Richard Sapper, Designer Of IBM’s ThinkPad, Has Died

Richard Sapper died New Year’s eve at the age of 83, his daughter Carola Sapper confirmed in an email to Co.Design. The German-born, Italy-based industrial designer created all manner of products, from household goods to cars, but is arguably best known for being the chief industrial design consultant for IBM and masterminding the first ThinkPad in 1992.

“[Good design] has to transmit a message to whomever is looking at it, or who has it in their hand,” Sapper said in a 2013 interview with Dezeen. “What message is another question, but it has to tell them something.”

Richard Sapper

Sapper’s work leaned toward the technically challenging. For Fiat, he created forward-thinking bus and car concepts. Along with longtime collaborator Marco Zanuso, Sapper experimented with new materials and fabrication techniques, such as the stackable K 1340 chair from Kartell that’s made entirely from polypropylene and the Lambda chair produced from stamped metal. During the ’60s and ’70s, Sapper made a name for himself at Brionvega, a Italian company known for slick home electronics, many of which are in MoMA’s permanent collection. The Tizio task lamp for Artemide was a marvel when it was released in 1972—it employs a counterweight system to make it easier for users to adjust the light’s direction, a halogen bulb, and and no exposed wires. (Over two million lamps have been produced since then.) No stranger to purely beautiful objects, Sapper created a whistling tea kettle for Alessi, the first in the manufacturer’s line of designer kettles.

Sapper’s career was remarkably prolific, but he had one major regret: turning down an offer from Steve Jobs to work at Apple. While his black-box laptops and monitors certainly speak to a particular moment in computer design history, Sapper’s legacy and influence will endure through time.DB