Massimo Vignelli – Design Gone Rogue?

vignelliobit2-superJumbo Massimo Vignelli, the designer of this “iconic” NYC subway map died today, and was written up in the NYTimes.  Paul Goldberger, former architecture critic for the Times, rhapsodized about it as  more than beautiful.”  I’ll say.  Goldberger goes on:

Vignelli’s 1972 map wasn’t just lovely to look at. Its obsessive clarity turns out to be the perfect basis for digital information. It’s more modern looking than any of the maps that followed it. 

More modern looking than its successors, yes.  Is that a clear-cut virtue?  Obsessive clarity?  Not sure what that means.  Or is it obsession with the appearance of clarity?  Basis for digital information?  Pleeez…

As a frequent visitor to the city in the 1970s, I found the map confusing and practically illegible.  It’s resemblance to a circuit design made it worse for me, a colorblind male.  Many riders felt the same way, and the map was replaced with a more cartographically realistic, and less geometrical design.

The map may be a wonder, an icon, a fetish, an object of worship for modernist designers, but if so many people found it hard to use, what good is it?  Doesn’t that sort of defeat the whole purpose of graphic design?  Nothing against his work as a whole, mind you, as I love the brochures he did for the National Park Service that are still in print. 2014-0527-Vignelli-SS-1401209851899-superJumbo

I admire his spirit.  The article reports:

 Mr. Vignelli said he would have liked the job of developing a corporate identity for the Vatican. “I would go to the pope and say, ‘Your holiness, the logo is O.K.,’ ” he said, referring to the cross, “but everything else has to go.”

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9 Responses to Massimo Vignelli – Design Gone Rogue?

  1. Man of Roma says:

    The map may be a wonder, an icon, a fetish, an object of worship for modernist designers, but if so many people found it hard to use, what good is it?

    This obsession you guys out there have for maximizing utility, serviceableness, usefulness … :/

    I know utilitarianism is complex (and rich), it sufficing to peek here:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/utilitarianism-history/

    [don't know anything about it, although, intuitively, I might prefer Bentham, and his Australia Felix approach, to Mill]

    I don’t give a damn whether Massimo Vignelli is Italian etc. – heard of him today for the first time at Radio 3 since he passed to another life – but I’m telling you:

    1. Go to Google. Type New York City. Click images
    2. Stay in Google. Type Shanghai. Click images

    3. Compare output 1 and output 2.

    4. Give me your take: I kinda dislike civil engineering & architecture, I’m more for books and music

    PS
    In any case – since we talked about engineers and a girl, in this blog: after almost 1 year for Miralles Tagliabue she has now been hired il y a 4 mois in London by Pilbrow and Partners (first class company, je les admire).

    “Pls help us make our skyscrapers beautiful” they told her while hiring her.

    PPS
    Comparing Google images from 1. Miralles Tagliabue and 2. Pilbrow and Parteners may also fodder discussion

    PPPS
    Palladio was incidentally quite appreciated by the Anglo-Saxons, as far as I can tell, since he produced beauty TOGEHTER WITH advanced serviceableness (modules that could be adapted to a Landowner Villa that functioned too as a unity of production etc.)

    Non the less, world-wide, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s dome, two total follies by a weirdo – where beauty by far exceeds utility … o_O

    I guess I made my point, that’ll have flaws, I being in foreign territory, mon ami.

  2. Lichanos says:

    This obsession you guys out there have for maximizing utility…”
    He he, not me!

    4. Give me your take: NYC vs. Shanghai… Not sure at all. Shanghai looks bizarre to me, but I’m not idolater of Manhattan.

    Palladio was incidentally quite appreciated by the Anglo-Saxons…” Yes he was, but so..? There are plenty who see Palladian style as simply a fad, and I agree. It’s a stylistic applique. He had very little interest in rethinking space, layouts, etc.

    Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s dome, two total follies… where beauty by far exceeds utility … ”

    One of the ‘functions’ of architecture is to convey meaning. I think the ceiling and the dome convey the papal message VERY well, and so they have a lot of utility. We’re not just talking about dollars and factories making widgets!

  3. Man of Roma says:

    MoR: “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s dome, two total follies… where beauty by far exceeds utility … ”

    Lichanos: “One of the ‘functions’ of architecture is to convey meaning. I think the ceiling and the dome convey the papal message VERY well, and so they have a lot of utility…”

    Yes, you’re right. I agree.

  4. Richard says:

    I think you’ll find that the inspiration for this map was Harry Beck’s original design for the London Underground map in 1931.

    That is not to detract from Vignelli’s achievement, but Beck deserves a mention.

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