Massimo Vignelli and Lella at the RIT Cary Graphic Arts Collection with a specimen of his typeface, Our Bodoni.
January 10, 1931|
|Died||May 27, 2014
New York City, New York, United States
|Education||Politecnico di Milano|
|Occupation||Graphic Designer, Industrial Designer, Architect|
|Organization||Vignelli Associates, Unimark International|
Massimo Vignelli (Italian pronunciation: [ˈmassimo viɲˈɲɛlli]; January 10, 1931 – May 27, 2014) was an Italian designer who worked in a number of areas ranging from package design through houseware design and furniture design to public signage and showroom design. He was the co-founder of Vignelli Associates, with his wife, Lella. His ethos was, "If you can design one thing, you can design everything," and this was reflected in the broad range of his work.
Vignelli worked firmly within the Modernist tradition, and focused on simplicity through the use of basic geometric forms in all his work.
From 1957 to 1960, he visited America on a fellowship, and returned to New York in 1966 to start the New York branch of a new company, Unimark International, which quickly became, in scope and personnel, one of the largest design firms in the world. The firm went on to design many of the world's most recognizable corporate identities, including that of American Airlines (which forced him to incorporate the eagle, Massimo was always quick to point out). Vignelli designed the iconic signage for the New York City Subway system during this period, and the 1970s–80s map of the system. Contrary to news reports, Vignelli did not design the Washington Metro Map, which was designed by Lance Wyman and Bill Cannan. Vignelli created the signage and wayfinding system for the DC Metro and suggested it be named "Metro" like many other capital city subways. Its original name was a mishmash of various states and transportation groups.
In 1971, Vignelli resigned from Unimark, in part because the design vision which he supported became diluted as the company diversified and increasingly stressed marketing, rather than design. Soon after, Massimo and Lella Vignelli founded Vignelli Associates.
Vignelli worked with filmmaker Gary Hustwit on the documentary Helvetica, about the typeface of the same name. Vignelli also updated his 1972 New York City Subway map for an online-only version implemented in 2011 and described as a "diagram", not a map, to reflect its abstract design without surface-level features such as streets and parks.
Vignelli equipped his own home with tables, chairs, lamps and other items that he designed himself.
Vignelli worked in a wide variety of areas, including interior design, environmental design, package design, graphic design, furniture design, and product design. His clients at Vignelli Associates included high-profile companies such as IBM, Knoll, Bloomingdale's and American Airlines. His former employee Michael Bierut wrote that "it seemed to me that the whole city of New York was a permanent Vignelli exhibition. To get to the office, I rode in a subway with Vignelli-designed signage, shared the sidewalk with people holding Vignelli-designed Bloomingdale’s shopping bags, walked by St. Peter’s Church with its Vignelli-designed pipe organ visible through the window. At Vignelli Associates, at 23 years old, I felt I was at the center of the universe."
Vignelli participated in the Stock Exchange of Visions project in 2007, as well as publishing the book, Vignelli: From A to Z, containing a series of essays describing the principles and concepts behind "all good design". It is alphabetically organized by topic, roughly approximating a similar course he taught at Harvard's School of Design and Architecture.
Vignelli's designs were famous for following a minimal aesthetic and a narrow range of typefaces that Vignelli considered to be perfect in their genre, including Bodoni, Helvetica, Garamond No. 3 and Century Expanded. He wrote that, "In the new computer age, the proliferation of typefaces and type manipulations represents a new level of visual pollution threatening our culture. Out of thousands of typefaces, all we need are a few basic ones, and trash the rest."
In January 2009, Vignelli released The Vignelli Canon as a free e-book; an expanded version was printed in September 2010, but the original remains available for download on the Vignelli Associates website. In the introduction Vignelli wrote, "I thought that it might be useful to pass some of my professional knowledge around, with the hope of improving [young designers'] design skills. Creativity needs the support of knowledge to be able to perform at its best."
Vignelli worked with the National Park Service and the design staff at the Harpers Ferry Center in creation of the "Unigrid System." The system has been used since 1977 in creation of park brochures in all national parks locations.
Vignelli Center for Design Studies
In 2008, Massimo and Lella Vignelli agreed to donate the entire archive of their design work to Rochester Institute of Technology. The archive is housed in a new building designed by Lella and Massimo Vignelli, The Vignelli Center For Design Studies. The building, which opened in September 2010, includes among its many offerings exhibition spaces, classrooms, and offices. Vignelli said of it:
The Vignelli Center for Design Studies will house our comprehensive archive of graphic design, furniture and objects, under the direction of R. Roger Remington, the Vignelli Distinguished Professor of Design at RIT, the center will foster studies related to Modernist design with programs and exhibitions on our work as well as other related subjects. The first one of its kind and size, The Vignelli Center will position RIT on the international forefront of design studies. Lella and I are delighted to see our dream taking shape.
Vignelli was given the following awards and honorary doctorates:
- 1964 – Gran Premio Triennale di Milano
- 1964, 1998 – Compasso d’Oro, from (ADI), Italian Association for Industrial Design
- 1973 – Industrial Arts Medal of the American Institute of Architects (AIA)
- 1982 – New York Art Directors Club Hall of Fame
- 1982 – Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Parsons School of Design, New York
- 1983 – AIGA Gold Medal
- 1985 – first Presidential Design Award, presented by President Ronald Reagan, for the National Park Service Publications Program
- 1987 – Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York
- 1988 – Interior Design Hall of Fame.
- 1988 – Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island
- 1991 – National Arts Club Gold Medal for Design
- 1992 – Interior Product Designers Fellowship of Excellence
- 1993 – New York State Governor’s Award for Excellence
- 1994 – Honorary Doctorate in Architecture from the University of Venice, Italy
- 1994 – Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Corcoran School of Art, Washington D.C.
- 1995 – Brooklyn Museum Design Award for Lifetime Achievement
- 1996 – Honorary Royal Designer for Industry Award, Royal Society of Arts, London
- 2000 – Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California
- 2002 – Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York
- 2003 – National Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Museum of Design at Cooper-Hewitt, New York
- 2004 – Visionary Award from the Museum of Art and Design, New York
- 2005 – Architecture Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, NY
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- Vignelli, Massimo (January 2009). The Vignelli Canon (PDF).
- "Brochures History". National Park Service.
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- "LELLA & MASSIMO VIGNELLI". National Museum of Design at Cooper-Hewitt.
- "American Academy of Arts and Letters – 2005 Architecture Awards Press Release". Artsandletters.org. April 5, 2005. Retrieved August 4, 2012.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Massimo Vignelli.|
- "Vignelli Associates".
- "Visions of Massimo Vignelli (list of video interviews)". Stock Exchange of Visions.
- "Profile of Massimo and Leila Vignelli". Designweek.
- "MASSIMO AND LELLA VIGNELLI: Biography by AIGA". AIGA, the professional association for design.
- "Mr. Vignelli's Map". Designobserver.
- "massimo vignelli of vignelli associates (interview)". designboom. May 21, 2006.
- Ambasz, Emilio (1982). "1982 hall of fame: massimo vignelli". Art Directors Club.
- "Massimo Vignelli". Panache Privee.
- Purcell, Kerry William (2009). "An Interview with Massimo Vignelli". Grafik Magazine (181).