Massimo Vignelli

At The Future Mapping Company, the most important part of our cartographic process is thinking about the overall design of the map –layout, font, design and colours. Our aim is to produce a look that is contemporary, beautifully functional yet inspiring.

One of our design heroes was Massimo Vignelli who passed away on 27th May 2014.

Massimo Vignelli
(1931 - 2014)

Vignelli was a modernist graphic designer, a self-styled information architect. Originally from Milan where he trained as an architect, meeting his future wife and collaborator Lella, they moved to the United States in the mid 1960’s.

Inspired by modernist architects such as Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, he favoured functional design and had strict rules over his process, for example, thinking that a designer never needed more than 5 or 6 fonts. He was credited with bringing a European modernist aesthetic to American graphic design.

He set up Vignelli Associates with Lella and the breadth of their design work was staggering. His ethos was "If you can design one thing, you can design everything" ranging from packaging to interiors, fonts (Our Bodoni), a range of clothing and public signage. However, Vignelli Associates is most well known for its corporate logos, designing the likes of American Airlines (he didn’t want to put the eagle in!) and Bloomingdales (note the interlocking O's).


In 1972, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority released his New York Subway map – a stylised schematic that favoured a focus on connections at the expense of geography. His map showed straight lines and 45-degree angles in a similar style to Harry Beck’s famous London Underground Map. As a new design style, it wasn’t popular with commuters (some were so unhappy that they burned copies!) and the map was replaced in 1979. However his signage system of sans serif numbers, and letters in coloured circles endures to this day, and a copy hangs in MOMA.

vignelli subway

In the last week of his life, his son organised a Dear Massimo letter writing campaign in which he ‘invited all those whose lives had been touched by him to express their gratitude’ – letters poured in and his designs are housed in MOMA’s collection of post-war design reflecting the impact he had on his adopted homeland.

Our favourite quote is that he would have liked to develop a corporate identity at 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.”

Read More: Five phrases to live by

"I thought that it might be useful to pass some of my professional knowledge around, with the hope of improving [young designers'] design skills. Creativity needs the support of knowledge to be able to perform at its best.”