Today marks one year since the passing of design icon Massimo Vignelli. I was in Europe when he died last year and didn’t get a chance to write about his impact on my design career. So I thought today was a good opportunity to pay my respects to a designer who truly influenced the path I currently walk.
While I was studying design, Mr. Vignelli came to speak at my school. It was my first semester taking design classes, and I wasn’t even that serious about it at the time. I had no idea how big of a deal it was to have him speaking at our school. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I had no idea who he was, and went to the lecture because I had to.
That talk changed the course of my studies, and ultimately, my life.
Hearing Vignelli share his passion for Helvetica, the range of projects he worked on and his strong beliefs about design was infectious. It was the first time I saw design as a lifestyle, not just a career. It was the first time I saw all the ways design touches our lives. He showed me that design thinking can be applied to any situation in life, and that there are endless ways to explore creativity. He showed how collaboration can produce stunning results as he discussed designing jewelry with his wife. He showed me that the life of a designer takes many forms; the roles can change through the years but the brains behind it is what’s most important.
He taught a lifetime of lessons in the span of just two hours.
As I’ve worked to shape and re-shape my life as a designer, his voice occasionally pops into my head. Even though I am technically an illustrator now, I still feel like a designer at heart. It’s all fluid anyway. The thought is still present, it just takes a different form now.
I’m eternally grateful for the opportunity I had to even sit in the same room as this man, let alone hear him impart his wisdom to us young designers. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to make a fraction of the impact that Mr. Vignelli was able to achieve. Still, I show up every day to my art practice striving for greatness, considering the world around me, examining how we all experience the world, and how design could make it better. Design is born from a place of hope, innovation, and optimism, that we might be able to create something that changes our experience of the world, and this is the greatest lesson I could ever carry with me.
Thank you, Mr. Vignelli.