CR Blog

Massimo Vignelli, 1931-2014

Books, Graphic Design, Type / Typography

Posted by Mark Sinclair, 27 May 2014, 15:19    Permalink    Comments (8)

Massimo Vignelli in Gary Hustwit's film, Helvetica

Sad news reached CR from the US earlier today – the great designer and teacher Massimo Vignelli died this morning at the age of 83...

Earlier this month, Pentagram partner Michael Bierut informed us that Vignelli was very ill and was spending his final days at his home – and that the designer's son Luca had a request. He wanted to ask those who had been either inspired or influenced by his father's work to write to him in New York.

The reaction was unprecedented. While intended as a means through which to send hand-written notes of thanks and appreciation to the designer, news of the idea spread online and soon people were also leaving their thoughts on blog posts, in comments, and on social media. Such was his influence.

As a graphic designer, Vignelli's place within the history of the great practitioners has long been assured. He and his wife Lella had initially established the Vignelli Office of Design and Architecture in Milan in 1960, with Massimo becoming design director of the pioneering Unimark International Corporation, with its offices in New York, Chicago and Milan, five years later.

New York Subway Guide, via MoMA

The subway sign system created for the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority in 1966 – along with the modernist subway 'diagram' – remains one of the studio's most well-regarded projects among designers (the signage manual now even has its own website at

In 1971 Massimo and Lella co-founded Vignelli Associates, which became Vignelli Designs in 1978. As Vignelli Associates, the Vignelli's continued to produce work for a range of iconic US brands – from Bloomingdale's to American Airlines – as well as working on interiors, packaging designs, furniture and products, such as the much-loved Hellerware system (another client which continued a relationship with the designer since the Unimark days).

Identity for American Airlines, via

Yet many of the comments on our own post last month mentioned Vignelli's generosity and engaging manner; the amount of time he gave to young designers, particulary on their portfolios; or what he conveyed when he gave presentations and talks. It's a reputation that Vignelli had for many years.

Indeed Bierut, who worked for Vignelli Associates from 1980 to 1990, today posted a moving recollection on Design Observer of his time spent with the designer.

"Today there is an entire building in Rochester, New York, dedicated to preserving the Vignelli legacy," Bierut writes. "But in those days, it seemed to me that the whole city of New York was a permanent Vignelli exhibition. To get to the office, I rode in a subway with Vignelli-designed signage, shared the sidewalk with people holding Vignelli-designed Bloomingdale's shopping bags, walked by St. Peter's Church with its Vignelli-designed pipe organ visible through the window."

It is fitting that the last project to surround Vignelli at his home was one that came out of a connection with so many people. We hope he got to see as many of the letters as possible.

The AIGA biography honouring Massimo and Lella Vignelli's joint award of the AIGA Medal in 1982 is at Michael Bierut's post on Vignelli is here. For an overview of his work see

In March The Architectural League gave its President's Medal to Lella and Massimo Vignelli – above, the designer is holding untrimmed press sheets of covers for the evening's programme (designed by Michael Bierut) which featured a series of five Vignelli quotes. Photograph by Hamish Smyth, via


Sad to hear of his passing. I never really researched him or was influenced by him but I'll make sure that I get myself 'googling' as the shown work looks amazing.
Thank you Creative Review and Rest In Peace.
2014-05-27 19:43:30

2014-05-27 21:06:47

I loved the Vignelli calender. What sadness, a great designer who really made an impact
2014-05-27 21:35:08

I didn't even know he was ill!! Jesus.
RIP, Design Legend.
2014-05-27 22:30:00

Having met Massimo a few times in the last 6 years & being captured by his humility &
grace every single time, I am so devastated at the news of his passing.
To me he was not only a design legend, but a life icon.
Never have I met a gentler human being... so giving of time & wisdom.
For a man like Massimo, I wish time had no limit... yet for 83 years this world has been gifted this force of a man, whom together with his wife Lella built the Vignelli legacy on the very principle of "timeless design".
For this & the man he was, Massimo Vignelli, without doubt,
will continue to be celebrated with no bound to time.
Rest in well deserved peace.
To a truly ONE of a kind!
Benitha Vlok
2014-05-28 00:22:57

A man of insight - may you be blessed Massimo with the greater power of the Creative in your journey onwards in the light and with the the light - love surround you, Lella, your family your friends and all whom you have inspired.

Allison Pupich
2014-05-28 12:16:33

Check out his 'Brand New' talk from a couple of years back. Passionate, wise and funny in equal measures. Not to mention immensely talented. A true legend and nice guy by all accounts. RIP Massimo
marcus uniform
2014-05-28 12:25:51

He & his work have long been a huge inspiration to me & was a practitioner whose creative sensibilities resonated with me deeply. I feel sad to have missed the chance to write to him personally.
I repeatedly go back to his DesignMatters interview on Design Observer for inspiration and motivation in design & world views, too.

Sad that the world has lost a passionate creative light. His legacy will live on with high regard.
Pete Herb
2014-05-30 23:31:57

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