• Mvmain

    Massimo Vignelli, who died this week aged 83

Graphic Design

The List: Our look at some of the best tributes to the late, great Massimo Vignelli

Posted by Rob Alderson,

The sad death of Massimo Vignelli this week was greeted with the kind of tributes as befitting one of the design world’s most important figures. From posters to publications, brand identities to buildings and products to public signage, Massimo brought European modernism firmly into the mainstream.

On his website he summed up his design philosophy as “semantically correct, syntactically consistent and pragmatically understandable. I like it to be visually powerful, intellectually elegant and above all timeless.”

Whether you’re a Vignelli aficionado who knows his work inside out or someone who knows the name but is keen to find out a little more, here’s a collection of some of the best articles and videos we came across this week.

The Obit

  • Mv1

    Massimo Vignelli: American Airlines identity

There were of course lots of glowing obituaries this week but this one from The New York Times is arguably the best place to start. Not only did Massimo live and work in Manhattan but his design for the city’s subway system is arguably the single piece of work with which he is most associated.

This piece is comprehensive, adds a useful New York context and finishes off with my favourite single quote of the week which recounts what the great man said when he was asked how he would approach a new identity for The Vatican. “I would go to the pope and say, ‘Your holiness, the logo is O.K.,’ ” he said, referring to the cross, “but everything else has to go.”

The New York Subway Map

  • System_1972

    Massimo Vignelli: The 1972 New York subway map

Massimo Vignelli’s subway map was officially released by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1972 and met with a mixed reaction; while some embraced the way it simplified the underground network others felt it went too far in paring-back the real city above. The TIME obituary includes an interactive version of the map so you can really immerse yourself in it and see what all the fuss was about, while Paul Goldberger wrote an excellent piece on Vignelli’s design in The New Yorker when it was partially re-introduced a few years ago. The map “wasn’t just lovely to look at,” he wrote. “Its obsessive clarity turns out to be the perfect basis for digital information. It’s more modern looking than any of the maps that followed it.”

The map even inspired this super video below which turns the subway into an interactive sting instrument.

The Personal Memories

  • Mv3

    Massimo Vignelli: Knoll International poster

Pentagram partner Michael Bierut worked for Massimo Vignelli for ten years and his article on Design Observer is an articulate and moving tribute to Vignelli’s life and work, as well as an insight into what kind of man he was. “I learned how to design at design school. But I learned how to be a designer from Massimo Vignelli,” Michael writes; he also wrote a good homage on the subway map a few years ago.

The Impact

  • Mv9

    Massimo Vignelli: United Colors of Benetton identity

When it was announced Massimo was very ill a few weeks ago, his son Luca asked for people to write him letters to read during what would turn out to be his last days. The response was overwhelming – this New York Times piece features some good examples – but the tributes weren’t confined to the written correspondence. On the Creative Review article relaying Luca’s request, the comments give a wonderful insight into how much Massimo’s work meant to so many people.

  • Mv6

    Massimo Vignelli: USA Bicentennial poster

The Video (short)

There’s quite a few videos featuring Massimo floating about on the internet but here’s a couple of our favourites. The folks over at Design Indaba filmed this studio visit a few years ago which is a good quick introduction to the man and some of his key ideas. But if you’re craving something a little more in-depth…

The Video (Longer)

Debbie Millman is one of the leading design interviewers working today so it’s no great surprise that bringing her together with a designer of Massimo’s stature produced such an interesting, insightful and in-depth film.

Ra

Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Graphic Design View Archive

  1. Isabellucena-tarot-int-list

    When it comes to Tarot cards we’ve pretty much seen it all. Since the arrival of the Rider Waite deck in the early 20th Century nobody in the western world has really changed the game and made The Fool, The Ace of Wands or The Hierophant look all that different from Pamela Colman Smith’s incredible drawings. But recently designer Isabel Lucena has had a crack at it, and the results are surprisingly refreshing.

  2. Thamnesandhudson-cover-list-int

    For a young boy who grew up in the suburban Midlands, the west coast of the USA is really the America of my imagination, far more so than the refined cities of the Eastern seaboard, the vast expanses of the rural states or any of the other myriad landscapes to be found between sea and shining sea.

  3. Jorgeleon-amigo-int-list

    It’s always refreshing to see a creative being really honest about the challenges of a particular brief before showing us their solution. So it is with Barcelona-based graphic designer and art director Jorge León, who sets up his work for the Amigos skate shop by referring to the “many problems” it had encountered with its brand.

  4. Unnamed

    International design agency IS Creative Studio has done some elegant branding work for both rotisserie AND grilled chicken restaurants. And both identities look refreshingly tasteful. The studio’s work spans print, product and retail design, and its practice is based on extensive research and a desire to always go beyond the product at hand. Or indeed the chicken. Founded in 2010 by Richard Meza, the agency produces great work that shifts aesthetics seamlessly. From visuals that wouldn’t be out of place on a summer’s day in Capri in 1965, to fast food stereotypes and what is described as “type [broken up] to simulate chunks of fruit swimming happily in cream,” it’s a bunch of consistently impressive design work.

  5. Screen-shot-2015-01-26-at-10.12.37

    It’s little surprise that Mike Lemanski’s graphic design work has been something of an It’s Nice That favourite, and since we last posted about him in 2013 he’s not let his style slip. Mike’s site boasts some beautiful, mature designs for Feuilleton magazine, which takes articles from various international publications such as The New York Times, translates them into French and publishes issues every quarter.

  6. Hardyseiler-hannover-list-int

    When Hanover-based designers Bureau Hardy Seiler and web design agency Created by Monkeys decided to pitch to design the identity for the Freies Theater Hannover, they found themselves faced with a dilemma. The theatre hosts every flavour of live performance going, from puppetry and musical shows to experimental dance, and all in one flexible and family-friendly space. How could they create a graphic language to match that?

  7. Charlottedelarue-list-3-int

    Illustrator and art director Charlotte Delarue’s varied work shows her to be an uncommonly talented illustrator, conjuring incredibly realistic portraits out of paper and pencil safe in the knowledge that she doesn’t need to do anything more to make them impressive. Her art direction is of another ilk entirely, however – she works with the likes of electro acts Chromeo, Justice and Kavinsky to draw up impactful logotypes and album artwork concepts that can be spotted from miles away, from the golden legs which reappear on almost every Chromeo album cover to Kavinsky’s mysterious blue-tinged scenes.

  8. Parades-artdillier-sale-int-1

    When you’ve got a load of Christmas stock to flog at the start of the new year there’s only one way to go; have a big sale. But everyone else has had that exact same idea, and it’s a pain in the arse to make a sale look good right? Wrong! If you’re smart you’ll hire Bordeaux’s Bureau Parade to come up with a bespoke solution to communicate your low, low prices. Geometric shapes, bold colours and a playful use of typography meant that everyone knew about the sweet deals at Bordeaux’s most high-end shoe retailer, Michard Ardillier, without the store having to Xerox a bunch of giant red signs à la Tie Rack. Nice solution to an often overlooked problem if you ask us.

  9. Cometsubstance-sleeve-1-int

    We’re big fans of Comet Substance, graphic designer Ronny Hunger’s poster-producing alter-ego. Since we last featured him back at the tail end of 2013 Ronny has shifted from the Xerox collage aesthetic to slicker lines and high production values, without losing any of the depth or attention to idiosyncratic details of his earlier work.

  10. Oyalstudio-dishonestmanifest-int-list

    Portugal’s Royal Studio are not just winningly adept at creating bold, interesting and creatively ambitious visual treatments – they’re also terrific at writing the most intriguing project summaries I think I’ve ever seen. There’s a fine line between being weird and funny on the one hand, and gratuitously wacky on the other but these guys manage to pull off descriptions that mirror the invention, and occasional iconoclasm, in their work. Take The Dishonest Manifest, a series which seems to be ridiculing the preoccupation with how posters look as opposed to how well they do their job. The clearest indication of this is a long, thin creation with the phrase “Don’t give a fuck about content” repeated over and over again.

  11. Bonhams-auction-catalogue-int-4

    The idea of London’s auction houses, all stuffed to bursting with hushed voices, incredible art, taut-faced women and a nonchalant yet overpowering scent of money (I’ve never been to one, if you hadn’t guessed) make them feel like something of an alien concept. A place not for the likes of me, and one happy to remain in its exclusive bubble. But recently a series of innovative redesigns have suggested that perhaps a new aesthetic sensibility seems to be settling into the high-end fabrics of these places. There’s a sense they’re working to rethink their approach to their brand and how it looks.

  12. Mobydigg-aaberaward-1-int

    How many design studios can you think of who are named after a mis-pronounced classic novel? Because Munich-based design studio Moby Digg is, and that fact, coupled with their fun, bright site, propels them above most straight-laced studios in our book.

  13. Aaronvinton-kidsong-1-int_copy

    Aaron Vinton graduated from CalArts in 2009 and has since been producing idiosyncratic, skilled and occasionally creepy graphic design. Clearly influenced by the working processes of the days of yore, the thematic span and style gauge in his work are reminiscent of studios like Push Pin, whose work would adapt to context seamlessly.