Interview: German industrial designer Richard Sapper has launched a new website chronicling his work dating back to the 1950s. In an interview looking back on his career he tells Dezeen how he turned down the chance to work at Apple, how...
Interview: German industrial designer Richard Sapper has launched a new website chronicling his work dating back to the 1950s. In an interview looking back on his career he tells Dezeen how he turned down the chance to work at Apple, how design has been "degraded" by commercialism and how 3D printing could help solve unemployment (+ slideshow).
Tizio desk lamp, Artemide, 1972: photograph by Serge Libiszewski
Speaking from his home in Milan, Sapper, 81, recounts how Steve Jobs once tried to lure him to work for Apple, "but the circumstances weren't right because I didn't want to move to California and I had very interesting work here that I didn't want to abandon." When asked if he regretted turning Jobs down he said: "Sure I regret it – the man who then did it [Jonathan Ive] makes $30 million a year!"
TS 502 radio, Brionvega, 1963: photograph by Serge Libiszewski
In a career spanning almost 60 years, Sapper has designed iconic products including the Tizio lamp, the ThinkPad range of laptops for IBM and the 9091 whistling kettle for Alessi.
Grillo Telephone, Siemens Italtel, 1965: photograph by Roberto Zabban
Sapper says that he admires the work of Jonathan Ive and Steve Jobs at Apple, citing the company as an exception in an industry he feels has been "degraded" by an overriding focus on profit. "If a company asks me to design something, the first thing I hear is how much money they're making, how much money they want to make, and I'm expected to produce the difference."
9090 espresso coffee maker, Alessi, 1978: photograph by Aldo Ballo
Richard Sapper was born in 1932 and was first employed as a stylist with Daimler Benz in Stuttgart. He founded his own studio in Milan in 1959 and worked as a consultant for many of Italy's leading companies, including Brionvega, Fiat and Pirelli.
ThinkPad 701, IBM, 1996: photograph by Aldo Ballo
He is renowned for his work with technology brands, including IBM, for whom he has been chief industrial design consultant since 1980.
Algol portable TV set 3rd edition (first designed with Marco Zanuso), Brionvega, 1985: photograph by Aldo Ballo
When asked about 3D printing and its impact on the design industry, Sapper describes it as "a huge revolution," and adds, "it is revolution that allows anyone who has such a machine the possibility to produce something that they have invented themselves. This can help to reduce the problem of unemployment because people are able to produce something without having to be employed."
9091 kettle, Alessi, 1983: photograph by Aldo Ballo
Sapper's 9091 whistling kettle for Alessi is one of several iconic kettles described by Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic in a film made by Dezeen for the Design Museum Collection App for iPad.
Sapperchair executive office chairs and seating system, Knoll, 1979: photograph by Aldo Ballo
Other clients include Alessi, Artemide, Kartell, Knoll, Lenovo and Magis.
Zoombike folding bicycle, Elettromontaggi, 2000
Despite his prodigious career, Sapper says he launched a new website, designed by London studio Julia, because "I've been working in design for over 50 years and most people still don't know my work."
Sapper XYZ monitor arm system, Knoll, 2012: photograph by Jens Mortensen for Knoll
Here's a transcript of Richard Sapper talking with Alyn Griffiths from Dezeen:
Alyn Griffiths: Your website documents a career going back all the way to the 1950s. How has design changed in that time?
Richard Sapper: There have been enormous changes. When I was young and starting out, industrial designers all worked for somebody who owned a company. Some of those company owners wanted to make good-looking things because there is pleasure associated with good forms. In many ways these people were idealists. They didn't make more money because they made a beautiful design. Today, it seems to me that money is the only reason to make design.
If a company asks me to design something, the first thing I hear is how much money they're making, how