Pioneering Graphic and Interior Designer Massimo Vignelli Dies at 83

Massimo Vignelli Dies at 83 in 2014

Massimo Vignelli. Photo courtesy of Metropolis Magazine.

Massimo Vignelli, pioneering graphic and interior designer well-known for his minimalist approach and 1972 subway map of New York, died Tuesday morning in his Manhattan home. He was 83.

At his peak influence, Vignelli’s reductionist style could be seen everywhere. From the rarefied interiors of St. Peter’s Church, to sleek department stores such as Bloomingdales, Vignelli made a minimalist’s mark on the city he loved. Vignelli is often quoted saying “If you can design one thing, you can design everything.” This unique approach to design was, and still is, an important lesson that migrated with him from Italy to North America, where he continued to design until his dying day.

Saint Peter's Chuch in New York designed by Massimo Vignelli.

Saint Peter’s Chuch in New York designed by Massimo Vignelli.

His most talked about and controversial design was the 1972 map of New York’s subway system seen below. What made this map so unique was the fact Vignelli focused on geometric clarity rather than geographical accuracy, which earned him great acclaims from colleagues, and later, curators of the city. However, the design was extremely unpopular with commuters of New York when it was first introduced. For one, most citizens didn’t warm up to the fact that Vignelli depicted their beautiful Central Park by using a only a simple grey square. Secondly, most commuters had a hard time using the map since it was such a leap from the “spaghetti” design of years past that they grew accustomed to. This fear of change caused Vignelli’s beautiful map to become obsolete in just seven years.

Vignelli 1972 New York subway map

Vignelli’s 1972 New York subway map courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation Authority

It wasn’t until a generation later that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) finally came round to the features and unique characteristics of Vignelli’s original design. When the MTA released their “Weekender” map a few years ago, it employed the same unique characteristics as Vignelli’s map that was released well over 30 years prior. This includes the focus on visual clarity rather than geographical accuracy.

To browse more of Vignelli’s inspiring work, be sure to visit his website.


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Author: James Peacock

James Peacock is a Digital Marketing Specialist at FIDM in Los Angeles, California. He received his A.A. in Graphic Design from FIDM and was hired as Social Media Assistant in 2013 by his alma mater in order to help grow the institution’s social media marketing efforts. James now combines two of his passions, telling stories and solving problems by managing data-driven marketing campaigns across multiple channels that ultimately result in a positive return on investment.

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