Massimo Vignelli: farewell to a master of everyday life - RSA

Massimo Vignelli: farewell to a master of everyday life


  • Design
  • Education
  • Behaviour change
  • Communities

“I was always seeking to affect the lives of millions of people – not through politics or entertainment but through design. I strive to raise the bar, taking the common place and improving it”.

These words express the lifelong zeal and commitment to design by Massimo Vignelli, one of the worlds’ most talented and prolific designers who died this week aged 83.


Vignelli, who was appointed an Honorary Royal Designer for Industry (Hon RDI) by the RSA in 1996, created memorable work for the New York Subway, the US National Park Service, and American Airlines. An overview of his outstanding achievements, which cut across numerous design fields from graphics, product, furniture and environmental design have been covered by journalists and designers alike this week including The Independent, New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Design Observer.

Michael Wolff RDI, a close friend of Vignelli sent me the following personal tribute after he heard the news of his death: a reflection on losing inspiring and creative people who leave a lasting legacy to future generations:

“This has been a shocking few weeks during which two of the creative giants who inspired me more than many others for many years have died. The brilliant writer David Abbott died two weeks ago and yesterday Massimo Vignelli, one of the world’s most iconic designers, left us.

Both of them were the most gentle and generous people. Although both are a huge loss to all who lived, worked with and loved them, their work will live on. They will always be beacons of great thinking, great ideas, great writing and great design, an indelible and timeless inspiration.

I often wonder why design is still taught in a series of silos; graphic design, environmental design, product design, fashion design etc. when this is not really how people experience what delights and satisfies them. Massimo, working with his partner and wife Lella, was not just a graphic designer, he was a creative genius for whom everything in life could be turned into magic.

To visit Massimo was to see and feel and touch how design can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. Whether it was how to navigate a city’s transportation system, to rethink the kind of clothes that men and women wear, to give one of the world’s biggest airlines a distinctive identity, or to bring poetry into furniture and day-to-day household utensils, there was nothing that this gentle giant and magician of design couldn’t turn into simple and effortless beauty.

I met Massimo in Cape Town three years ago at the Design Indaba conference. It was a celebration of his eightieth birthday. He was his usual elegant and friendly self. For me, even more than his brilliant and timeless work, the quality of his warmth and his genuine love, affection and respect will always be how I will remember him best.”

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 16.22.44            Postcard designed by Massimo Vignelli for the 70th Anniversary of the RSA's RDI

Massimo Vignelli Hon RDI 1931 -2014

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