Tuesday, 21 October 2014
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Massimo Vignelli dies aged 83

Massimo Vignelli has died at the age of 83. He had received letters from around the world following the announcement earlier this month that he was gravely ill.

Massimo and Lella Vignelli in 2012

Source: designmilk

Massimo and Lella Vignelli in 2012

Vignelli was born in Milan in 1931. In 1966 he moved to New York and founded Unimark International, later leaving to set up Vignelli Associates with wife Lella.

He worked on projects including the American Airlines identity and signage for the New York City Subway system.

Vignelli received a number of awards throughout his career, including the AIGA Gold Medal and the National Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design.

Earlier this month Vignelli’s family announced that he was gravely ill and was spending his last days at home.

As reported in Creative Review, his son Luca asked for all those for whom Vignelli was either an influence or an inspiration to write him a letter.

According to Pentagram partner Michael Bierut, ‘Luca said that Massimo would be thrilled to get notes of good wishes from people whom he’s touched or influenced – whether personally or remotely – over the years. Luca has visions of huge mail bags full of letters. I know that one of Massimo’s biggest fantasies has been to attend his own funeral. This will be the next best thing.’

Bierut, who started his career at Vignelli Associates, writes on Design Observer, ‘From Massimo I learned never to give up. He was able to bring enthusiasm, joy and intensity to the smallest design challenge. Even after 50 years, he could delight in designing something like a business card as if he had never done one before.

‘It was Massimo who taught me one of the simplest things in the world: that if you do good work, you get more good work to do, and conversely bad work brings more bad work. It sounds simple, but it’s remarkable, in a lifetime of pragmatics and compromises, how easy it is to forget: the only way to do good work is simply to do good work. Massimo did good work.’

Readers' comments (3)

  • A gentle man
    A tough man
    A quiet man
    An opinionated man
    A versatile man
    A unique man
    A demanding man
    A rigid man
    A totally flexible man
    Known by most as the designer of an ultimately silly but beautiful subway map, he should be known for so much more. For about 50 years he and his partner Lella quietly transformed much of graphic design in this country to a European perspective and helped to internationalize what had once been little more than an unskilled trade. Whether you agreed with his ideas or did not: there was never a question that his ideas formed the foundation of his work. I worked with him only once; on a project in my opinion he was badly chosen for (I never felt Massimo understood or had much of a feeling for the pre Target low end mass market). Consequently the work was difficult, at times painful and the eventual result satisfying to none. He wasn't wrong and neither was the client. But they were wrong for each other. For me as a young designer on the client side it was frustrating as well as fascinating and incredibly instructive. At the dawn of the digital age I once saw him debate (it was more a gentle discussion) the virtues of the computer's potential impact on design with Milton Glaser. Massimo predictably for, Milton, not so convinced. Thirty years later, they were both right. Massimo was a giant among us and those of us who knew him if only briefly were illuminated by the glow of his soul. Blessings.

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  • His taste, dignity and style will be sorely missed by the remaining few still able to fully perceive and appreciate it. A gentle, cultivated, civilized and hugely sensitive man from an age when beauty was still a value worth our understanding and respect.

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  • Michael Beirut's full tribute at Design Observer (link above) plus many comments from others who counted Vignelli as friend, teacher and mentor, is worth a read.

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