Remembering Massimo Vignelli
June 01 2014
Last week the design world lost a hero. On Tuesday, May 27th, Massimo Vignelli, the renowned and highly influential graphic designer, died at the age of 83 in his Manhattan home. While his timeless designs will survive him in the public consciousness, he will forever be remembered for the values he imparted to the design community.
Massimo Vignelli came of age inspired by the buildings and structures of Northern Italy. He studied architecture in Milan and Venice where he met his wife and creative partner Lella Elena Valle. In the early 1960s, he moved to New York City, bringing with him a love for the pared down, functional aesthetic of architecture that would subsequently inform his principles of graphic design work.
In 1966 Vignelli helped open the New York branch of Unimark International where he went on to create some of his most iconic works: the American Airlines logo and branding, The New York MTA Subway Sign System, and Bloomingdale’s graphic program. In 1971 he resigned from Unimark and founded Vignelli Associates with Lella, which would later become Vignelli Designs. The two worked together for the remainder of Massimo’s life, sharing a seemingly joint vision and producing a broad range of work from graphic, packaging, and interiors to product and furniture designs.
In Vignelli’s life and in his work he celebrated structure over needless complexity. In this way, his work was almost as much about subtraction as it was about creation. He dealt in simple geometric forms combined in new ways to convey elegant visual messages. his choice of tyoography numbered no more than half a dozen at any one time (typically Garamon, Bodoni, Century Expanded, Futura, Times New Roman, and Helvetica). His color palette consisted almost exclusively of primary colors that would stick in the brain. Every Vignelli project strove toward elegance, simplicity, and ubiquity, to ensure a timeless quality that would root itself in the cultural consciousness.
Vignelli emphasized semantic meaning in design. To Vignelli, design was language. It was the designers responsibility to communicate a message clearly to the viewer. Systemic clarity, built on sound foundations was of the utmost importance. In The Vignelli Canon he wrote, “As much as I love things in flux, I love them within a frame of reference—a consistent reassurance that at least and at last I am the one responsible for every detail.”
Massimo Vignelli leaves behind not just a tremendous body of work, but a way of thinking that has influenced an entire generation of designers. His philosophy is a philosophy of principles that has become, like the works it went on to inform, timeless.
“If you do it right, it will last forever.”