Joe Colombo studied architecture at the Politechnico di Milano and painting at the Brera Academy in Milan from 1949 to 1955. As an artist Colombo joined the Nuclear Art Movement and MAC (Movemento Arte Concreta). As a designer Colombo made his breakthrough when he designed a television set and a setting for ceramics shown at the X Triennale di Milano in 1954.
Two years later he designed his first and only building in Via Rosolino Pilo in Milan. In 1963 he opened the Joe Colombo Studio and the following year he received the IN/ARCH prize for the interior design of a hotel in Sardinia, as well as being awarded three medals at the XIII Triennale di Milano for the Acrilica Lamp for Oluce, the Combi Center storage unit for Bernini and for the Minikitchen designed for Boffi. Together with his brother Gianni Colombo he developed the idea of prismatic lamps (such as the table lamp Acrilica).
From 1966-70 Joe Colombo made the exhibition design for the Eurodomus exhibitions on behalf of Domusricerca, while also receiving the Compasso D’Oro in 1967 for the Spider Lamp and the Design International Award for the Coupé lamp in 1968 (both produced by Oluce) and the Candyzionatore air conditioner in 1970.
One of Colombo´s best known pieces is the portable storage system Boby designed to Bieffeplast in 1969 and made of molded ABS plastic in bright colours. Boby is a part of the collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as well as the Museum of Furniture Studies in Stockholm, and was awarded the Smau in 1971.
The lamp Colombo – 885 from 1971 was the first domestic light constructed for the halogen light bulb which was new at the time. Joe Colombo died in 1971 at the age of 41. In 1972 the Total Furnishing Unit for the exhibition Italy: The New Domestic Landscape at the Museum of Modern Art was posthumously realized.