Why Italians Love Ambiguity

Question: What is the distinction you make between dimension and scale?

Massimo Vignelli: Dimension is a measurable thing, entity, you know that long, six inches, 10 inches, 10 feet, whatever it might be.  Scale is a mental – you can say that a lounger has scale, a building has scale, or an object has scale, or a page, or whatever if it’s just right.  A scale is a relationship to the object and the space surrounding it.  And that dialogue could be music, or it could be just noise.  And that is why it is so important, the sense of scale.  And the scale relates to everything.  The thickness of a pipe, the thickness of a leg of the furniture.  Even color could have a scale.  Let’s say that if you paint a building shocking pink, that has no scale, it is just a huge mistake, but it’s not in the scale of the city to have things like that.  You know. So, not only because it’s not appropriate, not only because it’s offensive to the environment, I mean but among them also because that quantity of that color in the urban scale, is out of scale.

But however, out of scale is also very fascinating thing.  One of the greatest inventions of pop art was really to bring an object which was usually like this to make it huge.  Oldenburg was really the great artist that did the best with that notion, you know.  I mean we need also, **** we made a line of cosmetics in the shape of nuts and bolts and screws and things like that by just taking a real thing and making it big.  The change in scale is a surprise sometimes that could be used in a good way, but again, you have to measure it and it should be appropriate.  Appropriateness is not a very important issue, you know, the notion of appropriateness.  That means to design things which are right for that destination, and not for another one.  And so when we start, we always look for what is specific for that particular problem so that we can design in a most appropriate way as much as we can understand it, of course.  But appropriateness is important, discipline is important, and ambiguity is important. 

Ambiguity is not – ambiguity for us Italians is a positive thing.  For the Anglo-Saxon it is a negative thing.  You know.  It’s a different culture.  You know, you come up with a Vatican in your pocket, ambiguity becomes very natural.  But for us, ambiguity is plurality of meanings and that is why it is exciting.  In the Anglo-Saxon dictionary, so to speak, ambiguity instead has a negative connotation in the sense that ambiguity’s mellifluous, something that is neither here or there.  And for us instead... it is a way of living.  But it’s important in design too because then it gives another level of richness so that, yes, it is that thing and if you read it in a slightly different way, maybe it is something else too.  And that might be – but it’s very, very dangerous as well.  So, one has to train – it’s not for everybody.

When you live in the shadow of the Vatican, "ambiguity becomes very natural" in life and art.

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

What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.

Ultracold gas exhibits bizarre quantum behavior

New experiments find weird quantum activity in supercold gas.

Credit: Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • Experiments on an ultracold gas show strange quantum behavior.
  • The observations point to applications in quantum computing.
  • The find may also advance chaos theory and explain the butterfly effect.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Learn innovation with 3-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn

    Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.

    Big Think LIVE

    Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.

    Keep reading Show less

    3 cognitive biases perpetuating racism at work — and how to overcome them

    Researchers say that moral self-licensing occurs "because good deeds make people feel secure in their moral self-regard."

    Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash
    Personal Growth

    Books about race and anti-racism have dominated bestseller lists in the past few months, bringing to prominence authors including Ibram Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo, Reni Eddo-Lodge, and Robin DiAngelo.

    Keep reading Show less

    Should you grow a beard? Here's how women perceive bearded men

    Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"

    Photo Credit: Frank Marino / Unsplash
    Sex & Relationships
    • A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
    • Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
    • Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
    Keep reading Show less

    Only 35 percent of Americans know the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease

    Yet 80 percent of respondents want to reduce their risk of dementia.

    Photo: Lightspring / Shutterstock
    Mind & Brain
    • A new MDVIP/Ipsos survey found that only 35 percent of Americans know the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
    • Eighty percent of respondents said they want to reduce their risks.
    • An estimated 7.1 million Americans over the age of 65 will suffer from Alzheimer's by 2025.
    Keep reading Show less