notebook computers and word processing software may have relegated the paper-based typewriter to twentieth-century artifact, the Selectric was the basis for the keyboard input on the revolutionary IBM System/360. A modified version of the Selectric, dubbed the IBM 2741 Terminal, was adapted to plug into the System/360, and enabled a wider range of engineers and researchers to begin talking to and interacting with their computers. Yet to IBM computer scientist Bob Bemer, the Selectric represented “one of the biggest professional failures of my life.” Bemer had pioneered the creation of the American Standard Code for Information Interchange, or ASCII, which still defines the alphabet for computers. When prototypes of the Selectric were already being manufactured at IBM’s typewriter plant in Lexington, Kentucky, Bemer reviewed the Selectric typewriter’s specifications. To him, the Selectric would make a natural computer keyboard. He argued that the type ball should be designed to carry 64 characters required for ASCII, rather than the typewriter standard 44. That would make it relatively easy to convert the Selectric for computer input. The response, as Bemer remembers it, was dismissive. As a result, the Selectric never spoke ASCII, instead employing a unique code based on the tilt and rotate commands to the golf ball. While Bemer viewed this as his failure, engineers continued to rig Selectric typewriters to function as the first generation of computer keyboards and input devices.
In 1971, the Selectric II was released, with sharper corners and squarer lines, as well as new features such as the ability to change “pitch” from 10 to 12 characters per inch and, starting in 1973, a ribbon to correct mistakes. The final model, the Selectric III, was sold in the 1980s with more advanced word processing capabilities and a 96-character printing element. But as personal computers and daisy-wheel printers began to dominate, the Selectric brand was retired in 1986.
The Pioneers of American Industrial Design stamp pane honors 12 of the nation’s most important and influential industrial designers.
Encompassing everything from furniture and electric kitchen appliances to corporate office buildings and passenger trains, the work of these designers helped shape the look of everyday life in the 20th century.
Industrial design emerged as a profession in the U.S. in the 1920s but really took hold during the Depression. Faced with decreasing sales, manufacturers turned to industrial designers to give their products a modern look that would appeal to consumers. Characterized by horizontal lines and rounded, wind-resistant shapes, the new, streamlined looks differed completely from the decorative extravagance of the 1920s. They evoked a sense of speed and efficiency and projected the image of progress and affluence the public desired.
Consumer interest in modern design continued to increase after World War II, when machines allowed corporations to mass produce vacuums, hair dryers, toasters and other consumer goods at low cost. Industrial designers helped lower costs further by exploiting inexpensive new materials like plastic, vinyl, chrome, aluminum and plywood, which responded well to advances in manufacturing such as the use of molds and stamping. Affordable prices and growing prosperity nationwide helped drive popular demand.
Even as streamlining gave way to new looks in the 1960s, the groundbreaking work of industrial designers continued to transform the look of homes and offices across the country. Today, industrial design remains an integral component of American manufacturing and business, as well as daily life.
We were sad to hear that Pierre Paulin died this Saturday at the age
of 81 in Montpellier, south-east of France. He will remain in all our
memories as one of the major French designers of the 20th century. He
leaves us with great classics, most of them produced by the Dutch
company Artifort - 'the Tongue', 'the Ribbon', 'the Oyster' and many
Pierre Paulin at the 'Atelier de recherche et création - Mobilier National' in 2007 (photo: Olivier Amsellem/Collection Mobilier National)
Pierre Paulin was also known for having created furniture for two presidents of the French Republic, Georges Pompidou and François Mitterand.
Dining-room designed by Pierre Paulin at the Palais de l'Elysée - residence of French President Georges Pompidou (AFP) (photo taken in 1972)
Nanny Still was one of the most colourful figures of Finnish design. Born in Helsinki in 1926, she started her career in 1949 at the Riihimäki Glassworks. Until 1976 she designed countless sets of tumblers, yet she was not afraid to experiment. She introduced many innovations in the use of colour and technique.
In the late 1950's Nanny Still moved to Belgium and started designing for companies like Cerabel (Belgium), Heinrich Porzellan (Germany) and Rosenthal (Germany).
Nanny Still earned herself a reputation designing a varied range of industrial products in a variety of materials such as glass, metal, porcelain and wood. (via Design Museum Gent)
Welcome to the Spark 2009 Competition, Designers! The Spark Awards are
the new competition created to promote great design and designers and
encourage people to explore their creativity. Sparks invites everyone
to participate--designers, art directors, architects, design firms,
manufacturers, institutions, ad agencies, students and
non-professionals may enter.
Graphics, product design, transportation and architecture are just a few of the many design categories accepted. If you or your company create great designs, don’t miss the opportunity to compete in this important event.
To accommodate the greatest possible range of designs and designers, and to lower the initial cost of entry, the SparkAwards are configured as a "two-phase" competition--just like a sports playoff series. In Phase I, entrants upload 3 images of their work and short mission statement to the Spark website. Winners of Phase II are awarded either a prestigious Bronze Spark, Silver Spark, Gold Spark or the ultimate Spark! Award.
The magazine focuses on the international trends in the Neocraft movement. Following the revival of craft, the magazine deals with the latest news in illustration, graphic design, textile art, ceramics, glass and book art. The initiators, Katja Kleiss and Pascal Johanssen, intended to launch a magazine which presents and discusses international trends in new craft.
The title is programmatic: OBJECTS is interested in the individual artistic craftwork, the object. "Unique things remind us of our individuality in a standardised world," says Pascal Johanssen, "the selection of these "objects" is a statement. While design is made for the masses, craftwork is dedicated to the individual." Each issue features academic essays, non-academic interventions of artists and multipaged spreads.
Authors of the first issue are art critic Colleen Shindler-Lynch (Toronto), artist Robert Revels (San Franciso), designer Scott Ballum (New York) and art director Gregori Saavedra (Barcelona). The essays are complimented by plenty of illustrations.
The magazine is now distributed in Germany but you can order it to everywhere on the globe through Illustrative's online shop.
This chair first became a popular office chair in the 1970s, elegantly meeting the demands of busy working environments and ergonomic design. As a result, hundred thousands of Kevi chairs have since been sold all over the world.
Their popularity was partly the result of their timeless design, but also Jørgen Rasmussen's invention of the Kevi wheel in 1965. This innovation meant that the chairs could move freely and easily. Jørgen Rasmussen received much recognition and many awards for this invention. Many believe that there is still no better wheel for chairs than the Kevi wheel.
United States 2008 stamp program recognizes a range of subjects as diverse as America itself, from the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrated in Chinatowns all over the country, to 20th century movie icons and literary figures, to the flags of its states and territories.
In recognition of their groundbreaking contributions to architecture, furniture design, manufacturing and photographic arts, designers Charles and Ray Eames will be honored next summer with a pane of 16 stamps designed by Derry Noyes of Washington, DC. If you’ve ever sat in a stackable molded chair, you’ve experienced their creativity. Perhaps best known for their furniture, the Eameses were husband and wife as well as design partners. Their extraordinary body of creative work — which reflected the nation’s youthful and inventive outlook after World War II — also included architecture, films and exhibits. Without abandoning tradition, Charles and Ray Eames used new materials and technology to create high-quality products that addressed everyday problems and made modern design available to the American public.
A sad ending to the year 2007 for the world of design. Ettore Sottsass left us this Monday. A giant of Italian design, theorist, architect, photographer, etc. The contribution of Sottsass to the history of design certainly goes beyond his participation in the Memphis movement which, although it was important, was only one of the aspects of his work. His simple and strong formal language which fed on all cultures of the world will leave an indelible mark in our minds. He was ninety years old and worked right until the end of his life.
Here is a video from the Design Museum London recalling a part of Ettore Sottsass' work.
After the rise of wide spread Eco consciousness, it seems the next wave to hit us is 'Urban farming' i.e: food-producing activities at home, be it edible gardens, livestock or aquaculture. The aims include: increasing self reliance, combating the ever increasing number of food miles we use to feed ourselves and ... renew our sense of connexion to the earth.
This is a big leap for the true urbanites... When I set out to explore what was out there , I was reading about skyscraper green acres and new sci fi techniques. It struck me that many ideas are just too ambitious for the mass of us socialising /clubbing /office working urbanites who feel for instance that radically giving up all design ambitions a bit too steep a challenge!
I would like to let you know that I am creating a blog to help those who are perhaps less thoroughbred Eco warriors ;-) but who do want to change. It is focused on the baby step approach adoptable by the very urban types. My focus is how to jump on the band wagon in style when possible. And good news is out there too: designers are starting to invade the field. You can check out a few of my first finds at www.MyUrbanFarm.com
Call for submissions:
I'd love to hear about new products designers are thinking about or have developed to help in this field:
- new water harvesting objects ? - new containers to grow vegetables ? - new harvesting/storing devices? - new tools ? - new technologies (for example hydroponic cupboards) ?
- have real life examples of growing plots/urban farms that have incorporated a design twist