Designing Anything, “From a Spoon to the City”

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.

Live on Monday: Does the US need one billion people?

What would happen if you tripled the US population? Matthew Yglesias and moderator Charles Duhigg explore the idea on Big Think Live.

Big Think LIVE

Is immigration key to bolstering the American economy? Could having one billion Americans secure the US's position as the global superpower?

Keep reading Show less

Universe works like a cosmological neural network, argues new paper

Controversial physics theory says reality around us behaves like a computer neural network.

Credit: sakkmesterke
Surprising Science
  • Physicist proposes that the universe behaves like an artificial neural network.
  • The scientist's new paper seeks to reconcile classical physics and quantum mechanics.
  • The theory claims that natural selection produces both atoms and "observers".
Keep reading Show less

We studied what happens when guys add their cats to their dating app profiles

43% of people think they can get a sense of someone's personality by their picture.

Photo by Luigi Pozzoli on Unsplash
Sex & Relationships

If you've used a dating app, you'll know the importance of choosing good profile pics.

Keep reading Show less

Mystery anomaly weakens Earth's magnetic field, report scientists

A strange weakness in the Earth's protective magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.

ESA
Surprising Science
  • "The South Atlantic Anomaly" in the Earth's magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.
  • The information was gathered by the ESA's Swarm Constellation mission satellites.
  • The changes may indicate the coming reversal of the North and South Poles.
Keep reading Show less

Quarantine rule breakers in 17th-century Italy partied all night – and some clergy condemned the feasting

17th-century outbreaks of plague in Italy reveal both tensions between religious and public health authorities.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Coronavirus

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts between religious freedom and public health regulations have been playing out in courts around the world.

Keep reading Show less
Quantcast