About the Vignelli Center for Design Studies

In 2010, renowned designers Massimo and Lella Vignelli donated their career archive to RIT, where the collection is the major resource at the Vignelli Center for Design Studies. This world-class facility is a design museum accessible to students, faculty, professional designers, and scholars from all over the world. The Center now sustains the Vignelli goal of "better design for a better world" and serves as a prominent legacy to the Vignellis, generally acknowledged as masters of Modernist design. 

The Center's Goals

An international hub for education, preservation, collaboration, advocacy, globalism, and public good, the Center is a premier educational resource on the RIT campus. Its unique resources serve as a destination or professional designers and scholars from around the globe. In the Vignelli Center, distinctive archival resources work in tandem with relevant programming to provide a dynamic learning environment for design students and others on the campus.

Complementing the Vignelli collection, RIT also holds dozens of archives of other Modernist design pioneers. The accessible, original-source materials provide an enriching experience for students, faculty, and researchers alike. Such didactic research and educational tools establish RIT as a truly unique setting for the study of design.

Through its monthly speaker series, the Vignelli Center fosters important dialogue about design in society and commerce. Each year, the center brings well-known designers to campus for insightful presentations that are open to all.

The Vignelli Center is also committed to collaboration and design for public good. Through working with students and partnering organizations, the center has executed various socially-conscious initiatives — notably a recent example was a visual communication program for the Rochester Regional Coalition Against Human Trafficking. Through posters and other print media, community awareness about human trafficking was increased.

At the dedication of the center in 2010, Rich Grefe, Director of AIGA, contributed his vision of the new center: “The Vignelli Center for Design Studies is instrumental in defining the role of design in society and commerce. It recognizes and celebrates the work of Massimo and Lella Vignelli, who were the most influential designers of the past 50 years. They demonstrated that design can make the complex clear, enliven popular culture, boost civic experience, and delight the human spirit.” As it approaches its 10th anniversary, the Center is clearly fulfilling the promise established at its inception for advancing design excellence.

a woman browsing a book in the Vignelli collection

Design Studies

The Design Studies focus in the Visual Communication Design MFA program is object-and research-based series of courses.

Its pedagogical heart resides in the unique, archival collections in the Vignelli and Cary Graphic Design Archive. Working directly with these primary source materials, students conduct critical research, analysis, and interpretation. The focus emphasizes scholarly research and encourages the publication of students' graduate theses, done as part of their graduate requirement. Students contribute to a new discourse on design evolving from this broad-based curriculum, enabling preparation for a wide variety of professional careers. 

The core of this two-year sequence is comprised of a sequence of courses in the three distinct areas that define this programs comprehensiveness and uniqueness: 

Design Studies

Design Studies includes the history, theory, and criticism of design.

Design Methodology

Design Methodology focuses on theory and strategies related to design process.

Archival Studies

Archival Studies considers the theory, methodology, and practice of collections and archival management.

Vignelli Center Partnerships

One of the prominent goals of the Vignelli Center for Design Studies is collaboration. Interdisciplinary opportunities abound at RIT and the Vignelli Center is an active participant.

Current examples of these partnerships are with the Cary Graphic Arts Collection, the Industrial Design BFA program's Metaproject course, the Industrial Design MFA program's Activating the Archives course, the RIT Press, RIT's School of Individualized Study, and organizations external to RIT such as Foodlink. Offering the important element of design excellence to the programming mix enhances this collaboration.

many people gathered at an event called "metaproject 02"

The History of the Center

seven people with golden shovels at a breaking ground event

Massimo Vignelli described the Vignelli Center as a dream that was in gestation for nearly 30 years.

Finally the world-renowned Modernist designer witnessed the birth of that dream Sept. 16, 2010, as US officially unveiled the Vignelli Center for Design Studies. The Vignellis spurred the creation of the Center by donating their archives to the university to allow future generations of designers to study and learn from their work. Family, friends, and colleagues of the Vignellis flew in from Italy, Germany, New York City, and Los Angeles to attend the dedication ceremony. The 19,000-square-foot facility is shared space with the University Gallery. 

“I think this center is vital to preserving the legacy of two of the world’s most influential design icons, Massimo and Lella Vignelli,” said Rob Englert ’09 (industrial design), founder of Ram Industrial design Inc. in Syracuse, N.Y. “Their work is the epitome of interdisciplinary design collaboration and is a perfect example of how this process can create results that transcend time. This is a pivotal moment in the history and future of RIT.”

The Center’s building, designed by Massimo Vignelli, is comprised of two geometrical cubes, one made of glass and one made of brick, symbolizing the Modernist, simplistic design philosophy of the Vignellis. The construction project cost nearly $4 million. The glass cube features two exhibit galleries, sponsored by the Benetton Company displaying graphic design, product design, and furniture. Offices and the Helen Hamlyn Trust Study Room occupy the glass side. In contrast, the brick cube houses the Vignellis’ extensive archive.

“It’s just what RIT’s School of Design needs for exhibit space and reflects the beliefs of graphic designers,” said Paulina Garcés Reid ’02 (graphic design), a freelance graphic designer from Penn Yan, N.Y. “With a name like the Vignellis standing behind this center, I think it will catapults the design school and the university into prominence.” The archives supplement RIT’s curriculum in programs such as 3D digital design, graphic design, industrial design, interior design, new media design, and visual communication design.

“RIT is one of the few schools in the world that has a place where design students learn about the history of design from contact with real artifacts,” said R. Roger Remington, the Vignelli Distinguished Professor of Design and Vignelli Center director. “They are not looking at slides or photographs, but working with the real book, the real model, the real production piece.”

For students, access to the Vignelli archive is a privilege. Cassandra Angerosa, a graphic design student from Utica, N.Y., spoke at the dedication ceremony on behalf of the student body. “We represent just the beginning of the generations of students who will grow and succeed because of the Vignellis’ mission to pass on their timeless knowledge through the center.” Reflecting on the Vignelli Center dedication ceremony, Massimo Vignelli said, “The event was quite moving. It’s a dream come true.”