Vignelli Legacy

Massimo and LeIla Vignelli, during the years of their professional practice, were prodigious in quantity and quality, far-ranging in media and scope and consistent in its excellence. Their work led by example. Working together, they also contributed to design as individuals. The New York Times critic Paul Goldberger called the Vignellis "total designers."

They and their office worked in many design forms: industrial and product design, graphic design, book design, magazine and newspaper design, packaging design, interior and exhibit design, environmental design, and furniture design.

Both were educated architects and they collaborated in two ways: he concentrated on what he called the 2D, and she handled the 3D. He was the visionary: I talk of feelings, possibilities, what a design could be.' She, the pragmatist I think of feasibility, planning, what a design can be." 

Although they collaborated regularly, Massimo's passion included graphic design and Lella's family tradition and training were in architecture. They came to the United States in 1957. Massimo co-founded Unimark in 1964 and in 1972 they formed Vignelli Associates in New York City.

The Vignelli commitment to the correctness of design took their work beyond the mechanical exercise of devising a form best suited to a given function. They always understood that design itself, in the abstract, could and should be an integral part of function. More than a process and a result, design — good design — is an imperative.

In his book, The Vignelli Canon, Massimo provides a glimpse of his understanding of good design, its rules and criteria. Massimo also published a book, Designed by: Lella Vignelli, featuring the work of his wife, Lella, to celebrate 50 years of their partnership.

About the Vignellis

Massimo Vignelli

orange background with the text "The Vignelli Canon"
a portrait of Massimo Vignelli

Born in Milan, Italy, in 1931, he studied architecture in Milan and Venice between 1950 and 1953. He married Elena Valle (Lelia), also an architect, in 1957 and together they established the Vignelli Office of Design and Architecture in Milan in 1960.

Feeling the powerful influence from the nearby Swiss, the city of Milan was a dynamic graphic design environment. Massimo expanded his professional interests from architecture to include graphic design. Max Huber was an especially important influence.

By 1965, having emigrated to the United States, Massimo co-founded Unimark International Corporation, and then, in 1971, with Lelia, he opened Vignelli Associates. Seven years later they founded Vignelli Designs in 1978. Many of his landmark projects are now archetypes in the history of design, namely, the corporate identity program for American Airlines (1967), the graphics program for the United States National Park Service (1977), the design of St. Peter's Church in New York (1977) and the original subway map for New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (1970).

His speaking and writing have helped spread his Modernist aesthetic through a series of books especially design:vignelli (1990). Lelia and Massimo Vignelli: Design is One (2004), Vignelli: From A to Z (2007) and most recently The Vignelli Canon (2010).

The permanent collections of many museums include Vignelli design, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Al, the Brooklyn Museum, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York, the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Montreal and Die Neue Sammlung in Munich.

Massimo received many awards including an honorary doctorate from Rochester Institute of Technology, inclusion in the New York Art Directors Club Hall of Fame in 1982, AIGA Gold Medal, the first Presidential Design Award in 1975, and the Medalist Award from the Architectural League in 2010. Exhibitions of Vignelli's work have been shown internationally. A major exhibit fitted Design:Vignelli toured Europe between 1989 and 1993.

Professionally Massimo has provided leadership for the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI), the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) and The Architectural League. Several feature length films and videos have been produced documenting the Vignellis and their design work. Among these are works by John Jacobson, Roberto Guerra and Kathy Brew. Their latest video Design is One is soon to be released.

Massimo Vignelli passed away in 2014.

Lella Vignelli

portrait of Lella Vignelli
A cover with a portrait of Lella Vignelli that says "Designed by: Lella Vignelli"

Lella Vignelli was born in Udine, Italy, in 1934. She received a degree from the School of Architecture. University of Venice, and became a registered architect in Milan in 1962. In 1958, she received a tuition fellowship as a special student at the School of Architecture. MIT, and in 1959, she joined Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (Chicago) as a junior designer in the Interiors department. The following yea, with Massimo Vignelli, she established the Vignelli Office of Design and Architecture in Milan. In 1965, she became head of the Interiors department for Unimak International Corporation in Milan and, a year later, in New York. In 1971, the Vignellis established Vignelli Associates, with Lella Vignelli as executive vice president, and later serving as chief executive officer. Seven years later, the couple formed Vignelli Designs, a company dedicated to product and furniture design, of which she later became President.

Lella's work was widely featured in design publications in the United States and abroad. Examples of her work have been included in the permanent collections of numerous museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Muses des Arts Decoratifs in Montreal, and Die Neue Sammlung in Munich.

In 2003, Lella and Massimo Vignelli received the National Design Lifetime Achievement Award. She is also the recipient of honorary doctorates from the Parsons School of Design, New York and the Corcoran School of Art, Washington D.C. She also received the President's Medal from Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY.

Lella Vignelli passed away in 2016.