From the New York Subway system to American Airlines, Massimo Vignelli is responsible for some of the most iconic and enduring graphic identities of the twentieth century. Born in Milan in 1931, Vignelli displayed an interest and aptitude in design at a relatively early age. At sixteen, he began working as a draftsman at Castiglioni Architects in Milan. Here, he not only became immersed in the practice of architectural design, but also in the ideas of key modernist thinkers.
As a designer, Vignelli firmly believes that design should be clean, simple, and completely timeless. He detests trends and what he refers to as the “culture of obsolescence.” For him, good design surpasses the merely ephemeral, something he believes causes waste and “visual pollution.” He favors primary colors and simple typefaces. “I don’t believe,” he has written, “that when you write dog the type should bark!” While Vignelli limits himself to just a few colors and typefaces, he is able to create intriguing, eye-catching designs through his play of proportion, space, and balance. Like many of his modernist peers, he is obsessed with the grid and his negotiation with its stark boundaries produces elegant and beautiful results.
In 1967, Massimo Vignelli was commissioned to redesign the graphic identity of the American furniture company, Knoll. Known for its modernist furniture by designers such as Eero Saarinen, Marcel Breuer, and Harry Bertoia, Knoll’s products are perfectly suited to Vignelli’s timeless aesthetic. In the graphic program that Vignelli produced for Knoll, one can see many of his ideas at work, from his preference for clear, organized space to his use of the new (at the time) Helvetica typeface, something Vignelli no doubt favors because of its versatile simplicity. This poster depicts the Knoll logotype in large letters that overlap to form an almost abstract pattern. While a number of Knoll’s products are depicted as line drawings on the back of the poster, none are visible on its front. Alone, the colorful, bold type communicates beautifully the power and elegance of the Knoll brand.