Massimo Vignelli, the Italian design legend perhaps best known for designing his groundbreaking variation of the New York City subway map, passed away on the 27th of May 2014 in New York City. He was 83 years old. Massimo and his wife Lella were both widely considered icons in design. They were one of the first couples to collaborate and inspired a new generation of “design couples”.
Vignelli believed wholeheartedly that design should be “visually powerful, intellectually elegant, and timeless”— the motto for the New York design studio, Vignelli Associates.
“Vignelli believed wholeheartedly that design should be “visually powerful, intellectually elegant, and timeless”
Working with brands such as American Airlines, Knoll, IBM, and Bloomingdales, he played a critical role in the shaping of visual experiential landscape of the 20th century. Vingelli said, “If you can design one thing, you can design everything.” A fact that was true in his life as he designed things from architecture and interiors to furniture and home goods.
Over the years the Vignelli’s were winners of prestigious awards, including the AIGA Gold Medal, the National Arts Club Gold Medal for Design, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. They even won the first Presidential Design Award, presented by President Ronald Reagan.
Massimo was born in Milan, Italy on the 10th of January 1931. As a young child he saw Europe torn apart by WWII. In an interview with Epoch Times, soon before his death he reflected on the hard times “I don’t know how I existed,” he and his friends would be forced from school into bomb shelters as the threat of the Axis Powers approached “children grow up no matter what.” He knew that if he had been older he would have been part of the rebuilding effort or even the war, maybe never having the chance to be a designer.
Vignelli first became obsessed with design as a teenager, after visiting an interior designer friend of his mother’s. It was the concept that everything around him was the product of a dream of a designer, he became enthralled in reading any and all design books and magazines on the subject; soon he was sketching.
At 16, he began working in the office of a local architect. Vignelli, left Italy when he was 18 to study architecture at the Politecnico di Milano, then to the Universita di Architettura in Venice. It wasn’t long until he was meeting architecture greats like Alvar Aalto, Le Courbusier, Charles Eames, and Mies van der Rohe.
“It was the concept that everything around him was the product of a dream of a designer, he became enthralled in reading any and all design books and magazines on the subject; soon he was sketching.”
Massimo and Lella married in 1957, after meeting each other at an architecture convention. After three years of marriage, they opened an office while in Milan, designing for European firms. The Vignellis moved to New York City in 1965, establishing Vignelli Associates in 1971.
Vignelli’s drastic redesign of the New York City subway map. that was introduced in mid 1972, was met with complaints and confusion from the people, chosen sizes and colors were not appreciated by most. While others loved the new translation of clean lines, that were not truly geographical accurate. In 1979 the MTA decide on a new system map. In 2011 Vignella was asked to create an interactive interpretation his System Map for the MTA’s “Weekender” program.
Near the end of his illness Vignelli’s son, Luca, requested that anyone who had been influenced or inspired by his father’s work to send a letter. Designers across the world send notes of appreciation. Many posted letters online with the hashtag #dearmassimo.
Massimo Vignelli the “Grandfather of Graphic Design,” gave so much to the world of design.