VALE Massimo Vignelli, 1931—2014

Published:  May 28, 2014
Bonnie Abbott

Massimo Vignelli passed away yesterday in his home at the age of 83. He had been in care at his home in New York for a few weeks, following his voluntary discharge from hospital. The last the world had heard from the Vignellis was his son, appealing to designers across the globe, that if they had been influence or effected by the work of his father, to write him a letter in his final days.

Anecdotes, memories and personal stories of Vignelli are appearing across the internet, shared from friends, associates and disciples of the legendary designer. His unmatchable dedication, vision and elegant presence are common threads throughout them all.

My story is one that never really happened — having once been only moments away from sharing a room with Vignelli. Last year, he quietly perused the Le Corbusier at MoMA, New York, with his wife Lella. I had left moments earlier, the colleagues who remained had been dumbfounded, and it startled me that a man I only knew through legend, teachings and, when in New York, the daily exposure of his work, would move among us like any other man. But to generations of designers, Massimo Vignelli wasn’t like any other man.

“Elegant, loquacious, gesticulating, brimming with enthusiasm. Massimo was like Zeus, impossibly wise, impossibly old,” writes Pentagram’s Michael Bierut, in a personal story of his relationship with Vignelli. “I learned how to design at design school. But I learned how to be a designer from Massimo Vignelli.”

Vignelli’s work encompassed a full modern overhaul of the New York Subway signage and maps

A piece of Vignelli’s work for office furnishers, Knoll

He leaves an astounding legacy. In over 50 years of dedicated service to modernism, he never lost his touch, and reportedly never faltered on his famous enthusiasm. He recently updated his celebrated work for the New York Subway, surely the anchor of his legacy, which the New York Times describes as a system that “enchanted aesthetes and baffled straphangers”. His clients included American Airlines, Ford, IBM, Xerox and Gillette. He worked in interiors and furniture, packaging and print. He would repeatedly declare his belief that “Design is one”, the name of a documentary on the work of him and his wife from 1970, and the overarching theme of his personal vision.

“I love my work because ‘design is one.’ It’s one profession, one attitude… In Italy, after the war, we had to do everything … architects like myself did everything,” he told i-Italy. “The discipline, the way of thinking, coming up with solutions, was always the same. The mental process was the same and the mental process was discipline.”

Over the course of his career, Vignelli shaped brands as he did furniture, and was as strict in his desk as he was with his grids. Over the course of decades, the impact of his work reached designers all over the world, influencing generations of students and professionals with his indefatigable vision and example — an example so omnipresent and permeating, his work was taken for granted.

In 2012, the New York Times asked Vignelli if there was anyone left he wanted to work for, and hadn’t had the chance. He nominated the Vatican.

“I would go to the pope and say: “Your holiness. The logo is O.K., but everything else has to go.”

One Response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *