“I don’t think that type should be expressive at all. I can write the word ‘dog’ with any typeface and it doesn’t have to look like a dog. But there are people that [think that] when they write ‘dog’ it should bark.”
– Massimo Vignelli
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Massimo Vignelli, born January 10, 1931, died this year, in May, on the 27th, and he was an incredibly talented designer, that worked in many areas of design, from package design through housewares design and furniture design, to public signage and showroom design. He founded the Vignelli Associates, along with his wife, Lella, and he lived by his words “If you can design one thing, you can design everything.”.
He created iconic designs for New York City subway, IBM, American Airlines and the US National Parks Service, for the past 50 years he has defined visual identities like no other. Although he didn’t really got into the world wide web, he had a tremendous impact on the medium, and his design principles have influenced, and will continue to influence creative professionals all around the world.
Michael Bierut, a Vignelli student, has testified to his mentor’s abilities, his kindness, his leadership skills and innovative ideas with a moving tribute, that can be read here.
Massimo Vignelli has received countless awards such as New York State Governor’s Award for Excellence in 1993, Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California in 2000, Architecture Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York in 2005, and many many more. We are here to pay an homage to an great artist, by providing you 8 timeless lessons you can learn, and use in your life.
1. The life of a designer is a life of fight
“Fight against the ugliness. Just like a doctor fights against disease. For us, the visual disease is what we have around, and what we try to do is cure it somehow with design.” He was truly passionate about his work, and this can be seen by looking at his art, and taking a peek at his acknowledgments right here. He fought for beauty his entire life, and he succeeded every single time.
Massimo brought innovative ideas, he revolutionized the medium and we have to thank him for his incredible talent, that he shared with us. You, yes you, the one reading this, don’t let ugliness plague our eyes, fight for us with everything you can.
2. We like design to be visually powerful
“ We like design to be visually powerful, intellectually elegant and above all timeless.”
A visually powerful design will last a life time, it will get embedded into the user base head, and you will be remembered forever. But be careful, listen to Massimo Vignelli, make it intellectually elegant, don’t insult us by using stupidity to create art, think before you act.
Your art can be timeless, but you choose how people will think of you, and your creations. Do you want to go on the beauty path? Or you have given up and chosen ugliness instead? Keep fighting, don’t let us, and more important, yourself, down.
3. If you can design one thing, you can design everything
Vignelli, along with his wife Lella, designed the interior of Saint Peter’s Church. It is a powerful, elegant and timeless approach, innovative all along the way. They were truly giants in their field, that are responsible for shaping, not onlyhousewares and furniture design, but liturgical life as we know it.
They captured their essence of the ongoing vitality that is the Church, just by living by Massimo’s words. Don’t be afraid to tackle new challenges, don’t be afraid to try new things, only with passion you will get there. There can mean so many different things for each and every one of us.
4. If you do it right, it will last forever
Vignelli designed the New York City Subway diagram, that suffered little modifications from 1970 until now. Don’t get used to your shortcomings, be a perfectionist, work as hard as you can and you will get there.
Do it right, don’t be pleased with half measures. Doing so, your work will last forever, you will be remembered as one of those that adopted passion in their lives.
5. The attention to details requires discipline
“The attention to details requires discipline. There is no room for sloppiness, for carelessness, for procrastination. Every detail is important because the end result is the sum of all the details involved in the creative process no matter what we are doing. There are no hierarchies when it comes to quality. Quality is there or is not there.”
Getting discipline is not easy task. You really have to work to acquire this skill. Discipline will allow you to reach heights you have never dreamt of. Forget procrastination, forget sloppiness, don’t accept anything below perfection. Quality will pass the test of time. Quality is there, it is not inferior to other, it is not superior to other, as Massimo Vignelli puts it, and he puts it well, there is no hierarchies when it comes to quality.
6. One life is too short for doing everything
Start with what matters most to you, and start to build up from there. Don’t clog your mind, your time with useless things that won’t help you grow as a creative professional, and most important as a human being. Don’t craft your life around one single target, feel free to explore what you want, but make it matter.
Our life on this planet is too short for us, we want to experience everything, but that, unfortunately, is not possible. Don’t fret too long, don’t obsess about your failures. Take them as they are intended, in the chest, and carry on. Only through failure you will learn and will be capable of avoiding it in the future.
7. Semantics, means to understand the subject in all its aspects
“Semantics [in design] means to understand the subject in all of its aspects; to relate the subject to the sender and the receiver in such way that it makes sense to both. It means to design something that has a meaning, that is not arbitrary, that has a reason for being, something in which every detail carries the meaning or has a precise purpose aimed at a precise target.”
Learn how to properly empathize with your subjects, for a better understanding of them. Have a precise target in mind, have a purpose before starting on your quest for greatness. Design with your heart and mind alike, carve every detail with perfection.
8. You do design because you feel it inside
“Nothing could be more useful to reach our intention that the Grid. The grid represents the basic structure of our graphic design. You do design because you feel it inside.”
Express yourself through art, don’t let your ideas be taken away from you and forgotten with the passing of time. Believe in yourself, and believe what you feel inside of you. Amaze the world with you.
Rest in peace Massimo Vignelli – 1931-2014