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Massimo Vignelli, Legendary Designer of NYC Subway Map, Dies at 83

Photo: Amal Chen/The Epoch Times

Photo: Amal Chen/The Epoch Times

Massimo Vignelli died yesterday at his Manhattan home after a long illness, reports The New York Times. Vignelli is survived by his wife and business partner, Lella, as well as their son, Luca Vignelli, and daughter, Valentina Vignelli Zimmer, and three grandchildren.

The renowned graphic designer and self-described “information architect” was the mastermind behind the logos of American Airlines, Ford and United Colors of Benetton, among many others. Vignelli was perhaps best known for creating the iconic 1972 NYC subway map, which was initially considered controversial for its lack of geographical accuracy. Most designers considered the map, which Vignelli referred to as “a diagram,” a graphic masterpiece of simplicity.


Vignelli was born in 1931 in Milan and, by age 14, decided to become an architect. He studied at the Politecnico di Milano and later at the Università di Architettura, Venice, and, in the late 1950s, visited America on a fellowship. He returned in 1966 to help start the New York branch of a new company, Unimark International, which became one of the largest design firms in the world. In 1971, Vignelli and his wife founded their own firm Vignelli Associates, later Vignelli Designs. The collaboration of Lella and Massimo Vignelli, as well as the scope of their work, was captured in the 2012 documentary Design is One (trailer posted below).

In the last weeks of Vignelli’s life, his son Luca sent out a request for letters from anyone influenced or inspired by his father’s work, many of which can be found at #dearmassimo.



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2 Responses

  1. Don Q

    Of course, the notable Houston connection is Vignelli’s complete and classically beautiful graphic program for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, done in 1999. It included every printed piece from logo to stationery, invitations to publications, and all the signage. Except for books and exhibition catalogues, most of Vignelli’s design is still implemented by the museum staff. Vignelli’s program also included the super-graphic, 3-D museum name carved into the Beck Building facade, an unfortunate misstep that seemed incongruous and dated even at its inception. And depending on your viewpoint, his design of the all-emcompassing donor wall in the Beck atrium, which is either the apotheosis or nadir of institutional attempts at proper donor recognition.

    1. Rainey Knudson

      Don, I didn’t realize Vignelli was behind the MFAH designs — and your articulation of both issues with the Beck building is graceful as well as vivid. Thanks so much for adding your perspective.

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