The Vignellis, Massimo and Lella, stand at the peak of their
profession. During the past 20 years, their design output has been
prodigious in quantity, far-ranging in media and scope and
consistent in excellence. Equally important is the influence they
have had and the difference they have made. Their work has led by
example. They have contributed to design as individuals. For their
accomplishments, Massimo and Lella Vignelli have been chosen to
receive the AIGA Gold Medal for 1982—the sixty-second such award in
a distinguished series that began in 1920.
Upon the occasion of the major retrospective of the Vignellis'
work exhibited at Parsons in 1980, The New York Times
critic Paul Goldberger characterized them as “total designers.”
They and their office have indeed done it all: industrial and
product design, graphic design, book design, magazine and newspaper
design, packaging design, interior and exhibit design, furniture
design. Massimo and Lella work together in two ways: he
concentrates on what they call the “2D”; she handles the “3D”. He's
the visionary: “I talk of feelings, possibilities, what a design
could be.” She the realist: “I think of feasibility,
planning, what a design can be.”
The Vignellis were both born and educated in the industrial,
more-European north of Italy, he in Milan and she in Udine, 90
miles away. Massimo's passion was “2D”—graphic design; Lella's
family tradition and training were “3D”—architecture. They met at
an architects' convention and were married in 1957. Three years
later, they opened their first “office of design and architecture”
in Milan and designed for Pirelli, Rank Xerox, Olivetti and other
design-conscious European firms. But their fascination with the
United States, which took root during three years spent here after
they were married, eventually grew strong enough to lure them away
from Italy permanently. “There is diversity here, and energy, and
possibility,” recalls Massimo, “and the need for design.” He
cofounded Unimark in 1964, which ballooned and collapsed as the
corporate identification boom of the late 1960s hyperventilated,
then ran out of breath. In 1972, their present office was formed:
Vignelli Associates for two-dimensional design, Vignelli Designs
for furniture, objects, exhibitions and interiors.
Not only do the Vignellis design exceeding well, they also
think about design. It is not enough that something—a
chair, an exhibition, a book, a magazine—looks good and is well
designed. The “why” and the “how,” the very process of
design itself, must be equally evident and quite beyond the tyranny
of individual taste.
“There are three investigations in design,” says Massimo. “The
first is the search for structure. Its reward is
discipline. The second is the search for specificity. This
yields appropriateness. Finally, we search for fun, and we
Vignelli design, in both three dimensions and two, is highly
architectural in character. Massimo's posters, publications and
graphic designs seem to be built in stories, separated by the
now-familiar, bold, horizontal rules. Basic geometry is respected.
The investigative design process moves from the inside out: “The
correct shape is the shape of the object's meaning.” The
Vignelli commitment to the correctness of a design has taken their
work beyond the mechanical exercise of devising a form best suited
to a given function. They've always understood that design itself,
in the abstract, could and should be an integral part of function.
More than a process and a result, design—good design—is an
imperative. “Everything has its own order,” they've said. “You
can't take a piece of music and scramble the notes. You can't take
a piece of writing and scramble the words. You can't take a space
and scramble the chairs around.”
Both in the example set by their work and by their personal
commitment of time and energy, design has no advocates more
passionate or effective. Both teach, write, lecture, serve on
juries and boards, contribute their talent and cast to worthy
causes. Unabashedly urban and urbane, their participation in the
world of design is enthusiastic, inquiring, generous. The Vignellis
are true believers: “When we were young and naïve, we thought we
could transform society by providing a better, more designed
environment. Naturally, we found that this was not possible. Now,
we think more realistically: we see a choice between good design
and poor or nondesign. Every society gets the design it deserves.
It is our duty to develop a professional attitude in raising the
standard of design.”
That sounds serious, and the Vignellis are serious about design.
But it is seriousness of purpose conveyed most often through
exuberance. When either Massimo or Lella says the word “design,” it
is pronounced with a capital “d”: “Design.” As individuals and
professionals, their commitment to design and their accomplishments
in design have rewarded them well. The Vignelli office continues to
thrive and assignments come from an ever more diverse range of
clients. Graduates of their firm have set out on their own and
established well-respected practices. Only a few of the best and
brightest are hired out of the schools each year. Their calendars
are crammed; their pace formidable.
“The reward?” asks Massimo, paraphrasing the question. “Why, the
reward is to do all this!”
Originally published in AIGA Graphic Design 4, eds. David R.
Brown, Wylie Davis, Rose DeNeve. Copyright 1983 by AIGA
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Vignelli, Massimo. “Long Live Modernism!.” AIGA Journal of Graphic Design 9.2 (1991): 1. Print.
Vignelli, Massimo. “A Masterpiece!.” AIGA Journal of Graphic Design 14. 2 (1996): 5. Print.
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Brook, Tony, Adrian Shaughnessy, Sarah Schrauwen, and Massimo Vignelli. Manuals 1: Design & Identity Guidelines. , 2014. Print.
Butler, Cornelia H, and Alexandra Schwartz. Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2010. Print.
Carbone, Ken, Raul A. Barreneche, Massimo Vignelli, Steven Heller, and Leslie Smolan. “Dialog”: What Makes a Great Design Partnership. New York: Pointed Leaf Press, 2012. Print.
Celant, Germano. Design: Vignelli. New York: Rizzoli, 1990. Print.
Conradi, Jan. Lella and Massimo Vignelli: Two Lives, One Vision. , 2014. Print.
Doering, Erika, Rachel Switzky, and Rebecca Welz. Goddess in the Details: Product Design by Women. New York, N.Y: Association of Women Industrial Designers, 1994. Print.
Frost, Malcolm, Angharad Lewis, and Aidan Winterburn. Street Talk: The Rise and Fall of the Poster. Mulgrave, Vt: Images Publishing, 2006. Print.
Gerber, Anna. Graphic Design: The 50 Most Influential Graphic Designers in the World. London: A & C Black Publishers, 2010. Print.
Heller, Steven, and Elinor Pettit. Design Dialogues. New York: Allworth Press, 1998. Print.
Heller, Steven, and Marie Finamore. Design Culture: An Anthology of Writing from the AIGA Journal of Graphic Design. New York: Allworth Press, 1997. Print.
Heller, Steven, and Rick Landers. Infographic Designers’ Sketchbooks. , 2014. Print.
Hurlburt, Allen. The Grid: A Modular System for the Design and Production of Newspapers, Magazines, and Books. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co, 1978. Print.
Hustwit, Gary. Helvetica/Objectified/Urbanized: the Complete Interviews. S.l.: s.n., 2015. Print.
Interview: Massimo Vignelli. New York: Baruch College, Graphics Program in the Art Dept, 1984. Print.
Laufer, David C. Dialogues with Creative Legends and Aha Moments in a Designer's Career. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, 2012. Internet resource.
Laundy, Peter, and Massimo Vignelli. Graphic Design for Non-Profit Organizations. New York, N.Y: American Institute of Graphic Arts, 1980. Print.
Lloyd, Peter B, Massimo Vignelli, and Mark Ovenden. Vignelli Transit Maps. Rochester, New York: RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press, 2012.
Lommen, Mathieu. The Book of Books: 500 Years of Graphic Innovation. London: Thames & Hudson, 2012. Print.
McQuiston, Liz. Women in Design: A Contemporary View. New York: Rizzoli, 1988. Print.
Millman, Debbie. How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer. New York: Allworth Press, 2007. Print.
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Vignelli, Massimo, and Lella Vignelli. Design Is One. Mulgrave, Vic: Images Pub. Group, 2004. Print.
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Vignelli, Massimo, Bob Noorda, Michael Bierut, and Christopher Bonanos. Graphics Standards Manual. , 2014. Print.
Vignelli, Massimo. Vignelli from A to Z. Mulgrave, Vic: Images, 2007. Print.
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Vignelli, Massimo. Vignelli Drawings: A Collection of Sketches for Book Design. , 2014. Print.
Wurman, Richard S, Massimo Vignelli, and Christine Rae. Forty Years of Design: Knoll International. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1979. Print.
Designing Modern Women 1890–1990. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. 5 Oct. 2013 to 19 Oct. 2014. Exhibition. Web. 17 May 2016.
Timeless Massimo Vignelli. Disseny Hub Barcelona, 8 Jun. to 31 Aug. 2015. Exhibition. BCD Barcelona Centre de Disseny, n.d. Web. 16 May 2016.
Vignelli, Massimo. Grids: Their
Meaning and Use for Federal Designers : Based on a Presentation to the
Second Studio Seminar for Federal Graphic Designers, Nov. 10, 1976. Washington, D.C.?: National Endowment for the Arts, 1978. Print.
AIGA Design Archives. AIGA, n.d. Web 13 May 2016.
“Helvetica.” Gary Hustwit. Gary Hustwit. 2007. Web. 13 May 2016.
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Caduff, Reto. The Visual Language of Herbert Matter. S.l.: Pixiu Films, 2011.
Diamonstein, Barbaralee, Massimo Vignelli, Lella Vignelli, and David Gordon. Interior Design, the New Freedom. , 1986.
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Hershon, Eila, Roberto Guerra, and Wibke Von Bonin. By Design: Volume 6. Munich: RM Productions. Production, 1980.
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Sudjic, Deyan, and Massimo Vignelli. The House in the Twentieth Century; Interior Design. Sydney, N.S.W: ABC Radio National, 1999. Sound recording.
“Transportation Nation. Vignelli, Designer of Famous Subway Map, Defends His Version Over These Others (Images).” WNYC. New York Public Radio, 21 Dec. 2012. Web. 13 May 2016.
Vignelli, Lella, Massimo Vignelli, Eila Hershon, Roberto Guerra, and Wibke Von Bonin. What Is Design? London. England: RM Productions, 1989.
Vignelli, Massimo. Design Vignelli. Sydney: University of New South Wales College of Fine Arts, 1991.
Vignelli, Massimo. Vignelli from A to Z. Montréal: Université de Montréal, École de design industriel, 1993.
Vignelli, Massimo, Lella Vignelli, Barry Bedford, and Michael L. Washington. Industrial Design Excellence Interviews: Massimo and Lella Vignelli. McLean, Va.: Projection Inc. for the Design Foundation, 1985.
Vignelli, Massimo, Lella Vignelli, and Beverly Russell. Vignelli A to Z. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kendall College School of Art & Design, 1995.
Zuckerman, Andrew, and Alex Vlack. Wisdom: A Film by Andrew Zuckerman. United States: Andrew Zuckerman Studio, 2010.
For further reading visit AIGAdesign at Worldcat. Have another resource to share? Contact AIGA’s archivist, Heather Strelecki.
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