Massimo Vignelli is one of the world’s most acclaimed graphic designers credited for giving American design aesthetics a modern and streamlined look. His versatility enabled him to work in various areas such as corporate identity, packaging, houseware and furniture, public signage and wayfinding, and environments. Faithful to the Modernist tradition, his designs produced a fruitful career from his native Milan to New York. For more about this influential visionary, here are the following facts:
1. Vignelli believed that designers play a vital role in the world.
- He considers himself an “information architect” whose role is to organize and simplify information to make it understandable.
- In the film Helvetica, Vignelli likens designers to doctors who must cure and fight “visual ugliness”.
2. He graduated as an architect.
- Vignelli received his degree at Politecnico di Milano and later attended Università Iuav di Venezia (“higher institute of architecture of Venice”).
- He met his equally talented wife Lella at an architecture convention. They created the Lella and Massimo Vignelli Office of Design and Architecture, a small studio specializing in graphics, office accessories, and domestic products.
3. Vignelli formed two highly successful design companies.
- He founded the now-closed Unimark International. Once one of the largest international design firm, its roster of clients included American Airlines, New York Transit Authority, and Ford Motor Company.
- He and Lella formed Vignelli Associates where they expanded their clientele to include IBM, St. Peter’s Church, Bloomingdales and the United States National Park Service.
4. Vignelli controversially redesigned the New York subway map in 1972.
- He depicted the “spaghetti” subway lines as straight stripes of color that turned at 45-degree angles. Many disliked the map because it disregarded geographical accuracy in favor of highlighting the relationships between the lines.
- Vignelli’s map was replaced with a more traditional kind in 1979. It was revived in 2011 as The Weekender, a map that displays planned service changes to the subway for each weekend.
5. He greatly favored the Helvetica typeface.
- He considered the endless collection of computer fonts as the “biggest visual pollution of all times.” He named five typefaces which a designer should only use: Helvetica, Times New Roman, Futura, Century, and Bodoni.
- Vignelli’s works predominantly used Helvetica, which he likened to a piano that can play any tune depending on the skill of the designer.
6. He greatly valued education and sharing knowledge.
- Aside from merely archiving their work, the Vignelli Center for Design Studies holds programs and exhibitions for public consumption.
- He used his lectures at Harvard’s School of Design and Architecture as his basis to write “Vignelli: From A to Z”. He also released “The Vignelli Canon”, a free e-book for young designers.
With his ambition to simplify a world with increasing information and “visual pollution”, Massimo Vignelli has changed lives from subway signs to pews at a church. He once said that “trying to do timeless things is a dangerous game”, yet his works are revered even by the newest generation of designers and seem to have their place in the foreseeable future.