Massimo Vignelli Seriously Ill

JamesM's picture

Legendary designer Massimo Vignelli is seriously ill and is "spending his last days at home". His son says that Massimo would be happy to get good wishes from people he has known or influenced, and has given this address:

Massimo Vignelli
130 East 67 Street
New York, NY 10021
USA

(I know there are some folks at Typophile who don't care for his work, but this is for those who do.)

nicolacaleffi's picture

An addition:

http://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2014/may/dear-massimo

Wheter you agree or not with Vignelli's vision, his role in XX century graphic design is indisputable.

Nick Shinn's picture

This issue of Eye, with the Vignelli “Reputations” feature, was set in Neue Haas—very appropriate. Worth getting of you’re interested in his work.

http://www.eyemagazine.com/feature/article/reputations-massimo-vignelli

JamesM's picture

The New York Times
"Massimo Vignelli, a Visionary Designer Who Untangled the Subway, Dies at 83"
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/28/business/massimo-vignelli-a-modernist-...

Martin Silvertant's picture

This issue of Eye, with the Vignelli “Reputations” feature, was set in Neue Haas—very appropriate.

How is it appropriate though?

hrant's picture

I guess because it's a revival of Helvetica's predecessor. But certainly Helvetica itself would have been even more appropriate. Which is not a compliment. :-)

hhp

Martin Silvertant's picture

That's what I was implying. I consider Neue Haas to be very different. Vignelli has been so adamant about using Helvetica; I don't think he would mind Neue Haas, but it does go against the very principle he has been professing his whole career. Didn't he say things along the lines of "You only need 10 typefaces"? Neue Haas wasn't one of them. I actually feel setting an article about Vignelli in Neue Haas is almost akin to openly mocking him. I actually don't mind that, but "very appropriate" is certainly not the first thing that comes to my mind.

riccard0's picture

One of the ideas behind Neue Haas Grotesk is it to be more faithful to the pre-digital Helvetica than all the other digital interpretations. So, no mocking there.

Martin Silvertant's picture

But Vignelli isn't using the pre-digital Helvetica, is he?

riccard0's picture

Of course he was using pre-digital Helvetica: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massimo_Vignelli#Life

hrant's picture

Ten? I wish. It was six. And IIRC at least two of them were fonts he [co-]designed (and they're not very good – shocker).

setting an article about Vignelli in Neue Haas is almost akin to openly mocking him.

That would be awesome. Especially if he were still alive.

And although he was using Helvetica before digital, the digital Helvetica is still way closer to that than any Neue Haas Grotesk revival.

hhp

Martin Silvertant's picture

Of course he was using pre-digital Helvetica:

You misunderstood to some extent. My point was that from the works I've seen from him in recent years, I always see the digital Helvetica. You say Neue Haas Grotesk is more faithful to the pre-digital Helvetica but what I've seen is what is now the digitized Helvetica. I haven't actually seen Helvetica the way it's presented as Neue Haas Grotesk now. I would argue Neue Haas Grotesk is not necessarily more faithful to the original Helvetica, but what Helvetica was supposed to look like all along. The Helvetica Vignelli loves (digitized or not) is very different.

Also, if the pre-Helvetica, digitized Helvetica and Neue Haas Grotesk are all the same to him, I can't take his philosophy seriously anymore (okay, I already didn't, but this adds to it). How are 10 typefaces in the world enough when 3 of them are Helvetica? Actually, he argues there are half a dozen to a dozen typefaces which should be used and he uses 3 or 4. Obviously I understand he meant different ones and not different renditions of Helvetica, but the very existence of Neue Haas Grotesk seems to go against his design philosophy. Also, do we actually know what he thinks about Neue Haas Grotesk? I feel it's quite arrogant to impose this typeface on him just because it's supposedly a more faithful rendition of Helvetica. I don't think he has ever used Neue Haas Grotesk, but he has used Helvetica prominently.

hrant's picture

What-goes-around-comes-around poetic justice?

hhp

Martin Silvertant's picture

I actually find this rather amusing. The man might shift in his grave if he knew what's left of his legacy when it comes to his design philosophy. But then, many didn't take some of the things he said seriously even when he was still alive.

JamesM's picture

Different designers have different styles.

It's not surprising that an article designed by someone else didn't exactly follow his style preferences.

And to the helvetica haters, keep in mind that he died at age 83 and much of his famous work was done decades ago when helvetica was popular and loved by many designers.

Martin Silvertant's picture

It's not about Helvetica though. It's about the notion that 10 typefaces is enough for all your projects. At my art academy about half the people use DIN by default for their projects and presentations. I wouldn't call that design. What do you need to study graphic design for if you can apply the same formula to all your projects? A designer needs to consider what typeface works best for each project individually. Expressions like "When in doubt, use Helvetica" goes against the very principle of what a graphic designer should do. Such expressions are for non-designers.

And to the helvetica haters, keep in mind that he died at age 83 and much of his famous work was done decades ago when helvetica was popular and loved by many designers.

Perhaps times have changed, but these days Gotham is loved by many designers; if you're going to use Gotham by default because everyone likes it, I just can't take you seriously as a designer.

JamesM's picture

> It's not about Helvetica though.
> It's about the notion that 10 typefaces
> is enough for all your projects.

Helvetica is trashed rather often at Typophile.

I agree that 10 isn't enough for all situations, but most designers have favorite fonts they use regularly. And Vignelli was primarily focused on conservative corporate clients.

Generally speaking you don't make money in design by having a huge range of clients and using different fonts for each, you make money by having regular clients who send you one job after another, and you generally stick with certain fonts for each client. He had many clients but that was over a lifetime.

Plus his general style was clear. You need to get a good fit between client and designer. Folks who didn't like his style hired someone else.

hrant's picture

James, like Martin I don't see much relevance to the popularity of a font at a given time; in fact a font that's too popular has a diluted voice. And I don't think Vignelli cared about popular opinion, because he still loved Helvetica after it fell out of favor. The problem is, loving –or overly relying on– a perceived "safe" font choice is not good design.

Folks who didn't like his style hired someone else.

To me Design is essentially about servitude (and certainly not simply about making money) so the ideal designer adapts to any type of client, instead of settling for a predictable routine.

Vignelli was an artist more than a designer.

hhp

Martin Silvertant's picture

Generally speaking you don't make money in design by having a huge range of clients and using different fonts for each, you make money by having regular clients who send you one job after another

I would never deny this is an important consideration for a graphic designer, however I was talking about optimal design; not about making money.

so the ideal designer adapts to any type of client, instead of settling for a predictable routine.

Vignelli was an artist more than a designer.

It's remarkable that some designers enjoy so much success that they can get away with doing the same thing consistently. Many of these people do it very well, but they would only attract a certain type of client. If your work is sought after enough you can certainly do that. A graphic designer should cater to the needs of the public though; not enforce his own preferences to design. In that regard I completely agree with Hrant, Vignelli was an artist more than a designer.

JamesM's picture

I agree that designers should be sensitive to client needs and wishes, and there's always some give-and-take.

But a designer is a professional who brings their expertise and personal style to their jobs. Clients should pick a designer whose style they like.

If you needed an architect or interior designer, you'd pick one whose style you liked. Same thing with graphic design.

Regarding money, most clients are businesses and we expect to get paid well, just as they pay their accountants, lawyers, etc.

That doesn't mean we don't love design, or do occasional free jobs for charities, but it's a business. It's the way we pay our bills and support our families.

Getting back to Vignelli, he had a style that some folks liked and some didn't. That's true with most designers. But regardless of whether you liked him or not, he was a highly influential designer.

Martin Silvertant's picture

If you needed an architect or interior designer, you'd pick one whose style you liked. Same thing with graphic design.

Style, yes. I also admit different clients have different requirements, but if I were a client I would expect the designer to do something that caters to the exact needs of my product. If you're going to use Helvetica by default, you haven't done any research into the needs of my products. What happens here is that essentially the client did his research on what he likes and Vignelli gives exactly that. Where does the research of the designer come into play? Perhaps I shouldn't imply he doesn't do research, but what good is the research if you're not going to base certain design decisions on that research?

Also, you say a client should pick a designer they like and of course I agree with that, but I submit that many clients don't actually understand what they need. There is a big difference between what they want and what they need. With Vignelli, they "need" his style and they get it. I don't think it should be a matter of needing a style and getting that style exactly. As a client, supposedly I haven't studied design; there's a reason I'm hiring a designer to do the job. If the designer doesn't stop to think about what your product actually needs and just puts his brand on it, I submit it could be a good business because you're using a big name, but it's not optimal design. It's almost more of a marketing play. Not to undermine what Vignelli did, because it's not like I think his work isn't good. He just starts with very wrong premises. As Hrant said, he's an artist more than a designer in that aspect.

If you're not going to do any research into the needs of the clients and just cater to what the client thinks he needs, there's a high potential of you failing as a graphic designer.

If you needed an architect or interior designer

I think this is somewhat different anyway, as graphic design inherently should communicate a message to many people. When it comes to architecture and interior design, personal taste seems more important. There are typefaces I find ugly but which I would find absolutely perfect for certain projects. Initially I greatly disliked Gill Sans, yet I used it anyway because it fit the project perfectly, and within the context of the project Gill Sans didn't look ugly. I eventually grew to love Gill Sans (though I'm very hesitant about using it at all), but that's a different matter. I find it very hard to imagine these kind of principles are also at play when it comes to architecture and interior design as they don't have to communicate a message as such. Besides, if I hire an architecture and he will give me a proposal which is a recycling of one of his other designs, I'm going to tell him he's nuts for thinking he can get away with that. I'm paying for a custom job, not a clone of a different building. I would hire him for his style and vision, not to repeat himself to the extent Vignelli did. I wouldn't hire an architect who's only vision is to design archs. But perhaps that's where the problem starts, the notion that some clients would gladly hire this kind of architect.

Regarding money, most clients are businesses and we expect to get paid well, just as they pay their accountants, lawyers, etc.

I never denied its importance, but this shouldn't come into play when considering optimal design. I'm talking about ideals here and not to make your business work. Let's assume there is an infinite budget so we can talk about optimal design and not have this conversation clouded with business talk.

But regardless of whether you liked him or not, he was a highly influential designer.

I feel you keep talking past me somewhat. I never said I didn't like his work, nor did I deny he was an influential designer. What I do say is that he's an artist doing a graphic design job and doesn't adhere to what graphic design entails. It should cater to the needs of the product, not to put your brand on it so it sells automatically.

hrant's picture

There is a big difference between what they want and what they need.

Indeed.

For myself the main contention is that you can't properly honor a client's needs by severely limiting type choice.

hhp

JamesM's picture

> many clients don't actually understand
> what they need

I agree.

> I never said I didn't like his work..

Your comments didn't give that impression to me; sorry if I misunderstood.

I don't think this discussion is "clouded" by business talk. Graphic design is a business. There are budgets (usually too small), timelines (usually too short), bills to pay and clients to please.

Vignelli was highly successful over a long career, which indicates to me that most of his clients were pleased with his work. A large percentage of work comes from referrals. But that certainly doesn't mean he was right for everyone.

Martin Silvertant's picture

I don't think this discussion is "clouded" by business talk. Graphic design is a business.

Yes, but when talking about ideals in design and aesthetics the consideration of making money only gets in the way. It's part of a different discussion.

Vignelli was highly successful over a long career, which indicates to me that most of his clients were pleased with his work

Again, there's a big difference between client satisfaction and getting the most potential out of your product because of the design. I feel as designers we tend to listen way too much to what the client wants and thinks he needs. I hate the phrase "client is king". I will listen to what the client wants and I will take his ideas into consideration. I will make compromises here and there, but I certainly won't execute the client's very vision just because he's paying for the design, nor would I enforce my own vision due to personal preferences. Actually, I tend to do that more when I do illustrations but I'm an artist in that context and not a graphic designer. My illustration work is more personal and I don't do it for anyone just because they're paying. I'm much more selective in the clients I choose to work for when it comes to illustrations because my name is on it. When it comes to graphic design, I should remain invisible in the work itself.

JamesM's picture

Martin we disagree about some things, but I'd agree with you that illustration work is generally more personal, and artists are generally less inclined to alter their work to suit a client. That's one the of several major differences between art and graphic design.

JamesM's picture

(double post deleted)

hrant's picture

Using my definition of successful, he was not.

hhp

JamesM's picture

I wouldn't argue with that, hrant, we all have our definitions of success.

There are famous designers I don't care for either, and I know some folks disagreed with Vignelli's views, but he was very influential to me and many other designers.

FYI I'll be offline for a while due to travel.

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