November 13, 2015

Visionary Designer Massimo Vignelli

Visionary designer Massimo Vignelli, known for creating the iconic-yet-controversial version of the New York City subway map in the 1970s, passed away in his New York City home on a Tuesday morning at the age of 83.


Born in Milan, Italy in 1931. Massimo displayed an obsession for design from an early age after he realized that almost everything around him had been dreamt up and designed by somebody. This idea captivated Vignelli and he started reading and studying everything he could get his hands about design and all things creative. Out of this obsession he started to sketch out ideas for the furniture he wanted to have in his room, which later led to Massimo studying architecture at Politecnico di Milanountil and then at University di Architecture, Venice.

“There is no design without discipline. There is no discipline without intelligence.”

I believe the above quote epitomizes Vignelli’s philosophy on design. We don’t need to turn every design into a vulgar splattering of color, typefaces, and images. The work doesn’t have to be designed for people without an imagination. Vignelli understood better than most that less can greatly improve the quality of the design, he had a hatred for the vulgarity and saturation of bad designs littered across the world – As do I and many others. Very few designers are able to work within the boundaries of minimalism and get it right as it’s notoriously difficult to say more with less design. Therein lies the art that only the truly great designers can harness – to strip back the elements and expose the raw underlying message, to fight against the ugliness and come out victorious.

“If you can design one thing, you can design everything”

One of the most notable identities Massimo helped create using his career was the branding of American Airlines. Afterwards Massimo started working on what would later become one of his most defining designs – The New York City subway map. It was through this project that the Vignelli name became known, even if it was for the wrong reason to begin with. Complaints flooded in after the subway map was launched in 1972. People failed to understand why the map looked so different, with stations appearing misplaced and a lack of geographical consistency. Massimo had taken the insanity of the New York City map out of the equation and instead opted for clean, straight, color coded rail lines that only shifted on angles of 45o and 90o. Designers all over the world instead praised Vignelli for his beautiful and modernist rendition of New York City’s subway system and just like that – it was considered timeless art.


To read more about Massimo Vignelli and the big ideas that he had. Download the full article on Vignelli and learn more about his Big Ideas.