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Massimo and Lella Vignelli

Massimo Vignelli (1931 - 2014 ) and Lella Vignelli (1934 - 2016) were influential and prolific Italian designers and architects. This husband-and-wife team helped define modern design in the U.S. and Europe during the last half of the 20th century. They created the New York City’s iconic subway map, American Airline’s iconic logo, Bloomingdale’s department store graphics, furniture for several furniture manufacturers, and the interiors of St. Peter’s Church in Manhattan.
Their career started in Milan when the couple began their journey to the graphic, industrial, and furniture design fields. Massimo attended art school at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan, before studying Architecture at the Politecnico di Milano and at the School of Architecture of the Universita Ca’ Foscari in Venice graduating in 1953. Lella started her studies also at the School of Architecture of the Universita Ca’ Foscari in Venice, and through a scholarship continued her studies as a special student at MIT’s School of Architecture.
In 1960, the couple returned to Milan and established the Massimo and Lella Vignelli Office of Design and Architecture, specializing in interior, furniture, and product design. In 1962, Lella received her architectural degree from the IUAV University of Venice in 1962, and in 1964 the couple designed the Saratoga sofa for Poltronova (1964).
Together, they were awarded the 2003 National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement, the AIGA Gold Medal for 1982, the Architecture Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2005, and the Compasso d’Oro award in 1964 and 1988. In 1965, they returned to the U.S., and in 1966 they founded Unimark International with partners Bob Noorda and Ralph Eckerstrom in New York City. Unimark quickly became one of the largest design and marketing companies in the U.S., and while at Unimark, the couple designed the American Airlines logo and the NYC subway signage system and worked with important companies of the time, such as Pirelli, Rank, Xerox, and Olivetti. As Unimark continued to move more toward advertising rather than design, Lella and Massimo decided to leave in 1971 and established Vignelli Associates.
Vignelli Associates expanded rapidly and opened offices in Milan and Paris, in addition to the central office in New York City. They produced graphic designs for such companies as IBM, Bloomingdale’s, Ducati, Lancia, and Knoll, in addition to designing the interiors of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. During this time, Massimo and Lella Vignelli also designed furniture, such as the Metafora cocktail table for Martinelli Luce (1979), the Handkerchief chair (1982) and PaperClip table (1994) for Knoll, and glassware designs for Venini. Their designs were famous for their minimalism and function. For example, their heavy use of black text on white background was to make a bolder statement and to help readers get to the point of the message, and the deliberate use of color evoked sensuality and emotion.
During his lifetime, Massimo served as president of the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) and the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) and as vice president of the Architectural League of New York. Lella was a member of the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), the International Furnishings and Designer Association (IFDA), and the Decorators Club of New York. In 2010, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York, opened the Vignelli Center for Design Studies, which is dedicated to the Vignelli Archive and offers master’s courses in history, theory, and criticism of graphic design.