Designing Anything, “From a Spoon to the City”
In 1965, Vignelli became co-founder and design director of Unimark International Corporation. With Lella Vignelli, he established the offices of Vignelli Associates in 1971, and Vignelli Designs in 1978. His work includes graphic and corporate identity programs, publication designs, architectural graphics, and exhibition, interior, furniture, and consumer product designs for many leading American and European companies and institutions.
Vignelli has had his work published and exhibited throughout the world and entered in the permanent collections of several museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Brooklyn Museum. He is a past president of the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGl) and the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AlGA), a vice president of the Architectural League, and a member of the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA). His many awards and honors include the AIGA Gold Medal, the Presidential Design Award, and the National Arts Club Gold Medal for Design.
Question: How did you choose design as a career?
Massimo Vignelli: Yes. I started to begin to be interested in architecture and design when I was 14 years old, which was pretty early in life. And then I would start to look at architectural magazines and I eventually went to the school of architecture too, but one of the things I learned very early is that an architect should be able to design anything from a spoon to the city. That was a favorite phrase by Argo Flores, a Viennese architect around the turn of the century, the other century. And I was fascinated by that idea and then I’ve seen that that is true and the great architects like Flores and Hoffmann from Vienna, again were doing this kind of things. And since I was born and raised in Milan, architects in Milan, they were also doing all kinds of things. They were designing buildings and furniture and interiors and exhibitions and so on.
Then I shared an apartment with Max Huber, a famous graphic designer from Switzerland, and so I learned graphic design and I got fully in love with graphic design. And so I was doing the whole thing from graphics to architecture.
So I built a house at one point for a client and then I did exhibitions and then I started to do products and you know, that's the way I started. And I like to try all the time to try different materials, different experiences, I was eager to try all kinds of things and I suppose that attitude has a left me after a long, long life of design anyhow. So that's how I got interested in architecture and design. And naturally since I was very curious about the protagonist of the Modern movement in Europe at the time by the time I got to the University of Architecture I was about 20 years old, I had already met cursory all the major architects in Europe from Le Corbusier, to you name it, all the others, country by country, which was very exciting. You know, I was a kind of a groupie I would say.
And of course, I was reading all of the books of them and about what they had to say, and that gave me the critical strength or the critical background to approach architecture and design.
In his apprentice days as a designer, Massimo Vignelli learned that versatility was the key to success.
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