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Massimo Vignelli: Letters to a Design Legend

Massimo VignelliIt seems that in the recent months we have lost quite a few cherished members of the design community. This past week, we regretfully add another person to that list. Yesterday morning legendary designer Massimo Vignelli passed away. As he did with most things in life, Vignelli did not go quietly. His final few days were spent surrounded by hundreds of letters from designers who he had inspired throughout his fruitful career. These letters are testament of the raw talent and influence Vignelli possessed.

Vigenelli became enamored with design as a young teen. He studied architecture at both the Politecnico di Milano and the Università di Architettura, Venice. Shortly after graduating, he came to America on a fellowship where he quickly began heading up the North American branch of Unimark International, which would later become known as one of the largest design firms in the world.

Vigenelli has contributed to numerous well-known corporate designs including American Airlines, IBM and Bloomingdales. He is perhaps best known for having designed the signage for the New York City subway system. Despite his classical beginnings, Vigenelli often referred to himself as an “information architect,” a nickname which he very much lived up to.

Shortly before his passing, Vigenelli’s protégé, Michael Bierut, said this about his mentor, “from Massimo, I Iearned that designing a book wasn’t about coming up with a clever place for the page numbers. He taught me about typography, about scale, about pacing, about refinement. I learned to think of graphic design as a way to create an experience, an experience that was not limited to two dimensions or to a momentary impression. It was about creating something lasting, even timeless.”

Though Vigenelli has passed, his timeless works will forever remind us of his spirit and flair for creating something extraordinary out of the everyday ordinary. Vigenelli leave behind his wife, his son, Luca; his daughter, Valentina Vignelli Zimmer; and three grandchildren.

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