Massimo Vignelli

Massimo Vignelli was a massively important industrial and graphic designer throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Born in Milan, Italy on January 10, 1931, Vignelli studied art at Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera. He later obtained a degree in Architecture from Politecnico di Milano in 1953. Between the years 1953 and 1957, Vignelli attended both the School of Architecture and University of Venice (“Famous Graphic Designers”). 

In 1957, Vignelli and his newlywed wife, Elena Valle, moved briefly to the United States. Vignelli’s wife proved to be an invaluable and important partner in both Vignelli’s personal and professional lives throughout his career. While working in the United States, Vignelli briefly taught graphic design at the Institute of Design, New Bauhaus in Chicago, until his and his wife’s visas expired in 1960 (“Designculture”).

Upon the Vignellis’s United States visas expiring, he and his wife moved back to Italy, where Vignelli and his wife opened the Lella & Massimo Vignelli Office of Design and Architecture. This firm was focused on the design of furniture, product, and graphic design for various Italian and European countries (“Designculture”).

On January 4, 1965 a joint venture between the Vignellis and various other designers from around the world was founded: Unimark International, Corporation for Design and Marketing. This was vastly important in the design world, as it was the first design consultancy that had an international focus and had offices worldwide. Here, Massimo Vignelli was the design director and senior-vice president. His main focus was to ensure that all work from the various offices from around the world had a consistent vision and design ethic. Unimark was at the time one of the world’s best design firms and created designs that remain iconic to this day. Such influential projects were: the corporate identities of Ford, Knoll, and American Airlines; the New York City Subway’s sign system; and the New York City Transit Authority’s Graphic Standards Manual (“Designculture”). American Airlines remained up until very recently the only major airline in the United States to have not changed their brand identity, from Vignelli and Unimark’s original design, in over fifty years (Flask).

In 1971, almost immediately preceding Unimark going bankrupt, Vignelli left Unimark and started Vignelli Associates with his wife so that they could work together again. Here, the couple followed their belief that “design is one” and applied this to many different design fields. During this time, Vignelli created many lasting designs for various important companies around the world, such as: Bloomingdale’s, US National Parks Services, Sotheby’s, and various others (“Designculture”). Vignelli’s simple, yet powerful, graphic and product design showed beauty in simplicity and showed other designers that works did not have to be complicated in order to be profound.

Vignelli stated that he believes his designs can be viewed as “semantically correct, syntactically consistent, and pragmatically understandable—visually powerful, intellectually elegant and, above all, timeless” (“Designculture”). His designs have certainly remained timeless, yet visually powerful, and have influenced many modern designers with their succinctness. Vignelli’s primary goal with design was to make objects and symbols better and clearer for the average user. To him, design was a process on the road to perfection. Vignelli’s simplistic, yet visually clear, map of New York City’s Subway System, which used only 45 and 90 degree angles in order to simplify its visual design, remains the gold standard to this day for transit map design (“What Makes Great Design?”).

Vignelli served as a member of the Industrial Design Association from its founding in 1956, and additionally served on its board from 1960 to 1964, until his death in New York City in 2014. Additionally, Vignelli received many awards and recognitions for his work throughout his lifetime. Vignelli’s works lie in various museums across the globe to this day, showcasing his simplistic, yet innovative design for the world to see. (“Designculture”).

Works Cited

Flask, Dominic. Massimo Vignelli : Design Is History, 

“Massimo Vignelli.” Designculture, Designculture, 

“Massimo Vignelli: Biography, Designs and Facts.” Famous Graphic Designers, 

“Massimo Vignelli: What Makes Great Design?” Massimo Vignelli. What Makes Great Design?,