Addio a Vignelli - The Italian Designer who Fought Against World Ugliness

Wed, 05/28/2014 - 05:12
Massimo Vignelli

"The life of a designer is a life of fight, fight against ugliness." Massimo Vignelli

Italian Modernist designer Massimo Vignelli, famous for having created New York's subway system signage and the American Airlines identity – has died in New York on Tuesday morning.  

Earlier this month, his son Luca announced that he was gravely ill and invited anyone who had been inspired by Vignelli and his work to write him a letter.

Vignelli claimed that "If you can design one thing, you can design everything", a concept which is reflected in his broad range of work,  from package design to houseware design to furniture design to public signage to showroom design to graphic design, to product design, always true to the Modernist tradition which focuses on simplicity through the use of basic geometric forms.

Born in Milan in 1931, he trained as an architect in Milan and Venice. He visited America in the 1950s on a fellowship, then returned to Milan to start his first design and architecture business with his wife Lella.

In 1966 he moved to New York becoming one of the cofounders of  one of the world's biggest design companies, Unimark International.

At Unimark, he designed the distinctive signage for the New York subway, which are still in use today,  followed by the 1970s-80s subway map, which was loosely based on Harry Beck's London Underground map.  Even the signage and way finding for the Washington DC Metro are a Vignelli's design.

In 1971, he resigned from Unimark, probably because he did not agree with the increasing stress on marketing, rather than design, and founded Vignelli Associates with his wife Lella.

In Italy, he was awarded  the Gran Premio Triennale di Milano (1964) and the Compasso d’Oro, from (ADI), Italian Association for Industrial Design, (1964 -1998). In 1982, Massimo and Lella were awarded the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) gold medal. Just one of the many awards they received over the years.

In 2008, they agreed to donate the entire archive of their design work to Rochester Institute of Technology, near Rochester, New York. The archive is housed in a new building designed by them, The Vignelli Center For Design Studies, which includes among its many offerings exhibition spaces, classrooms, and offices.

In 2007, Vignelli was involved with filmmaker Gary Hustwit in the documentary Helvetica, about the typeface of the same name.

We say Grazie and Addio to an Italian who really made us proud, with this short excerpt from Helvetica: