Please help with information on Massimo Vignelli

newman's picture

Doing a seminar at university, would love to have some opinion's on Vignelli, please, if you can, comment on his typographic style, and character, much appreciated..NEWMAN..

hrant's picture

In this context, the main thing about Vignelli is that he doesn't understand the power of type - or that he's afraid of its power's ability to overshadow his Control.

hhp

rs_donsata's picture

I saw him once on a lecture at Guanajuato. He said that there were only 4 or 5 typographic masterpieces that he would use and everything else didn't deserve it. If I can recall well he talked about Times NR, Helvética, Bodoni and Garamond (ITC by the way).

What a narrow view.

Héctor

Addison Hall's picture

I've always had a lot of respect for Vignelli -- I don't necessarily agree with all of his views, but he's good at what he does. There's an issue of Print that has a great interview in which he states something about American designers always desiring something new as opposed to perfecting what you know is good design. He believes that he is continually refining his style through the use of grids and a select few typefaces. When asked about the similar look that permeates his work, he replied by saying his clients all "receive the fruits of his garden" or something like that. The Garamond he prefers is actually Monotype's, I believe, and he also likes Century (as seen in the architectural publication "Oppositions"). He and Kit Hinrichs have a lot in common in my opinion.

newman's picture

thanks heaps for your comments, i will be quoting you all in my seminar, if you would like, more opinoins on his views in type would be great, thanks again..

Norbert Florendo's picture

MASSIMO VIGNELLI
Quote transcribed from
Graphis Typography 1, 1994

"In the new computer age, the proliferation of typefaces and type manipulations represents a new level of visual pollution threatening our culture. Out of thousands of typefaces, all we need are a few basic ones, and trash the rest."
--Massimo Vignelli
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From Our Bodoni, World Typeface Corporation. 1989.
Type release specimen brochure

Over the past 25 years we have wanted compatible serif and sans-serif typefaces. When Bert Di Pamphilis of the World Typeface Corporation, New York, asked us to design a new typeface, we told him that we do not believe in "new" typefaces, but that there was room for improvement on existing, classic typeface designs. We consider the ratio between upper- and lower-case Helvetica letters to be the best there is. We wanted to redesign Bodoni using a similar ratio between the cases, with short ascenders and descenders; and articulate the type in four weights: light, regular, medium, bold. We worked on this project with Tom Carnase, undoubtably one of the very best type designers in the world. We were quite pleased with the results of our efforts, and we plan to apply the same concept to a few other classic typefaces, such as Futura, Century and Garamond.

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Yes, I'm old, and I used more typefaces than Massimo!

hrant's picture

And quite tellingly, virtually nobody uses the WTC cra... stuff.

hhp

Norbert Florendo's picture

I am really sad to say that the BIGGEST type specimen book that I ever threw away was the humongous PDR/WTC Type Catalog... I simply needed the room.

Bert was one of the principals of PDR (Pastore, Di Pamphilis and Rampone) a large type house. He worked hard trying to get WTC into mainstream type markets. I've met with Bert and Tom Carnase several times at the PDR/WTC office in NYC and had a good working relationship with Bert.

Yes, I'm old, but I'm back in style!

rs_donsata's picture

Jem

That subway map is nice but not so useful I guess since there is no a very good reference to where in the city do the train stations are located, it also made recall in some way an LSD trip I had once in my dreams.

I think that Vignelly has been very successfu in marketing his design style, but his style and view of design isn't as outstandingly good as he says.

Take for example his Max cups and mugs which spilled hot cofee by the round hole in the upper side of the handle. I recall him saying that he ungainingly changed them only after the manufacturer asked him to do so in a total "lack of understandig of good taste and design" (and of course in a total understanding of the needs of the end user).

Héctor

hrant's picture

These are all marks of an artist - not a craftsman, not a designer.
Just like Carson... except he's the toddler at the other end of the sandbox.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

To me the subway stuff of Vignelli is a poor imitation of London. I would like to see some examples of Vignelli's work that people consider really good. For some reason there was a lot of poor design--architecture, clothes, type, from 65-80 in the US. A lot of it was worshiping at the 'modernist' altar. Great music though! Some of the hippy design is still charming also.

Joe Pemberton's picture

“In the new computer age, the proliferation of typefaces and type manipulations represents a new level of visual pollution threatening our culture. Out of thousands of typefaces, all we need are a few basic ones, and trash the rest.”

We could all learn a thing or two from Mr. Vignelli. But we all know what Fred Smeijers would say to that bit of short sightedness... I hope at the end of my career that you can look back and see more than 6 typefaces (and Bodoni and Helvetica will be among them). What Vignelli hasn't seen is that among the proliferation, there are many more gems available.

hrant's picture

And most of all, there are many many gems yet to be made - and that is the crux of Vignelli's ignorance. Modernists like everything, including the future, mapped firmly and conveniently on a grid. It makes their lives easier. The thing is, Design is about the user, and users don't give a crap about Vignelli's life.

hhp

TBiddy's picture

Like with anyone, you have to take the bits and pieces and formulate your own opinion. While Vignelli certainly has his points, he is also inherently flawed as are all humans.

I looked at a lot of Vignelli's work recently, his plan for the New York Subway (considering what it once was) was actually brilliant. In some instances a firm grid structure is necessary. Where the flaw ultimately arose as I saw it, was the lack of flexibility on the plan. A plan too rigid will eventually have holes. Life is always in a state of flux, and city planning also needs to reflect that reality.

.00's picture

Please dont forget Vignelli's really crappy looking line of mens's clothing that he was sure would revolutionize the way men dressed for work. I think old Massimo is the only one who every wore the stuff.

James

PS- I hated his subway map as well

Norbert Florendo's picture

I am of the school of exploration, experimentation and "breaking the rules." Being brought up in Manhattan from birth through college, you might have an insight to my irreverant humor.

I easily related to Lubalin's style of work, as well as being completely comfortable having beers and laughs with Ed Benguiat. As a student of design, I stood in awe of Bradbury Thompson, Paul Rand and yes, for a short while, Massimo Vignelli.

There are designers that approach each project with a clean slate and open mind, and there are designers that impose solutions with a kind of righteousness. I feel Vignelli and Aicher can be considered the later.

The sessions I had spent with Otl Aicher were enlightening. I came to view Aicher as an old Samurai, highly trained and skilled, a veteran of many battles on the design front, and faithful to a rigid sense of order. I may not have agreed with all of his solutions, but I respected his approach and his need to explore within himself.

I have not met Mr. Vignelli, so I have no real basis for my impression, but I sense a sort of aristocratic arrogance in his posture. That being said, I rather spend my life in pubs with friends after hard battles than to live in a manor with fat royalty.

------------------------------
Yes, I'm old, but I'm game!

dezcom's picture

I met Massimo a number of years ago (1976?) when he was working on design projects for the U.S. Government. I found him to be open, bright, and helpful--certainly NOT aristocratic or snobby. It is easy to be a Monday Morning Quarterback and dump on work done in previous times. I guess some people feel that by dumping on someone, you can raise your own sense of worth. It is fine to disagree with his philosophy but you can't take away his right to have his own philosophy. Massimo chose to work with a small set of tools and he used those tools quite well in my un-reknowned opinion. I have seen plenty of designers out there over the years who have used every typeface known to man and poorly. There is no one way to work. How many types did most people use who were trained in the '50s? Yes, he was a modernist--I know that is a dirty word to some people around here and I don't want to start that battle again (if you do, just do a search and you will find it).
Back to answering the question:
The work of Massimo's of which I am familiar, was clean, well thought out, and highly structured (in a good way). Besides the expected use of Helvetica and Bodoni, flush left on a grid, he also did a very nice redesign of Federal documents in a traditional style using Century. If we ever get posting graphic files back, I will scan and post a sample.

ChrisL

Norbert Florendo's picture

> I have not met Mr. Vignelli, so I have no real basis for my impression

Well, there's still a chance he can change my impression, or I his.

Tiffalicious's picture

When I met Mr. Vignelli I was completely impressed with him. I'll completely admit to loving the work he has done. While it was his work that had a massive impact on my young mind, it is his set of dishes which I continue to covet to this day.

hrant's picture

> you can’t take away his right to have his own philosophy.

The problem is that his philosophy, in fact
his entire being, seems to be anti-Design.

hhp

dezcom's picture

"The problem is that his philosophy, in fact
his entire being, seems to be anti-Design."

Perhaps anti Hrant's philosophy on design?
Massimo's design philosophy differs greatly from mine but I don't feel my take on design is "the one and only true path," I feel Design is defined by the totality of all differing methods and philosophies. To limit it to one way of thinking would reduce greatly the possibility of innovation. We all benefit from the diverse thinking possible with an open and unbiased mind. There is plenty of room on this Earth for Massimo, Hrant, James, Norbert, Joe, Tom, Dick, and Harry, Paula, April, Zusana, Tiffany, Jose, Alessandro, Otl, Costa, Hiroshi, Zoltan, Hassan, Mustafa, Reggie, Dmitri, Yolanda, Mitko, Olga, . . .

ChrisL

Norbert Florendo's picture

> I have no real basis for my impression, but I sense a sort of aristocratic arrogance in his posture.

After listening to other members who have had the privilege of meeting Mr. Vignelli, I feel my statement was a knee-jerk reaction to his suggetion to trash the great majority of typefaces developed since Helvetica. This is not arrogance, just blindness.

.00's picture

Massimo can design whatever he wants, I just hate his men's clothes (and subway map). His Unigrid solution for the National Park Service back in the 70s was wonderful.

William Berkson's picture

>modernist—I know that is a dirty word to some people

I am not doctrinaire about this. I don't believe in modernism as a philosophy, but I do think there has been excellent type design (eg. Futura) and typography (eg. early Tschichold) influenced by modernism. Generally, I think the modernist influence in type has been much more benign than in architecture.

The Vignelli teapot and plates are quite nice--did he or his wife design them? I'd like to see examples some of Vignelli's typography that people admire, such as the 'Unigrid solution' James speaks of.

dezcom's picture

The Unigrid system was designed by Vignelli in the '70s as a system that could be used by other designers to implement his initial design for material handed out at National Parks. Admittedly the better designs were done early on by Massimo himself as pilots. The system in actual use by the Park Service done by internal designers and contractors is a vast improvement over previous Park Service all-over-the-place designs but individual usages vary with the ability of the designer. You can see examples at any National Park. I will look through my old stuff and see if I an find one Massimo actually did.

ChrisL

William Berkson's picture

'jem' thank for the link to the Unigrid system. Yes, I think the proportions, the system structure, and the black band with white type and photo below are superb. Now I see why he is admired.

However, I've got to think using Frutiger and NPS Rawinson is better than the Helvetica that I assume Vignelli used!

.00's picture

The original type spec for the Unigrid was Helvetica and Century. In the examples I reviewed the Century never seemed to worked right. Too much contrast and it looked too fragile for text, which is why, I believe that the typographic identy of the NPS deteriorated over the years (too many font substitutions in text applications). Thee was also a problem with exactly which Century was to be used. Different contractors around the country used different cuts of the design. The NPS had some customized Century fonts that I believe were based on ITC Century and had their spacing adjusted for 24pt and 36 pt use. (which sould have been text size for the wayside exhibits). I agree with William that the new fonts work better, but I am a bit biased.

dezcom's picture

"...I’ve got to think using Frutiger and NPS Rawinson is better than the Helvetica that I assume Vignelli used!"

The Unigrid predated Frutiger by about 10 years. There are any number of typefaces I prefer to use over Helvetica. The point of the system was consistent look and feel. The only prayer of getting consistency in Government design is by speccing a type that is universally available. Government contracting procedures make design very difficult. There are numerous clauses like "or similar" to open contracts to as many vendors as possible. Sadly, low-bidder rules.

ChrisL

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