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Lella and Massimo Vignelli

Two Lives, One Vision

by Jan Conradi

Publication Year: 2014

Lella and Massimo Vignelli: Two Lives, One Vision is a portrait of two important twentieth-century designers whose careers intertwined since the 1950s. The Vignellis promote a modernist philosophy of designing for a better society: resourceful use of space and materials, clear communication, lasting quality, and logical functionality. Through a mix of archival research and personal interviews with Lella, Massimo, and their many colleagues and clients, Jan Conradi documents the Vignellis’ nuanced approach to “cleaning up” an often chaotic and messy society by adhering to a minimalist and structured design method. The Vignellis’ lifetime commitment to a world of design is marked by vibrant client relationships and unwavering attention to detail. With wit, grace, focus, and finesse, the Vignellis’ sustained pattern of working and living has influenced, and continues to inspire, generations of designers worldwide.

Published by: RIT Press

Title page, Copyright

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Photos: Five Decades of Vignelli Design

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Deyan Sudjic

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pp. 1-3

Rather than make an argument for the importance of Lella and Massimo Vignelli’s work, in this book, Jan Conradi has written an intimate and affectionate portrait of two gifted and remarkable people. The likely audience will have no need of any words of mine to convince them of the significance...

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Jan Conradi

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pp. 4-6

I first met Massimo Vignelli in New York, at the Tenth Avenue office of Vignelli Associates, in 1987. Lella breezed through at one point, but we did not speak. As a sincere but naive graduate student focused on graphic design, I had begun researching Unimark International, a topic that was bigger and...

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pp. 6-9

My life has been enriched by the articulate, intelligent, caring people who have surrounded me as this book evolved. It is difficult to thank individuals because it takes an amazing number of people to turn an idea into a book, and omissions are almost inevitable. In a blatant attempt at inclusiveness...

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The Vignellis: Introduction

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pp. 10-14

Designers Lella and Massimo Vignelli have lived and worked in some of the world’s greatest cities; traveled extensively and often; planned, designed, and focused on material goods for most of their lives; yet they are seemingly immune to the lure of consumerism. They have not succumbed to typical...

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1. Foundation: Growing Up in Italy

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pp. 15-30

Elena “Lella” Valle was born on August 13, 1934, in Udine, Italy, as one of four siblings in a family of professional architects. Her family called her Lella, and Massimo also preferred the nickname. He said, “Elena sounded too old. Lella had a modernist ring to my ears and I liked it in conjunction with...

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2. 1965: Unimark International

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pp. 31-46

Unimark International opened for business in January 1965 with six founding partners and offices in Chicago, Milan, and New York. Officially, the founders were Ralph Eckerstrom, Massimo Vignelli, Bob Noorda, Larry Klein, James Fogelman, plus Wally Gutches as business manager, but Jay Doblin was also...

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3. 1971: The Rise of Vignelli Asociates

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pp. 47-68

In April 1971, Massimo resigned from Unimark, in part because the Vignellis wanted to work openly in partnership. Bill Freeman said, “Massimo and Lella were the driving creative force behind everything that happened in the office. When he left, it was like turning off a light bulb.” Though it was...

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4. The Showcase Office: Tenth Avenue

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pp. 69-84

In 1984, the Vignellis signed a fifteen-year lease and began a total renovation for their new headquarters on Tenth Avenue. Quietly functional and visually stunning, the new office showcased their confidence and light-hearted sophistication to everyone who stepped off the elevator on the fourteenth...

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5. Working From Home: East 67th Street

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pp. 85-94

Once again, the Vignellis intertwined personal and professional life by combining home and office. Initially this decision seemed like it was imposed upon them by circumstances, not chosen with excitement. Michael Donovan, who has continued to be a close friend, knew that this transition was hard...

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6. Design Advocacy

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pp. 95-112

Other designers may be as prolific as the Vignellis, but few are as completely engaged. Lella and Massimo continually added new roles and responsibilities to their schedules. Pride and pleasure in creating design solutions is only one aspect of their professional lives—they also feel an obligation to the world...

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7. Students, Teaching, and Learning

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pp. 113-120

The time for tirades has mostly passed to be replaced by the time for teaching. In The Vignelli Canon, Massimo writes, “Creativity needs the support of knowledge to be able to perform at its best… With great pleasure, I look back to all the moments when I learned something new in typography, either from...

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8. A Lifetime, and No Regrets

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pp. 121-127

A lifetime of effective design solutions, diverse clients, professional visibility, and international recognition has provided real satisfaction, but now the Vignellis face inevitable changes and endings. Here too they have been systematic. They’ve successfully launched the Vignelli Center for Design...


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pp. 128-133

Photos: A Vignelli History

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pp. 134-148

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pp. 149-151

On May 27, 2014, after difficult final months of frustrating medical issues, Massimo Vignelli passed away quietly at home. Lella Vignelli remains in the Vignelli home with the help of caretakers and family...

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Appendix: Awards and Accolades

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pp. 152-154

The Vignellis’ work has been included in the permanent collections of several museums, notably the Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum in New York; the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; the Musée des Arts...


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pp. 155-160

E-ISBN-13: 9781939125088
Print-ISBN-13: 9781939125071

Page Count: 176
Illustrations: 74 illustrations, some color
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Vignelli, Massimo.
  • Vignelli, Lella.
  • Designers -- United States -- Biography.
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