Massimo Vignelli

Massimo Vignelli

Massimo Vignelli was a celebrated twentieth century versatile Italian graphic and industrial designer. He worked in several domains of designing including package design, furniture design, showroom design and warehouse design. He established his own firm, Vignelli Associates, in partnership with his wife. He strictly adopted the Modernists tradition of design in his work and based his artwork on the idea of simplicity which manifested through his use of rudimentary geometric designs.

On January 10, 1931, Massimo Vignelli was born in Milan, Italy. He attended an art school, Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, before earning an Architecture degree from the Politecnico di Milano, 1953. During the period between 1953 and 1957, he attended the School of Architecture and University of Venice. Early in his professional career, his chief area of expertise was graphic designing for products and corporate identity creation. Also Vignelli tweaked a design for the ‘Fungo’ table lamp by creating a series of lighting fixtures. In the late 1950s, he earned a fellowship to study in United States at Towle Silversmiths, Massachusetts and the Institute of Design, Chicago. In 1957, he married Lella Vignelli, whom he met at an architecture convention. A few years later they established their small design studio, the Lella and Massimo Vignelli Office of Design and Architecture, Milan. The studio dealt with designing domestic products, office accessories, graphics and furniture.

In 1965, the Vignellis moved to Chicago, US, where they founded Unimark International which specifically focused on corporate graphic designing. It was Vignellis’s innovative idea of introducing the Helvetica typography in visual communication that went viral all over United States. They employed the rudimentary geometric shapes such as cube, pyramid, spheres and cylinders in a variety of product designs. These designs appeared balanced, appealing and functional. According to the founder of the firm, the designer should be able to design everything from a needle to a whole metropolis. A wide-range of deigning programs was introduced in the company from environmental planning to tableware and packaging showcasing versatile and novel ideas.

In 1966, Vignelli expanded his business and launched a branch of Unimark International in New York. Soon it became the largest firm in the world for its expansion into an array of domains and covering variety of lifestyles. The firm takes pride in establishing some of the notable and prestigious corporate identities, including that of American Airlines. Vignelli designed the signage for New York City Subway system and the DC Metro. In 1971, he resigned from the company as it got sidetracked from the vision he created and single-mindedly focused on product marketing rather than the design itself. Subsequently, Vignelli and Lella founded another firm, Vignelli Associates. Once again his firm attracted high-profile clients seeking corporate identity assistance. These top-notch corporations included Knoll, Bloomingdale’s and IBM.

In addition to art direction, Vignelli also penned a book, titled Vignelli: From A to Z. The book details Vignelli’s ideas and vision with regard to graphic designing in the form of essays. The essays are organized in an alphabetical order as hinted in the title. In fact, they are based on somewhat the same course Vignelli gave lectures on while teaching at Harvard’s School of Design and Architecture. In 2009, Vignelli launched a free e-book, The Vignelli Canon,with the aim of passing on his legacy and treasure of knowledge on designing to young designers. Massimo Vignelli died on May 27, 2014, after a long period of illness.


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