Massimo Vignelli, designer of the still-controversial 1972 subway map, the MTA’s striking Graphics Standard Manual and troves of other acclaimed Modernist works, has died at age 83. Let’s take a look at some of his most important contributions to the world of design:
The Milan-born Vignelli came to New York in 1965 to run a branch of Unimark International, whom the New York City Transit Authority hired to redevelop the subway signage, which at that point was completely unstandardized—stations would display their information with tiled mosaics, silkscreening or paint. That’s where his Graphic Standard Manual, completed in 1970 and still in use today, would come in (see the entire book here). In it, Vignelli and his design partner Bob Noorda wrote, “The passenger will be given the information or direction only at the point of decision. Never before. Never after.”
But not all of Vignelli’s redesigns were met with widespread acclaim: His 1972 subway map, which used exclusively 90- or 45-degree angles and the color beige to represent water, was confusing for those less familiar with New York City geography (notice how Central Park is a square), causing the MTA to scrap it in 1979. And yet, Vignelli’s original is beautiful in its simplicity, however far it may be from the actualities on solid ground. A copy still remains in the MoMA, though unfortunately not on view.
Vignelli also designed the Bloomingdale’s signature brown bag in the early 70’s, the American Airlines double-A logo, which was used for 45 years until 2013, and the interior of St. Peter’s Church on Lexington Ave at E. 54th St. In 2011, Vignelli was commissioned to rework The Weekender, the MTA’s interactive tool for checking service updates and maintenance announcements.
Since his illness earlier this month, Vignelli’s fans have sent (extraordinarily beautiful) well-wishes to his Upper East Side home, while others have taken to Twitter using the hashtag #dearmassimo. Chances are you’ve got a friend or coworker who’s way, way, almost obnoxiously into design, so, hey, maybe give ’em a hug today. Just make sure it’s perfectly balanced and symmetrical.
Follow Rebecca Jennings on Twitter @rebexxxxa