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Design Icon #Massimo Vignelli

There are many designers who I look up to and who have influenced my designs and my aesthetic. One of the most influential designers for me was Massimo Vignelli. He has many great designs, but one of the most iconic designs was the iconic work for American Airlines. Massimo was the king of radical simplicity. Vignelli was born on January 10th, 1931 in Milan, Italy. It was there that he first studied art and architecture. Massimo's passion was “2D” graphic design until he came to America in 1957, he was New York city-based. Massimo Vignelli died May 27th, 2014 at age 83. His style can be best described as simple and timeless. In order to truly understand him, admire him, and learn from him as a Designer we have to understand his background which cultured him. We have to understand the influence and help of his wife. We have to pick at his brain to understand his ideas and views on design.

Vignelli designed in both three dimensions and two. He was considered vastly architectural in character. Massimo's posters, publications, and graphic designs seem to be built in stories, separated by the now-familiar, bold, horizontal rules. He respected basic geometry. “The correct shape is the shape of the object's meaning.” Vignelli’s commitment to the precision of a design has taken his work beyond creating a form best suited for the intended concept or function. He had always stated his knowledge that design itself, is a vital part of function. More than a process, a good design is imperative. “Everything has its own order,” he 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.” This process was very important to his amazing results.

Vignelli was married to Lella Vignelli. 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 European firms. But their love for the United States, which began during the three years they spent here after they were married, eventually enticed them away from Italy. “There is diversity here, and energy, and possibility,” recalls Massimo, “and the need for design.” He along with his wife co-founded Unimark International in 1964, There they specialize in corporate identities. They worked with Ford, JCPenney, IBM, and many more. The company closed the following decade it ballooned and collapsed. They then co-founded Vignelli Associates for two-dimensional design and Vignelli Designs for furniture, objects, exhibitions and interiors. Their work covered nearly every field of design including advertising, identity, interior design, houseware design, public signage design, show room design, industrial design, architecture, package design, and furniture design. His code was if you can design one thing you can design everything.

Massimo worked firmly within the modernist tradition, and focus on simplicity through the use of basic geometric forms in all of his works. His work was always very clear and concise with no clutter or unnecessary material. He followed minimal aesthetic and a narrow range of typefaces he considered perfect in their genre. He wrote that “in the computer age, the whole differentiation of typefaces and type manipulations represent a new level of visual pollution threatening our culture. Of thousands of typefaces, all we need are a few basic ones, and trashed the rest.” Not only did Vignelli design very well, he also thought 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 create ambiguity.”

Vignelli had told design matters host Debbie mailman in 2007 “design is a profession that takes care of everything around us. Everything around us has been designed by somebody.” “I think that it is my responsibility to make the world better than it is.” He was a true modernist who believed in radical simplicity and that the grid was the ultimate basis of craft and design. When he designed the identity for American Airlines he created something iconic and simple, two A’s one red and one blue it indicated that companies gimmick free professionalism. The client wanted more American symbolism, so he added the geometric x-shaped eagle. which was the only airline to have not changed their identity in 50 years.

Massimo Vignelli was an example to follow. His iconic simplicity will continue to inspire many as it has inspired me. His position on process and concept in his work further educates us on its vital importance in design. His modern simplicity is remarkably admirable. Vignelli and his wife Lella Co-founded many creatively professional companies that produced many extraordinarily talented works. We will remember him with honor and respect as the talented, radically simple, modern designer he was and his exquisite and timeless works.


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