Ettore Sottsass, (1917-2008) designer and ardent design philosopher, worked throughout his career to shake the static ways in which people thought about design and to try to create a body of work outside of what he thought were hierarchic bureaucratic structures of industry. Although Sottsass was born in Austria, he studied at the Turin Polytechnic and is identified as one of the major forces behind the immense wave of design that began flowing out of Italy after the war. His main interest was in creating objects that challenged the icons of Italian design that he felt functioned in terms of status and money. His work teeters at the edge of the anti-design movement, constantly questioning and rethinking ideas and processes. He never ceased to imply the importance of design in society, stating that, to me design...is a way of discussing life. It is a way of discussing society, politics, eroticism, food and even design.
He started out working as a designer and consultant for the company Poltronova before starting his own office in 1945. The position that first made his name known internationally was that of design consultant for Olivetti's electronics department, starting in 1958. Despite the fact that he had no technological experience and was a vocal critic of the ties between design and conspicuous consumption, he did some of his most popular, even mainstream, work for Olivetti. He designed several typewriters, the 1963"Praxis, the 1964 Tekne and the hugely successful 1969 "Valentine," seen most often in bright red plastic. He also designed a new electronic computer, the Elea 9003, and some of the later personal computers. The 1970 "Synthesis 45" office chair was made in bright colors to bring new life to staid office environments. His presence at Olivetti helped integrate design into the structure of the company. Some of the work coming out of his own office during this period was a 1958 hanging light for Arredoluce, several ceramics series like his 1963 "Ceramics of Darkness" which mirrored and articulated events in his own life, and a set of furniture for Poltronova. These were made of everyday objects like traffic lights and heavily inspired by the exposure to Pop Art sensibilities that he had gotten on a trip to the United States. He also designed a bedroom for the 1965 "La Casa Abitata" exhibition that was influenced by Japanese aesthetics and eastern philosophy.
For the 1972 "New Domestic Landscape" exhibition at the MoMA in New York, Sottsass proposed a group of plastic containers on castors that could be moved and rearranged to create different living areas within a house. Sottsass' theory was that they were "formally exonerated from the ethnic state of ownership." He went on to explain that he was "not the least bit interested in making elegant or graceful objects, and even less so in designing silent things that leave the viewer secure in his psychic or cultural status quo."
Sottsass formed the anti-design group Memphis in 1981. Memphis was made up mostly of young designers who, along with Sottsass, were interested in producing radical objects and furniture that debated the relevance of modern design. His 1986 "Teodora" chair and the 1981 "Casablanca" sideboard illustrated the light, playful attitude of his postmodern Memphis designs. The work produced in the 1990s and 2000s also included more sculptural ceramic work and decorative glass works produced in limited editions for Venini and Vistosi.