It was hard to resist touching the Divisumma 18 calculator when it first appeared on the market. Produced by Olivetti, for whom Bellini began working as a chief industrial design consultant in 1963, it proved to be enormously popular. The Divisumma 18 was small and portable, in contrast to earlier computing machinery, much of which looked like heavy cabinetry. The keyboard, with its nipplelike buttons, is encased in Bellini’s typical rubber skin, which in this design is a playful yellow.
In the 1960s, Bellini began his career at a turning point in the history of twentieth-century design: the transition from mechanical to microelectronic technology. To accommodate rapidly changing technology and increasing miniaturization, new products had to be designed. Bellini was able to link the necessities of the developing electronics industry to contemporary visual culture by emphasizing tactile qualities and taking advantage of the expressive possibilities of such new materials as plastic. Bellini made industrial products desirable by injecting into his designs subtle anthropomorphic references, which stimulate emotional responses. Plastic, leather, or rubber, for example, may have the sensual properties of human skin.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 293.