MFA ComDes NYC Day 3: Massimo Vignelli

An afternoon with Massimo and Lella Vignelli


With Claudia Roeschmann, former Vignelli employee, as their professor and NYC leader, the students knew well enough to wear mostly all black. But who knew that each individual student would get a personal lesson in design? Indeed, the students arrived, situated themselves around the black square table (designed by Vignelli) in black leather chairs (designed by Vignelli), and were asked to, one-by-one, tell Massimo a little about themselves. A simple introduction to the group lead into discussions about publication design, traveling, how to run a printing business, and, of course, typography.

Notable takeaways:

  • Be appropriate for the client. A design is vulgar if it is not in the interest of the client.
  • Any design can be good design, as long as it is not stupid.
  • Do not follow trends.
  • Travel is immensely important. Go as many places as you can. Massimo regrets not going to Germany when he was younger.
  • Three most important thing for designers: History. Theory. Criticism. Learn all three of these and you become unstoppable.
  • With that knowledge, a good designer should be able to transfer it to design outside of visual design. A good designer would be able to design his own shoes or clothing or chairs.
  • Typography is about structure, first. Do some sketches on a paper, without using any letters. From those sketches alone, you figure out the structure, the composition, the spacing, the pacing, and, most importantly, the white space. Typography is what is between, and around, the lines of type. Typography is subjective until the type is physically placed upon the page; then it is subjective (the designer chooses the most appropriate font).
  • He may only use 6 fonts, but Massimo can appreciate a good font when he sees one.
  • Massimo respects much of the design currently in the world (especially the likes of Irma Boom). He respects intelligent design, fresh design, but design that has a sense of timelessness.
  • Timelessness is the key to good design.
  • Massimo hopes book publishing ceases to exist in at least two years. By having books in e-book form only, they are much easier to access to more people. E-books will help spread more culture to more people.
  • E-books will also cost less and be less wasteful.
  • Google is the best invention of the last century. Why? Those “blue words,” the links. No book in the world contains those blue links (blue links = culture, knowledge).
  • Good websites are the next frontier for designers.
  • Dieter Rams is the best design of the last century. Charles Eames is a close second, but Dieter is first (Dieter was the head designer of mid-century Braun products).
  • He believes it is important to “spread the gospel” of good design.

Spreading the gospel, indeed. It was a remarkable three-hour discussion with one of design’s storied, landmark individuals. Massimo is a remarkably humble man willing to discuss the future of design with some of its future practitioners.


5 Comments for “MFA ComDes NYC Day 3: Massimo Vignelli”

Gram Garner


I could write this with each designer we met (Massimo being absolutely no exception), but it really “brought them out of the textbook.” By trade, we are communicators, and this type of experience is invaluable in allowing you to actually communicate with those figure heads of design you have only previously read about. Every single one of them was articulate, insightful, inspiring, and…real.


MFA NY 2011 was not a class trip; it was the best design experience ever, an experience that fulfilled dreams and created new opportunities. An experience that provoked design passions to grew exponentially.

Neither rain, nor soared feet, nor a damaged portfolio by the welcoming rain to NYC were able to take out the smile off my face. Every single moment was full of joy and excitement.

From this amazing experience it could be conclude that no matter how successful a designer might become; a designer must always keep learning, accept criticism, respect others, love history, travel as much as possible, but more importantly: The humbler, the better.

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