Lella Vignelli

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Lella Vignelli
Vignelli Center RIT.jpg
Lella (left) and Massimo Vignelli in front of the Vignelli Center for Design Studies at Rochester Institute of Technology in 2010
BornAugust 13, 1934
DiedDecember 22, 2016(2016-12-22) (aged 82)
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
EducationUniversity of Venice, Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Architecture
OccupationDesigner, businesswoman
OrganizationVignelli Associates
Known forFounder of Vignelli Designs
Spouse(s)Massimo Vignelli

Lella Vignelli (August 13, 1934 – December 22, 2016) was an Italian designer who was the co-founder of Vignelli Associates.[1][2] She had "a lifelong collaborative working relationship" with her husband, Massimo Vignelli.[3] She was known to be the business arm of Vignelli Associates and she played a key role in the success of the design firm.[4][5]

Early life[edit]

Lella Vignelli was born in Udine, Italy. She received a degree from the University of Venice's School of Architecture and a tuition fellowship as a special student at MIT's School of Architecture. Since 1956, Vignelli has concentrated on design.[6] Indeed, she was involved in the formation of ADI (Associazione per il Disegno Industriale), the major Italian professional design organization, in the same year.[6] In 1962, she became a registered architect in Milan.[7]


In 1959, Vignelli joined Skidmore, Owings & Merrill as a junior interior designer in Chicago. In 1960, with her husband, she established the Massimo and Lella Vignelli Office of Design and Architecture in Milan where she specialized in interiors, furniture, exhibition, and product design. In 1965, she formed the corporate design consultancy Unimark International, Corporation for Design and Marketing, with her husband Massimo, Bob Noorda, and Ralph Eckerstrom.[8] Shortly thereafter, Vignelli became the Unimark executive interior designer in its New York office. In 1971, the Vignellis established Vignelli Associates and opened offices in New York, Paris, and Milan.[9] Some of Lella and Massimo Vignelli's most well-known designs from this period involved aspects of brand identity for numerous major clients including Knoll International (1965), for which they led a comprehensive review of the company's visual presence, American Airlines (1967), for which they designed the airline's iconic logo, and the New York City Subway, for which they designed the sign systems and map as Unimark and Vignelli Associates.[6] In later years, the couple's noteworthy commissions included the corporate identities for Bloomingdale's department store (1972) and for automobile and motorcycle manufacturers Lancia (1978) and Ducati (1992), as well as the signage system for the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (1997).[6] Their significant furniture designs included the Handkerchief chair for Knoll International (1982), the Serenissimo table (1985) for Italian manufacturer Acerbis, and the Magic coffee table (1990) for Acerbis's lower-priced Morphos label.[6] Other Vignelli designs have also included retail layouts for Artemide, jewelry for Cleto Munari, and glassware for Venini and Steuben Glass Works.[6]

In 1978, Vignelli became CEO of Vignelli Designs, being a talented designer in the fields of interiors and product design. She collaborated closely with the architect Denise Scott Brown.[10] LelIa Vignelli was a frequent speaker and juror for national and international design organizations. She was a member of the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), the International Furnishings and Designer Association (IFDA), and the Decorators Club of New York.[11]

She and her husband were described as "iconic, impossibly exotic characters" in New York.[12] In 1972, the Vignellis designed a map for the New York subway system based on "abstract simplicity".[12] For example, all of the lines bend only at 45 or 90 degrees. Every line has a color. Every stop is designated with a black dot, the corresponding negative of the colored circular signs on the actual platform.[13] In 1982, they were both awarded with the AIGA Gold Medal for that year for their accomplishments and contributions to design. The AIGA described their design output together as "prodigious in quantity, far-ranging in media and scope and consistent in excellence."[14]

Their design firm has helped create branding for many companies including Knoll American Airlines, the Ford Motor Company, American Airlines and Bloomingdale's.[12] Even though their accomplishments belong to both Lella and Massimo, Lella's critical eye guided the rational and geometric language one can find in their work.[15]

Lella Vignelli, whose real name is Elena Valle, died in her home in Manhattan on December 22, 2016, at age 82 from dementia.[16]


Lella and Massimo's work has been recognized by the following:

  • Compasso d'Oro awards (1964 and 1998)[6]
  • Gold Medal from the AIGA (1983)[6]
  • Appraisal in Emilio Ambasz's book of essays, Design: Vignelli (1980), first published by the Comune di Milan, and republished by Rizzol in 1981 and 1990.[6]

Contributions while at Vignelli Associates[17][edit]

Vignelli Associates, founded by Lella and Massimo Vignelli in 1971, worked in corporate identity, transportation, architectural, books, magazines, and exhibition design.

Corporate identity programs[edit]


Transportation graphics[edit]

  • New York Metropolitan Transit Authority, 1966
  • Washington Metro Transportation, 1968

Philosophy of design[edit]

Vignelli believed that all design should stem from a core discipline that could be translated to any project. She also believed that design should be integrated into the production process instead of added superficially at the end.

Vignelli's design is centered on communication through simplicity and careful planning. She used subtractive design, rather than additive design, to restrain her own influence and allow the essence of the design to come through. Emphasis was placed on existing and ancient motifs and elements, as well as materials' natural characteristics. She viewed words as a way to communicate actual ideas rather than serving as visual decoration, and this is evidenced by her heavy use of black text on a white background. In general, color was used for its emotional and sensual power.[18]

As Vignelli Associates, Lella and Massimo's designs embraced corporate identity design alongside exhibition, furniture, product, and publication design.[6]

Vignelli Center for Design Studies[edit]

Massimo and Lella Vignelli agreed to donate the entire archive of their design work in 2008 to the Rochester Institute of Technology, near Rochester, New York.[19] The archive will be exhibited in a new building designed by Lella and Massimo Vignelli, to be known as The Vignelli Center For Design Studies.[4] The building, which opened in September 2010, includes among its many offerings exhibition spaces, classrooms, and offices.


If you can't find it, design it.

— Lella and Massimo Vignelli[13]

If you do it right, it will last forever. It's as simple as that.

— Lella[13]


  1. ^ Grimes, William (December 28, 2016). "Lella Vignelli, a Designer With a Spare, Elegant Style, Dies at 82". Retrieved January 28, 2019 – via NYTimes.com.
  2. ^ Aouf, Rima Sabina (December 23, 2016). "Pioneering designer Lella Vignelli dies aged 82". Dezeen.
  3. ^ Vit, Armin; Gomez Palacio, Bryony (2009). Graphic Design, Referenced: A Visual Guide to the Language, Applications, and History of Graphic Design. Rockport Publishers. p. 160. ISBN 9781592534470.
  4. ^ a b Conradi, Jan (18 September 2010). "Looking Back, Thinking Forward: A Narrative of the Vignellis". Design Observer. Archived from the original on 21 January 2013.
  5. ^ Massimo and Lella Vignelli, AIGA website.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Woodham, Jonathan M. (2004). A Dictionary of Modern Design (1st ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192800978.
  7. ^ "Lella Vignelli". RIT Libraries. Rochester Institute of Technology. Archived from the original on 16 August 2014. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
  8. ^ Woodham, Jonathan M. (2004). Dictionary of Modern Design (1st ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192800978.
  9. ^ Ockman, Joan (1981). Design Vignelli. Milano-Italia: Amilcare Pizzi S.p.A. p. 5. ISBN 0-8478-0373-2.
  10. ^ Butler, C. et al, eds. 2010. Modern Women: Women Artists at the Museum of Modern Arts. MoMA.
  11. ^ "Vignelli – My WordPress Blog". Vignelli.com. Retrieved January 28, 2019.
  12. ^ a b c Lovine, Julie V. (October 21, 2007). "The Vignellis: In an instant, their pared-down designs—for the subway, Bloomingdale's, American Airlines—conjure a particular moment in the city's history". New York. New York City. Retrieved September 1, 2012.
  13. ^ a b c d e Colman, David (October 29, 2007). "Design Revolutionaries: Fabien Baron, Mario Buatta, Santiago Calatrava, Joe D'urso, Jack Lenor Larsen, Martha Stewart, Massimo and Lella Vignelli, Eva Zeisel and twenty-five other New Yorkers who designed the world we live in". New York. Retrieved June 17, 2016.
  14. ^ "1982 AIGA Medalist: Massimo and Lella Vignelli". AIGA | the professional association for design. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  15. ^ Celant, Germano (1990). Design—Vignelli; essays. New York, NY: International Publications, Inc. p. 20. ISBN 0-8478-1140-9.
  16. ^ "Lella Vignelli, a Designer With a Spare, Elegant Style, Dies at 82". The New York Times. 28 December 2016. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  17. ^ Celant, Germano (1990). Design—Vignelli: essays. New York, NY: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. pp. 30–104. ISBN 0-8478-1140-9.
  18. ^ Celant, Germano (1990). Design-Vignelli: essays. New York: Rizzoli. ISBN 0847811409.
  19. ^ Pogrebin, Robin (August 11, 2010). "Designers Donate Their Archives". New York Times. New York City.

External links[edit]