By the 1980s, the drive to miniaturize electronics had advanced so far that industrial designers were no longer obliged to create forms that had to accommodate large internal mechanisms and parts. Mario Bellini and his contemporaries could use their creativity and skills to appeal to consumers on practical, visual and experiential levels. His ET Personal 55 electronic typewriter for Olivetti was the company’s lightweight contender challenging new devices making their debut in the consumer electronics market—personal word processors and computers. The ET Personal 55 presented a bold new look for the firm’s products. Bellini took the wedge, a shape he had used for a Japanese-manufactured tape deck a decade earlier, and used it as the basis for the typewriter’s light structure. He reduced the machine to its essentials, reflected in its rectilinear form and low, stepped profile accentuated by thin linear indentations in the plastic body that also helped reduce its weight.
Bellini used color to differentiate the fundamental parts—gray base and keys, light blue cover and paper support above the electronics, and butter-yellow knobs to role the platen. Color also conveyed the idea that this state of the art hi-tech product was a user-friendly personal tool for writing. The ET Personal 55 used a daisy wheel instead of the metal typebars common in older mechanical machines. This provided proportional typefaces and allowed the user to select different fonts simply by switching one daisy wheel for another. The electronics provided for smooth, even striking of the keys, and the device was capable of right and centered alignment, underlining words and correcting mistakes.
Cynthia Trope is Associate Curator of Product Design and Decorative Arts