Hello all, tea's made so now I can get writing. As Alistair mentioned, I'm Ed Cornish and I've taken time out of my busy summer holiday schedual of avoiding my thesis and worrying about the dreaded final year of uni to help out at the studio. Regular visitors to We Made This will know that they are big fans of old printed ephemera, and I've been squandering my student loan on old tat for a while now, so I thought I’d commandeer the blog to show off a piece from my own collection; the manual for an Olivetti Lettera 22 Typewriter. Both Alistair and I are proud owners of Lettera 22s (I was lucky enough to get mine with a case and instruction manual as a gift, and apparently the whole package was picked up for around £3 from a car-boot sale!) and he posted about his a while ago, so now I’m posting this as an accompaniment and a full Flickr set can be found here.
The Lettera 22 was the pinnacle of 1950s typewriters (MoMA even have one in their permanent collection), a true luxury item, and the manual testifies to this. The copy is peppered with proud sentiment, and includes gems like ‘The Olivetti Lettera 22 is quite clearly a portable typewriter of the most up-to-date design and fine workmanship’ and ‘A few minutes spent in reading this book will enable the novice and the experienced typist alike to get the very best out of this excellent typewriter’. It refers to itself as a book! You almost get the impression Olivetti decided to print a manual that people would actually want to keep and not throw away once they got used to their new typewriter. The whole thing could have been printed entirely in black, but pale greens, reds and turquoises pop up throughout, giving the manual a sense of luxury that elevates it from being just a utilitarian document.
The type is filled with quirky detailing, such as the massive bold numerals on pretty much every page. I’m particularly fond of the typeface used for all the headings; big, bold, italic, red… anything but elegant. The type and the tone of the copy give it a sense of humanity you never see in manuals nowadays. The humanity is carried over into the latter half of the manual, which is a practical guide to using the typewriter. Just look at those Saul Bass-esque diagrams!
Of course a lot of the appeal of the Olivetti instruction manual comes from its kitsch-ness; that it’s so of the 1950s, and the fact that it talks about what is now a redundant piece of technology in a glorious present tense. An added irony is that instruction manuals, much like typewriters, may soon become a thing of the past; it’s more economic to just put all the necessary info on the web and print the URL on the box. Fewer instructions also seem like a sign of efficiency and superior, easy-to-use technology. Maybe it could be worth holding onto all your old mobile phone manuals before the iPhone and its imitators take over? They may have the same effect on designers in 50 years time as the Olivetti manual has now. The Olivetti Lettera 22 instruction manual shows what can happen if a designer doesn’t compromise on quality despite the potential banality of a job, and is supported by a client that shares their passion. It is a beautiful piece of graphic design that accompanies classic product, and if it was anything less than stunning, it wouldn’t deserve to be seen anywhere near a Lettera 22.