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The FACIT Model
(excerpt)

by Mark Owens

I.

In his 1971 poem, “The Typewriter Revolution”, British writer and critic D.J. Enright offers a reflexive commentary on the literary possibilities opened up by mechanised writing. [1] No doubt meant as a critique of the havoc wreaked on poetic craft by the advent of the typewriter, from our contemporary vantage point the poem cannot help but read as an uncanny anticipation of the way digital modes of communication have come to reshape writing and the use of human language. Here, as if already fully formed, are the “feels”, “LOL”s, ‘ersatz orthography’, and neologism that we have come to recognise in online discourse, from email and text messaging to social media and internet bulletin boards. All of these changes, it would seem, are imminent in the typewriter itself, and at the centre of Enright’s poem is his own machine, “a Swetish Maid/Called FACIT”. While the other big typewriter brands — Olympia, Aristocrat, Remington, Olivetti, Underwood — are cheekily misspelled, “FACIT” is not, a choice that speaks to the company’s stature in the industry, even as Enright’s “maid” reproduces the gendered stereotypes that had attached themselves to the typewriter since the late nineteenth century. Indeed, 1971 might very well be seen to mark the beginning of the end of FACIT’s four decades of expansion as it saw its market dominance in mechanical adding machines decline sharply with the advent of electronic calculators, throwing the company into crisis and prompting a move into “data products”, printers, and computer peripherals.

In 1971, FACIT thus sits alongside the other, global firms that had helped remake the world of business in accordance with principles of scientific management, Fordism, and Taylorisation beginning in the interwar period. [2] For this reason Enright’s poem is name-checked by media theorist Friedrich Kittler in his book Gramophone, Film, Typewriter to represent the irreducible material base — the letters of the typewriter itself — that mark the transition from language to data and from writing subjects to “information machines”.[3] In the process, the standardisation of writing in the form of the QWERTY keyboard goes to work on its human users, rewiring the psyche and social relations in the process. “Our writing tools are also working on our thoughts”, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in 1882 (as Kittler was fond of quoting). In the postwar business world of the mid-twentieth century, this newly bureaucratised subject was a team player, embracing a burgeoning sense of equality and autonomy under the aegis of the coordinated organisational principles of a paternal corporate culture, an ideal both described and critiqued in William Whyte’s 1956 book The Organization Man. FACIT’s geographic location in the small town of Åtvidaberg and position as a global brand operating from within the emergent Nordic model of free-market capitalism both exemplified these new social and economic arrangements and set the company apart from its American and European counterparts.

It’s a good guess that Enright’s typewriter was a FACIT 1620, a portable model initially designed by industrial designer (and Swedish prince) Sigvard Bernadotte that had begun production in 1969 and was marketed as “small but professional” on the cover of its user manual. Only ten years earlier, FACIT had introduced its first electric typewriter and implemented a comprehensive corporate redesign, and by 1965 Åtvidaberg Industries would consolidate all of its activities under the FACIT AB name. Under the leadership of CEO Gunnar Ericsson, this investment in design — known within the company as “The New Deal” — included a uniform look for its machines and the adoption of a circular trade mark and typographic logotype alongside the use of the company mascot, “Facit Man”, as an explanatory aid. In addition to these graphic elements, guidelines were put in place for the creation of print advertisements, window displays, and direct mail campaigns that would help coordinate production and sales, as an in-house publication announced:

“FACIT, the unifying symbol, shall look the same wherever it appears: in neon lights, on posters, windows, signs or trucks, labels, packing cases, machines, in letterheads or advertisements and folders. The standing rule must be that the FACIT logotype must be unchanged until the management of the concern decides otherwise. To achieve this, a logotype instruction will be distributed to all FACIT agents and associates all over the world.” [4]

Committed to promoting the idea of “Sweden as the homeland of precision engineering and office machine manufacture”, in this FACIT echoed the growing understanding within corporations worldwide that “Good design is good business”, as IBM’s chairman Thomas J. Watson, Jr. famously remarked. Or, as the FACIT style guide proclaimed, “Good design can be a silent partner working for you 24 hours a day”. [5]

II.

In the postwar period Olivetti had set the standard for this integration of corporate identity, advertising, architecture, and product design in the growing global market for business machines, guided by the communitarian principles of its president, Adriano Olivetti. As has often been remarked, it was a visit to Olivetti’s new Fifth Avenue showroom in 1954 that prompted Thomas J. Watson Jr. to embark on a wholesale reorganisation of IBM’s corporate image. [6] Designed by Banfi, Belgiojoso, Peressutti & Rogers (BBPR), the space was dominated by an enormous wall relief by the sculptor Costantino Nivola and featured colourful Olivetti typewriters and adding machines displayed on marble stands for customers to try. Complete with the latest modern furnishings and an open, futuristic atmosphere, the showroom was part of an ambitious design programme for which Olivetti commissioned films, posters, and advertisements by leading graphic designers under art director Giovanni Pintori and offices and showrooms designed by renowned architects such as Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, and Carlo Scarpa. Headquartered in the small Italian town of Ivrea, Olivetti became not simply an exemplar of modern industrial and graphic design, but a model for new social relations between business and labor. At its peak in the 1960s Ivrea was home to some 30,000 people, and Olivetti commissioned factory buildings, low-rise residences, schools, a hospital, and recreational facilities designed by Italy’s architectural avant garde. Not merely an experiment in urban planning, Adriano Olivetti’s reshaping of Ivrea — described in his book Città dell’uomo, or City of Man — was thus part of a far-reaching political project through which Olivetti aimed to achieve a harmonious balance between work and leisure, human and machine. [7]

Architectural critic Reinhold Martin has termed this broader, systematic integration of labour, technology, and architecture in the corporate culture of the postwar period the “organisational complex”. Focusing his attention on the work of International Style architects like Eero Saarinen and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), Martin finds in the gridded surfaces of the curtain wall and the modular forms of the open plan office a new “spatial logic” organising the workers’s socialisation into the corporate “family” under the rubric of “human relations”. No longer simply an anonymous cog in a wheel or widget on an assembly line, the worker was incorporated into a flexible matrix that aimed to balance standardisation and autonomy at every scale.[8] At IBM, inspired by Olivetti’s example, this coordination of corporate image, space, and subjectivity was made manifest in a wholesale corporate redesign overseen by the Harvard-trained architect Eliot Noyes beginning in 1955. Tellingly, Noyes had first found his way to IBM in 1949 as the designer of its new Model A electric typewriter while employed in the New York offices of famed industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes. Working closely with IBM engineers, Noyes revisited every aspect of the machine’s function, enclosing the apparatus in a single, decidedly modern form.[9] Subsequently, the IBM design programme would extend from the corporate logo, letterhead, packaging, and print materials created by Paul Rand and films and exhibitions directed by Charles and Ray Eames, to the design of IBM’s corporate offices by a who’s who of mid-century modernist architects.

The roots of this totalising approach to corporate design can be traced back to the problematics of consumer culture that preoccupied the German Werkbund in the years before WWI and informed the pedagogy of the Bauhaus in the 1930s. Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius had started his career in the offices of Peter Behrens, whose work as design consultant for the German electric appliance company AEG (Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft) beginning in 1908 is widely acknowledged as establishing the first corporate identity. Uniting the company logotype, product design, advertisements, and architecture under a shared formal vocabulary derived from geometry, Behrens and the rest of the Werkbund sought to reconcile art, industry, and the needs of the marketplace through the deployment of standardised “types” that would marry form and function and underwrite “a new communal life” that could serve as an antidote to the consumerist proliferation of styles.[10] When Gropius announced the mission of the Bauhaus in 1919 these ideas would inform the school’s early vision of “a new building of the future” that would unite the fine and applied arts in the service of progressive social ideals. Over the course of its brief existence the school would move from an early Expressionist phase to a more rationalist approach geared to the needs of industry, but this basic tension between the role of the artist-craftsman and that of the engineer-technician is one that would come to underwrite the whole of Western design pedagogy. Fleeing Germany, Gropius joined the faculty of the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1937 and introduced Behrens’ work to his star pupil, Noyes, who was acquainted with the work of Le Corbusier and dissatisfied with his Beaux-Arts training. [11]

After the war, this constellation of ideas would also find a new life in the pedagogy of the influential Ulm Institute of Design under the directorship of former Bauhaus student, artist, and designer Max Bill beginning in 1953. Initiated as part of a sweeping project of cultural reform, the Ulm school rejected both Nazi kitsch and American streamlining and promoted a moral, rationalist approach, partnering with corporations like Lufthansa and Braun to fashion an image of sleek, functionalist German design that could be exported to the rest of the world.[12] Under the influence of rector Tomás Maldonado and the ideas of the Bauhaus’s second director, architect Hannes Meyer, the Ulm curriculum would increasingly come to embrace systems theory, semiotics, and a “scientific” approach to the design of everyday objects, all with the aim of resisting the fetishisation of the commodity and incorporating both the designer and the consumer into the processes of industrial production.[13] So doing, the so-called “Ulm Model” promoted a notion of societal transformation that would liberate the individual and address human needs by integrating all aspects of modern life, a coordination of elements made material in the interlocking, modular systems created by Ulm designers, from stackable tableware and appliances to furniture, architecture, and city planning. Although the school itself was short-lived — dissolving in 1968 amid internal tensions and the withdrawal of state funding — its influence on design pedagogy and industrial design was far-reaching. Perhaps its most enduring legacy was the comprehensive design system for Braun created by design director Dieter Rams with Ulm faculty Otl Aicher, Hans Gugelot, and Wilhelm Wagenfeld, an admitted influence on the design of today’s Apple products.

[...]

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1. D.J. Enright, The Typewriter Revolution and Other Poems, New York: Library Press, 1971. p 5.
2. Mauro F. Guillén, The Taylorized Beauty of the Mechanical (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).
3. Friedrich A. Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), pp. 230–231.
4. C. Bertil Nyströmer, The Åtvidaberg International Review, ‘New strategy in Facit offensive against stiffening competition,’ 1958, pp. 2–3.
6. See Thomas J. Watson Jr. “Good Design is Good Business” in The Art of Design Management: Design in American Business (Tiffany Lectures, New York: Tiffany, 1975).
7. Claire Provost and Simone Lai, “Story of cities #21: Olivetti tries to build the ideal ‘human city’ for its workers”, The Guardian, April 13, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/apr/13/story-cities-21-adriano-olivetti-ivrea-italy-typewriter-factory-human-city (last visited: 14 March 2019).