Continuing off earlier posts inspired by a talk with Mario Bellini which I recently attended…

Bellini used his time at Olivetti as a laboratory. Being close to the craftsmen, understanding the constraints of material, understanding the soul of tools. These gave him foundation from which to reflect on innovations.

The old tools had no mystery for human being. “Take a hammer in your hand and you know what to do with” Bellini says. But with advancements in technology, this physical continuity was broken. Our relationship to tools was altered. When a machine broke, very few knew why, for instance. Much less how to fix it. The human being was cut off from his tools. This same disconnection risked happening in the design of the objects in our life.

Bellini focused on the physical relationship between human and machine through materials, forms colors and shapes. He sought to make the electronics and the technology human.

User Interface

Pocket calculator by Bellini

Calculator by Bellini, 1972

This theme of making our technological innovations approachable to humans is familiar to any of us who knows the stories of companies like Apple, which have put user interface at the forefront of what they create. Many might think of “user interface” as solely about the quality of their experience navigating their computer, smartphone or an app. But it is valuable to see that this dialogue of ‘user interface’ extends to all the objects which surround us and with which we live. Also, we should understand that any new pioneers of user interface, writ large, stands on the shoulders of other pioneers before them.

It has been interesting, since this recent conversation with Bellini, which I attended, to further explore his legacy. I discover not only how his products dovetails in modern sensibilities, but how his philosophy of design presages current dialogues on the relationship between humans and our technologies.

Knowing the explorations of other designers expands and at the same time refines our attempts to mold new innovations to the human experience.

A corollary point which Bellini makes, is that the exploration of new materials and structural technology, and how to make them ‘user friendly’, also gives designers a lens into people and how they live and work.

Portable record player by Bellini

Grundig Phono Boy — portable record player by Bellini (1968)

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