Designing with Sapper: Unearthed Video

Recently I was searching my closet for a lost computer cable when I came upon my old Flip Video Camera. They were clever tools for painlessly creating simply-edited short videos. The cameras were a great market success, but quickly became obsolete with the rise of smart phones. It had been hiding in my closet so long that I couldn’t remember when I had used it last, or what footage might be on it. I cleaned the slightly corroded terminals, popped in a fresh set of batteries, connected it to my ThinkPad and was amazed at what digital treasure it held.

At the time, Flip Video Cameras were all the rage

The camera was full of random video clips documenting Richard Sapper at work. I had forgotten that in 2008 I had taken quite a few video clips of a weeklong creative design session with Richard in his Milan studio. He was kind enough to let me invade his creative world with video camera in hand. Stumbling on the camera eight years later was a real find. I felt like an archeologist discovering an ancient artifact from a bygone civilization.

Few have ever seen a designer of Richard’s caliber at work, especially in his own environment. Found in his studio were beautiful posters, Chinese kites, drawings by his children and grandson, wooden study models of now classic products, prototypical lamps, an original Static table clock, his father’s antique drawing table, Mitsubishi pencils, and many other unique tools of the trade. I especially enjoyed Richard’s own table design with whimsical traffic cone legs. What better way to suggest this is where the work took place? It was truly a Santa’s workshop for all designers who visited there.

The family heirloom drawing table is stunning

I decided to have the unseen clips edited into a short video documenting the creative experience and celebrating Sapper and his boundless talent. It’s been nearly a year since Richard has passed. It continues to be difficult knowing he’s no longer with us.

In the video you will see the hurried taxi ride to his apartment, Tom unloading cases of models, the creaky antique elevator that transports you to his floor and of course Richard at work. In his studio he reviews two of our early all-in-one concept models, draws sketches to help solve a ThinkPad hinge problem, suggests a new color inspired by his cooking pot handles, and proposes a color coding scheme for the ThinkPad keyboard. He astonishes Tom by testing his theory with a blue magic marker. Yes, Richard really colored the keys on Tom’s keyboard.

In addition to the typical Think related design discussions we also discussed his latest plastic stacking chair design for Magis. At the time, it was still under development. The Tosca Chair, as it is now named, is a beautiful and comfortable work that combines classic form with a modern flair; a familiar Sapper formula for success. Beaming with pride, Richard also breaks out his Alessi Travel Espresso Maker set and demonstrates the design features. Designers love their children. Richard’s innovative expresso cup design from the set is a favorite of mine.

In the end, I think the video turned out quite nice. It captures the actual feeling of being there unlike a more highly produced or scripted endeavor would ever have done. It’s natural, spontaneous and genuine. I hope you enjoy this rare glimpse into the world of designing with Richard Sapper by clicking here.  Many thanks to Rick Plant for his burgeoning editing skills, my son Eric for composing and performing the acoustic guitar interlude and of course the Sapper family for their ongoing kindness.

David Hill