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Designer Richard Sapper's Story On The Original ThinkPad

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on October 21, 2009

I talked with Richard Sapper, the amazing design genius, at Knoll on Tuesday. He’s developed a beautiful arm that holds monitors in the air above your desk. You can fold it so that the monitor comes forward or backward, twists around to face away, or simple twirls. Both technological and aesthetic genius.

Sapper also has a touch-screen ThinkPad coming up as well. And here is the story-telling bit. He told me (and Reena Jana who invited me) that his original and iconic trackpoint red button in the middle of the ThinkPad was forbidden by the German government. When Sapper and IBM first unveiled the ThinkPad in Germany, the authorities said that the color red was reserved for emergencies and forbad Sapper from using it.

So Sapper changed the color to purple—and made it more red the next year. And the next year. By the third year, Sapper was back to his original red, the ThinkPad was hugely popular in Germany and the authorities stopped bugging him.

Lessons? Don’t take “no” for an answer if you truly believe in your design creation. Find ways to overcome barriers, even as large as German regulators. Be persistent. Take the long view (or at least 3 years). Believe in yourself. Get a strong strategic partner (IBM then, Lenovo now).

I guess I would add that in an era of teams and collaboration, it is really great to meet an individual design and innovation genius who does it the old way—his way. Richard Sapper, an original.



Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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