With its dancing roll of printing ribbon, diving between a checkerboard game of multi-colored squares and symbols, this ad for Olivetti’s Divisumma adding machine makes simple mathematics look like anything but just another day at the office. Like the poster, Olivetti’s products imbibed a similar pop aesthetic, embracing bold colors and simple forms. Their typewriters, calculators and other small office electronics were offered in various colors and models and were often portable. Catering to those with a flair for the individual, an Olivetti product encapsulated the spirit of mid-century Italian design.
In 1953, Olivetti commissioned Herbert Bayer to create this advertisement for their new line of calculators. An early member of the Bauhaus school, Herbert Bayer was a graphic designer, typographer, photographer, painter, and exhibition designer. His sans-serif, all lower-case typeface Universal, created in 1925, is a benchmark of European Modernism and established Bayer as one of the period’s most influential designers.
Bayer’s contribution to the American modern-design landscape began with MoMA’s pivotal Bauhaus exhibition in 1938. With László Moholy-Nagy’s and Walter Gropius’s endorsement, Bayer immigrated to the US to become the exhibition’s designer, distilling his Bauhaus aesthetic to an American audience. Many corporations took note of the minimal, functionalist products on display and applied these new design styles to their business models. Consequently, Walter P. Paepcke, head of The Container Corporation of America (CCA) hired Bayer as the company’s chief corporate designer, fostering Bayer’s career in America. Throughout the 1940s Bayer designed posters, info graphics and brand manuals for CCA, the most iconic being the World Geographic Atlas and Great Ideas of Modern Man campaign. Both Paepcke and Bayer strongly believed in the power of info graphics as well as socially conscious design. Bayer’s designs became a conduit for Paepcke’s philosophies, promoting the corporate image in a progressive, thoughtful way.
Like Walter Paepcke, Camillo Olivetti and his son Adriano also prescribed to a high standard of excellence in corporate appearance and identity. In hiring Bayer, they invested in his reputation as a pioneer in brand identity and communication design. This poster appears early in the Olivetti canon, and is Bayer’s only known commission for the brand. Its exuberant style ushered in a number of posters designed by Olivetti’s in-house graphic designer, Giovanni Pintori as well as commissions from artists such as Leo Lionni and Milton Glaser.