Red Dot design. Richard Sapper’s Thinkpad

My first ThinkPad computer was in 2005 when one was handed to me in my office. The tank-like machine lasted a further four years, just about, making it one of the longest-lasting computers I have ever been in possession of. That Thinkpad was an IBM personal computer designed by the industrial designer Richard Sapper.

Born in 1932, Richard Sapper is the father of some of the most iconic designs of the recent past and present. After pursuing courses in philosophy, anatomy, and engineering, he graduated with a business degree from the University of Munich.

Sapper’s main interest in his design work has centered on technically complex problems. He has developed and designed a wide variety of products, ranging from ships and cars, to computers and electronics, and furniture and kitchen appliances. His clients include Alessi, Artemide, B&B Italia, Brionvega, FIAT, Heuer, Kartell, Knoll, IBM, Lenovo, Lorenz Milano, Magis, Molteni, Pirelli and many others. And breath.

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But it is his ThinkPad design that is most notable, and still in use by Lenovo today. The ThinkPad is probably the only truly unique and recognizable laptop design out there besides Apple’s products.

“Jobs once wanted to hire me to do the design of Apple [computers] 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. Also, at that time Apple was not a great company, it was just a small computer company.” Richard Sapper.

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Sapper not only designed the iconic ThinkPad for IBM but he continues to work on the ThinkPad for new owners Lenovo, number two in worldwide PC shipments evolving the design for the market today.

I have a penchant for the tank-like ThinkPad’s but they do look very 80s against the sleek aluminium of the Apple computers so Sapper’s latest designs for Lenovo have retained the essence of the ThinkPad whilst modernising enough to ensure good sales of the machines.

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The red dot that Sapper used in his designs is not a new idea. He appears to have a red dot obsession, fashioning all manner of objects into the shape where possible. His design for the Microsplit stopwatch in 1976 sees the red dot prominently displayed on the device whilst his Mini Timer Terraillon makes no suggestion of subtlety with the large red dot shaping the kitchen timer.

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His designs may have a signature of the 1970s and 1980s but they work in today’s world equally as reliable, recognisable, and trustworthy objects that sit in the design museum’s of the world. They record how we once used to live and remind us of how much we’ve changed. I am sure that one day I will work on a ThinkPad again, even if it’s just to smile at the little red dot.

Daniel

Having worked in design for the past decade, Daniel started ateliertally.com as a discussion of timeless, modernist product design. Trained as a graphic designer, he also has an avid interest in typography. You can follow him on Twitter @ateliertally.

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