Massimo Vignelli

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Massimo Vignelli
Massimo vignelli photo.jpg
Massimo Vignelli and Lella at the RIT Cary Graphic Arts Collection with a specimen of his typeface, Our Bodoni.
Born (1931-01-10)January 10, 1931
Milan, Italy
Died May 27, 2014(2014-05-27) (aged 83)
New York City, New York, United States
Nationality Italian
Education Politecnico di Milano
Occupation Graphic Designer, Industrial Designer, Architect
Organization Vignelli Associates, Unimark International
Spouse(s) Lella Vignelli

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.[1][2] His ethos was, "If you can design one thing, you can design everything," and this was reflected in the broad range of his work.[3]

Vignelli worked firmly within the Modernist tradition, and focused on simplicity through the use of basic geometric forms in all his work.


Vignelli studied architecture at the Politecnico di Milano and later at the Università di Architettura, Venice.[4]

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,[5] and the 1970s–80s map of the system.[6] Contrary to news reports, Vignelli did not design the Washington Metro Map, which was designed by Lance Wyman and Bill Cannan.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9] Soon after, Massimo and Lella Vignelli founded Vignelli Associates.[10][11]

Vignelli worked with filmmaker Gary Hustwit on the documentary Helvetica, about the typeface of the same name.[12] 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.[13][6]

Vignelli equipped his own home with tables, chairs, lamps and other items that he designed himself.[14]

Vignelli died on May 27, 2014 in New York City.[15][16][17]


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.[18] 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."[19]

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".[20] It is alphabetically organized by topic, roughly approximating a similar course he taught at Harvard's School of Design and Architecture.[21]

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."[22]

In January 2009, Vignelli released The Vignelli Canon as a free e-book; an expanded version was printed in September 2010,[23] but the original remains available for download on the Vignelli Associates website.[24] 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."[24]

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.[25]

Vignelli Center for Design Studies[edit]

Lella and Massimo standing in front of the Vignelli Center for Design Studies during construction.

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.[26]


Massimo Vignelli with R. Roger Remington at the Vignelli Center for Design Studies, RIT, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate in fine arts.

Vignelli was given the following awards and honorary doctorates:[27]


  1. ^ "Lella & Massimo Vignelli". Heller Online Inc. Archived from the original on February 25, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Lella Vignelli". Archived from the original on February 25, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Vignelli Associates". Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  4. ^ Emily Langer (May 28, 2014). "La morte di Massimo Vignelli, grande designer". Il Post. Retrieved June 4, 2014. 
  5. ^ Pagan Kennedy (December 7, 2012). "Who Made That Subway Signage?". The New York Times Sunday Magazine. Retrieved February 25, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Alice Rawsthorn (August 5, 2012). "The Subway Map That Rattled New Yorkers". The New York Times. Retrieved February 25, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Washington METRO / Washington, DC". Bill Cannan & Company. 
  8. ^ Martin, Douglas (May 27, 2014). "Massimo Vignelli, a Visionary Designer Who Untangled the Subway, Dies at 83". The New York Times. Retrieved May 28, 2014. 
  9. ^ Conradi, Jan (2010). Unimark International: The Design of Business and the Business of Design.  Lars Müller Publishers. ISBN 978-3-03778-184-5
  10. ^ "Massimo Vignelli". Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  11. ^ Profiles, Graphis Portfolios, archived from the original on September 24, 2008, retrieved May 29, 2014 
  12. ^ "Helvetica". Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  13. ^ Grynbaum, Michael (September 15, 2011). "Aid for Baffled Weekend Subway Riders". New York Times. Retrieved September 23, 2011. 
  14. ^ Heller, Steven, Massimo Vignelli, New York Times Magazine, December 28, 2014, p.58
  15. ^ Montgomery, Angus (April 20, 2006). "Massimo Vignelli dies aged 83 | News". Design Week. Retrieved May 28, 2014. 
  16. ^ Williams, Keith. "Massimo Vignelli, who once designed the New York City subway map and created the Bloomingdale's "brown bag," died at 83 -". Retrieved May 28, 2014. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Selected Client Lists". Vignelli Associates. Retrieved June 4, 2014. 
  19. ^ Bierut, Michael. "Massimo Vignelli, 1931-2014". Design Observer. Retrieved 12 February 2015. 
  20. ^ "Books – 2007-07-01 04:00:00". Interior Design. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  21. ^ Vignelli, Massimo; Lella Vignelli (2007). Vignelli: From A to Z. Images Publishing. 
  22. ^ Bierut, Michael. "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Typeface". Design Observer. Retrieved 12 February 2015. 
  23. ^ The Vignelli Canon. "The Vignelli Canon (9783037782255): Massimo Vignelli: Books". Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  24. ^ a b Vignelli, Massimo (January 2009). The Vignelli Canon (PDF). 
  25. ^ "Brochures History". National Park Service. 
  26. ^ "RIT Holds Groundbreaking for Vignelli Center for Design Studies on Oct 7". Rochester Institute of Technology. Archived from the original on February 28, 2012. 
  27. ^ "Missimo Vignelli". Vignelli Associates. Retrieved May 29, 2014. 
  28. ^ "Art Directors Club / Hall of Fame". Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  29. ^ "Massimo and Lella Vignelli". AIGA. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  30. ^ "Massimo Vignelli". Interior Design. November 23, 2010. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  31. ^ "Lella Vignelli". Interior Design. November 23, 2010. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 
  32. ^ "LELLA & MASSIMO VIGNELLI". National Museum of Design at Cooper-Hewitt. 
  33. ^ "American Academy of Arts and Letters – 2005 Architecture Awards Press Release". April 5, 2005. Retrieved August 4, 2012. 

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