Richard Sapper (born 1932 in Munich) is a German industrial designer based in Milan, Italy. He is considered one of the most important designers of his generation, his products typically featuring a combination of technical innovation, simplicity of form and an element of wit and surprise. He has received numerous international design awards, including 10 prestigious Compasso d'Oro awards and the Raymond Loewy Foundation's Lucky Strike award. His products are part of the permanent collections of many museums around the world, with over 15 designs represented at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), as well as London's Victoria and Albert and Design Museums.
After beginning as a designer in the styling department at Mercedes-Benz, Sapper relocated to Milan in 1958, where he initially joined the offices of architect Gio Ponti and subsequently the design department of La Rinascente. In 1959 he partnered with Italian architect and designer Marco Zanuso, a collaboration that would last on and off for 18 years until 1977. The pair were hired in 1959 as consultants to Brionvega, an Italian company trying to produce well-designed electronics that would compete with products manufactured in Japan and Germany. Together they designed a series of radios, televisions and other consumer electronics that became enduring icons. Amongst their more notable designs were the rounded, compact and portable Doney 14 (1962), the first television to feature completely transistorized construction, and the radio TS502 (1965), a rectangular box with hinges that upon opening reveals speakers and controls. Using the aesthetic of sculptural minimalism, they created the compact folding Grillo telephone for Siemens and Italtel in 1965. The Grillo was the first telephone featuring the flip-down mouthpiece, a precursor to the clamshell designs of today's mobile phones. In 1964, Sapper and Zanuso designed the lightweight K1340 stacking children's chair for Kartell, the first chair produced entirely in plastic.
Upon starting his own independent studio in 1959, Sapper designed the Static table clock for Lorenz, which won him the first Compasso d'Oro prize and is still in production today. In 1972, Sapper designed the Tizio lamp for Artemide, one of the first desk lamps using halogen bulbs with low-voltage current conducting arms to eliminate the need for wires. The Tizio remains one of the best-selling lamps ever produced. Sapper continued to create design classics including the Sapper Office Chair series for Knoll in 1979, a series of stop watches for Heuer in 1976 and the Nena folding chair for B&B Italia in 1984. In 1978 Alessi commissioned Sapper with the first product in a long series to come, the stove-top espresso maker 9090. It was followed, amongst other products, by the two-note whistling water kettle Bollitore in 1984, the Bandung teapot in 1990, the Coban espresso machine in 1997, the cheese grater Todo in 2006 and the Cintura di Orione cookware series in 1986 and 2009, conceived with the collaboration of chefs such as Roger Verge, Pierre and Michel Troisgros, and Alain Chapel.
In 1980 Sapper was appointed principal industrial design consultant at IBM and began designing numerous portable computers, including the first ThinkPad 700C in 1992, which broke with the company's tradition of pearl-grey machines with a simple and elegant black rectangular box. This minimalistic box would reveal a surprise inside: a small red button amidst the keyboard which would serve to control the screen cursor. Sapper continues today to oversee the ThinkPad brand as design consultant to Lenovo after it acquired the IBM PC Division in May 2005.
Throughout his career, Sapper devoted great attention to transportation issues. He worked with Fiat on experimental cars, especially on pneumatic bumper systems, and with Pirelli on the development of pneumatic structures. In 1972 he formed with architect Gae Aulenti a study group for the development of new urban transportation systems, a theme which he pursued further for an exhibition at the XVI Triennale in Milan in 1979 and which included the design of a bus for Fiat that enabled passengers to stow their bicycles in a rack. His research culminated with the design of the Zoombike (no longer in production), a lightweight bicycle designed with aircraft technology to achieve the required strength and speed acceleration, which can fold as quickly and simply as an umbrella and easily fit into a car trunk.
Sapper's roster of clients include Alessi, Artemide, B&B Italia, Castelli, Heuer, IBM, Kartell, Knoll International, Lenovo, Lorenz, Magis, Molteni Unifor, Pirelli.
Sapper has taught and lectured at Yale University, the Kunstakademie Stuttgart, the University of Beijing, the Royal College of Art in London, the Domus Academy in Milan, the University of Buenos Aires, and the Hochschule fuer Angewandte Kunst in Vienna.
Sapper is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in England and a Member of the Academy of Arts in Germany. The German Design Council awarded Sapper a lifetime achievement award for his design work in 2009 and he was bestowed an Honorary Doctor degree from the University of North Carolina in 2010. In 2012 Sapper received the Merit Cross of the Order of Merit from the President of the Federal Republic of Germany.