Massimo Vignelli – Design Gone Rogue?

May 28, 2014

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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The Imaginary Museum – Google Tries

February 7, 2011

Hoist by his own petard.

An article in today’s New York Times describes the new Google Art Project.  This is Google’s latest info/data binge, as it pursues its goal of organizing all the world’s data.  It harks back to a book I bought many years ago in which an artist created an imaginary museum that he would like to visit.  It’s an old idea, and an intriguing one for art lovers.

The article gives a review that is generally favorable, and enthusiastic, with several warnings about it being a work in progress.  The title makes a knowing reference to Walter Benjamin’s famous essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.   I took a look.

These are my reactions:

  • Why would you want to ‘navigate’ through a ‘virtual 3-D’ museum as you do on Google street view?  It’s incredibly awkward, and the point is to look at the art anyway, not the museum.  Unless it’s a building with historical interest.  My stroll down Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors wasn’t very illuminating
  • A lot of museums and universities (here’s a favorite:  NYPL) have very good online sites that make much of their collection available, with a lot more information, context, and technological elegance.  I don’t see that the Google site offers anything.  The reviewer addressed some of this, but asserts that the United Nations aspect of the site – it brings together museums from all over the world – is a valuable feature.
  • I would much rather see Google funding the creation of sites by specific museums than trying to do it all itself, with the obvious publicity advantages accruing to their stockholders.
  • Some of the high-resolution images are truly incredible.
  • Although the images may be more faithful than what you can get from most art books, there is much to be said in favor of the book format over this sort of online browsing.  For doing research, as opposed to browsing, the Web and Google are magnificent.
  • The reviewer says:  From where I sit Google’s Art Project looks like a bandwagon everyone should jump on. It makes visual knowledge more accessible, which benefits us all.  Who would argue against the idea that the more that is available on the Web, the better? But I have my doubts about whether Google is providing an improvement on the current experience of reproductions, which are the “next best thing” to viewing the actual art.  Nor do I think that the dessimination of [visual] information is the same as the spread of [visual] knowledge.  That is a misconception of The Information Age, which is to say, The Age of Google.

This concludes yet another dyspeptic rant by yours truly.