Massimo Vignelli: In memoriam

Remembering the graphic, product and furniture designer

Massimo Vignelli may be best known for his controversial and abstract 1972 diagram of the NYC Subway system, but the Italian-born designer created much more. His multi-disciplinary design studio worked in graphic design, interior design, product and furniture design. His work can be seen everywhere from public signage and brand logos to housewares and furniture.

Vignelli brought European modernism into the daily lives of Americans through graphic design. Leading the New York office of Chicago-based Unimark International, he created iconic brand logos for Ford, JCPenney, and IBM. He designed the American Airlines “AA” himself. With Bob Noorda, Vignelli created the New York City Transit Authority “Graphics Standards Manual” which standardized the system’s colors, shapes and typeface (Helvetica, naturally). Vignelli gave the Bloomingdale’s logo its overlapping Os on its bags.

Vignelli designed the Handkerchief chair for Knoll, and quintessential stacking plastic mod plates and cups for Heller.

Vignelli believed in combining function with beauty. Calling himself an information architect, he stuck to a small selection of typefaces.

Vignelli was outspoken, too. You can find some of the most memorable Vignelli quotes on graphic designer’s posters.

“If you do it right, it will last forever.”
“The life of a designer is to fight against the ugliness.”
“If you can design one thing, you can design everything.”
“The mind of a man is capable of everything—because everything is in it, all the past, as well as all the future.”

Vignelli passed away this week in New York at age 83.

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