Famous Graphic Designer Profile: Mossimo Vignelli and His Philosophy of Design

Massimo Vignelli, Vignelli, famous designer, famous graphic designer, famous design, teaching materials

To contrast with the famous graphic designer in my last post, Massimo Vignelli’s style of designing was incredibly simple. So simple, that you may look at his work, and think, “I could do that!” Perhaps you would be right, but Vignelli worked the way he did with almost religious precision.

Massimo Vignelli, Vignelli, famous designer, famous graphic designer, famous design, teaching materials

He was a man who truly believed that less is more. He was part of the modernist movement that was characteristic of graphic design in the 20th century. “Design discipline is above and beyond any style,” said Vignelli. “All style requires discipline in order to be expressed. Very often people think that Design is a particular style. Nothing could be more wrong! Design is a discipline, a creative process with its own rules, controlling the consistency of its output toward its objective in the most direct and expressive way.”

Born in 1931 in Milan, Italy, Vignelli was actually a man of great personal warmth and humor. This contrasts starkly with the design work that he accomplished in his lifetime. His most successful designs include the New York Subway, IBM, American Airlines (the old logo) and the US National Parks Service. All of these designs are simple in the extreme.

Massimo Vignelli, Vignelli, famous designer, famous graphic designer, famous design, teaching materials

Vignelli believed that graphic design was not an outlet for personal style or beauty, but that all graphic design should be “the forensic application of the guiding principles of design to every project, large or small.” There is a place for personal style and beauty in such outlets as painting or sculpture, but not in design.

Simplicity was the name of the game for Vignelli. His work made use of simple grids, use of white space, simple photography, and simple typography. Vignelli often used just ONE typeface for each design. Taking it one step further, he usually didn’t use the italics or bold options for that typeface. And he was famous for only using a handful of typefaces throughout his career.

Massimo Vignelli, Vignelli, famous designer, famous graphic designer, famous design, teaching materials

Vignelli branched his style and craftsmanship to other areas of design other than that of logo design. Besides taking great pains to teach his strict principles to budding designers, he also created consumer products, furniture, clothing, architecture and even the interior of a church before his death in 2014. 

So, are you thinking, “Is this guy boring or what!?” I will say that his work does not have anything mysterious about it. But the thing about stripping all the bells and whistles away from a design is that it really helps with the communication of the design. His designs are always easy to read and leave the viewer with nothing to “figure out.”

I strongly believe that design should never be boring,” said Vignelli, “but I don't think it should be a form of entertainment. Good design is never boring, only bad design is.”

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