“We read the world sensuously,” Sottsass once noted. “We also catalogue it and intellectualize it, but the source of everything remains the senses. To a Functionalist, the surface of this table is a geometrical square; to me, it’s a piece of plastic, warm or cold.”
For Sottsass, designing was a more complex endeavor than just building a house or creating a new consumer object—it was about achieving a deeper connection to the world around us. “Ettore thought that design should help people become more aware of their existence: the space they live in, how to arrange it and their own presence in it,” explained
Radice. “That was the core of Ettore.”
Take, for instance, his infamous, bright red Valentine typewriter for Olivetti. He described it as a tool to be used anywhere but an office, “so as not to remind anyone of the monotonous working hours.” Rather, he envisioned it to be used “to keep amateur poets company on quiet Sundays in the country or to provide a highly colored object on a table in a studio apartment.” He called it “an anti-machine machine” and “an unpretentious toy.”
His focus was not on the technology of the machine but on how the person using it would be made to feel. Every detail is tactile and invites interaction: The light, plastic shell is chamfered at the corners to reduce its visual weight, the surface is finished with a matte texture that evokes leather grain, the two typewriter spools on the inside are finished with an orange lid that has a circular tip at the center—a slight suggestion of a nipple, which adds an unexpected hint humor.
Writing in Domus magazine in 1963, Sottsass described his approach to design as a search for exuberance: “I have tried as best as I can to gather together the terms of a new vitality and, where and how I was able, to collect the shapes, colors and symbols that could represent the change in the images of this century from an intellectual organization to a reality that must be lived, to a kind of pure and vital energy.”
Why are we still talking about him?