Article ID: CBB553587705

Olivetti ELEA Sign System: Interfaces Before the Advent of HCI (2020)


This paper uses the case of ELEA 9000, the first Olivetti computer series, to demonstrate the close relationship between industrial design, semiotics, ergonomics and the history of computing. A focus on the Olivetti ELEA series invites scholars to reconsider the history of computer interface design well before the emergence of HCI as a widely recognized field of research. The console and racks of the mainframe computer were designed in Italy by architect Ettore Sottsass Jr. (1917-2007) along with Dutch designer Andries van Onck (1928-2018) at the end of the 1950s. Aiming to launch the ELEA computer on the international market, Olivetti developed the idea of a visual language for human-computer interaction that could be learned by any operator, regardless of their native language. Sottsass and Olivetti assigned the task of designing this sign system to Tomás Maldonado (1922-2018), director of the Hochschule für Gestaltung design school in Ulm, Germany. Together with Gui Bonsiepe (b. 1934), Maldonado designed a visual language that incorporated grammatical and syntactic reasoning. Later discarded, the sign system for ELEA prefigured the contemporary use of icons in computer interfaces.

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Article E. Mori; S. Kelkar (2020) Introduction to the Special Issue on Interface Architects: The Evolution of Human–Computer Interaction. IEEE Annals of the History of Computing (pp. 6-7). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Campbell-Kelly, Martin
Yost, Jeffrey R.
Wheeler, Wendy
Choi, Hyungsub
Black, Michael L.
Katina Michael
IEEE Annals of the History of Computing
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine
History and Technology
Technology and Culture
Technology's Stories
The Bridge: Journal of the National Academy of Engineering
Johns Hopkins University Press
MIT Press
The MIT Press
Harvard University Press
Computers and computing
Human-computer interaction (HCI)
User interfaces
Technology and society
Kare, Susan
Johnson, Luanne
Grad, Burton
Wurman, Richard Saul
Price, Cedric
Alexander, Christopher
Time Periods
20th century, late
21st century
20th century
South Korea
Silicon Valley (California)
International Business Machines Corporation
Olivetti S.p.A (Firm)

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