The Memphis Group
June 14, 2013 7:12 AM   Subscribe

Ettore Sottsass was an industrial designer who was born in Innsbruck, Austria. Famous for his My Valentine typewriter design and his geometric enamel designs.

He also founded The Memphis Group, whose bold furniture designs have been described as "'bizarre', 'misunderstood', 'loathed', and 'a shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher-Price'".

Interestingly, the codename for the new iOS7 design led by industrial designer Jony Ive was "Innsbruck"... the hometown of the originator of the Memphis aesthetic and many features of the beta interface are arguably interpretations of the Memphis Group style.
posted by panaceanot (15 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Love the Memphis Group - anything worthwhile in '80s design was inspired by it. iOS 7 has little or nothing to do with that aesthetic - tho an interface based on asymmetrical shapes, bold and contrasting solid colors and patterns that would reconfigure itself as you used it... now that I could get behind.

iOS 7 is color gradients and spartan self-importance.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:27 AM on June 14, 2013

Memphis group inspired
posted by panaceanot at 7:27 AM on June 14, 2013

Yet, it is Milan who claims him as their own, not to mention Olivetti. He's firmly in the Italian "maestro" league with his stable of brilliant apprentices in his studio.

ETTORE SOTTSASS was born in Innsbruck in 1917 and studied architecture at the Polytechnic of Turin before graduating in 1939. In 1945 he worked for the Giuseppe Pagano group of Architects, before setting up his own office 'The Studio' in Milan in 1947. He worked as a design consultant for Olivetti (1958 – 1980) and during the 1960's he designed several pieces of Anti-Design Furniture that were manufactured by Poltronova. via

Italian design studio culture

Innsbruck is a detail. Apple, a derail.
posted by infini at 7:30 AM on June 14, 2013

Add the tag Italian or Italy ~ given he was born in 1917, who knows who was ruling Innsbruck at the time. Give Signore Sottsass his full due.
posted by infini at 7:33 AM on June 14, 2013

You don't think the Memphis Group's aesthetic featured heavily in Apple's presentation?
posted by panaceanot at 7:43 AM on June 14, 2013

That .png reminds me of Max Headroom but that's just me. I'll let others with greater knowledge of Apple chime in on that.

In the meantime, thank you for inspiring me to dive into some Sottsass:

both a timely reminder of the contribution from one of the late 20th Century's most influential designers and a disarming glimpse into the creative process of any designer/artist. Crammed with ideas (from barely formed to more fully realised), this book should be compulsory viewing for any student of any visual Art; proof that, if as the saying goes 'a writer writes', then an artist draws. Always. And if sometimes I regret I forget that, I'm thankful that books like this can bring that fact back into my mind, can remind me that somewhere inside me there are still some quietly haunting ghosts of Art School days.

This is not a love song

Ettore Sottsass thought that a retrospective was akin to death – ‘a coffin’ was what he called it. And now the Austrian-born Italian designer is dead, this is not a retrospective (or obituary) summing up his career. You will not read here about his childhood (Innsbruck and Turin), his architecture, his father (another architect), his golf resort in China, or even his design for a mainframe computer in the late-1950s (it won awards).

Instead, we could start with Bob Dylan and ‘Stuck Inside of Mobile (With the Memphis Blues Again)’ from Blonde on Blonde (1966). It seemed providential when, in 1980, Sottsass was listening to the record and it began to skip on the ‘Memphis’ refrain; the name for his new collective was born. ‘Memphis’ summed it all up: American-ness and Elvis and irony.

Ooh Look!

Trailblazing for Apple - before Apple even existed

Sottsass wanted to demolish prejudices about office equipment with the Valentine’s Pop Art styling. Thirty years later, the iMac did the same for the personal computer.

Sottsass experimented with ways to differentiate computers back in the 1950s (with Elea, the first Olivetti mainframe computer) and with unusual materials such as plastics. His adverts for Valentine showed models typing away at the beach, a revolutionary vision of portability and eye-catching design that would come to fruition with iBooks and iPods. David M. Kelley, who designed Apple’s first mouse, asked Sottsass to design his home in California. Kelley later founded the pioneering American design thinking company IDEO with Bill Moggridge, who also revered Sottsass.

Are we sure it was Jony?
posted by infini at 8:41 AM on June 14, 2013

Ive might have inherited the banners carried by Sotsass and Rams, but I always thought Frogdesign's portables for Apple in the late 80s and early 90s were much closer to the character of Sotsass's industrial design work.
posted by ardgedee at 9:19 AM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

That "Trailblazing for Apple" link is a little overbaked, too -- there was interesting design in the electronics world coming from all kinds of companies besides Apple in the 80s -- GRiD had some of the first tablet computers available to consumers around that time, for example.
posted by ardgedee at 9:20 AM on June 14, 2013

but I always thought Frogdesign's portables for Apple in the late 80s and early 90s

Helmut Esslinger.
posted by infini at 10:52 AM on June 14, 2013

That link's broken, infini...
posted by ardgedee at 12:04 PM on June 14, 2013

Try this one.

Though it worked for me just now. What am I doing that my links are being more frequently flagged as broken? Is it the https?
posted by infini at 12:07 PM on June 14, 2013

I remember having Memphis Group sheets in the 80s. Everybody did, for a while.

The sheets looked like graphing paper, with red borders and primary color blobs scattered across the surface. Very New Wave.
posted by bcarter3 at 12:22 PM on June 14, 2013

That is the modernist tradition that industrial designers like Jony Ive live and breathe. Steve Jobs considered the Bauhaus one of his most important influences. So you can see why designers revolt when software metaphors get developed so far that they don’t actually add any additional functional benefit. Wired's got Bauhaus
posted by infini at 4:30 AM on June 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Innsbruck is a detail. Apple, a derail."

Let's agree to disagree.
posted by panaceanot at 8:03 AM on June 15, 2013


I can see the Bauhaus argument that is being made in the Wired article, but not the Sottsass Memphis influence.
posted by infini at 8:20 AM on June 15, 2013

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