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Design Love: Vignelli Associates

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July 23 2010

Lella and Massimo Vignelli established the Vignelli Office of Design and Architecture in Milan in 1960 and in 1971, formed Vignelli Associates in New York.

The final couple in our Design Love series truly needs no introduction. Ladies and gentlemen, please say hello to Massimo and Lella Vignelli.

Many people know Mr. Vignelli for designing one of the most beloved renditions of the New York City Subway map. However, the Vignellis’ contributions to design have included everthing from book design to furniture design. Whether it's identities for Bloomingdales, United Colors of Benetton, and American Airlines or their environmental and product design, the Vignellis consistently deliver relevant, beautiful, thought provoking solutions to any problem.

The couple joined forces in 1960 to create the Vignelli Office for Design and Architecture in Milan, and in 1971 formed Vignelli Associates in New York City. idsgn recently had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Vignelli about running a design studio for over 50 years with the person you love.

How did the two of you meet?

We met at an architectural convention, where Lella's father, an architect, came with her. I was a student helper at the conference. Then I started courting her and eventually convinced her to study architecture in Venice, where I was also a student.

In 1957 I got a fellowship from the USA, so we got married and came to the USA. My fellowship was as designer at Towle Silversmith and Lella's fellowship at the MIT. Then we spent two years in Chicago, I was teaching at the Institute of Design at the IIT, and Lella was working at SOM In 1960 we went back to Milano (where I came from) and opened the Vignelli Office for Design and Architecture.

Collaboration, for us, means sharing the same cultural platform, a similarity of intents and aiming to the same objectives. It benefits to have complementary attitudes and characters as we have.

American Airlines identity system, 1967

What are the best and worst parts of living and working together?

The nicest thing is the sense of continuity between work and living, since in reality, for us, they are the same thing, one merging smoothly in to the other.

I have not seen the worst part of it, yet.

Collaboration, for us, means sharing the same cultural platform, a similarity of intents and aiming to the same objectives.

How do you balance studio life and personal time?

Sometimes, during the growth of the children, professional life was difficult for Lella in her role as mother and architect, but eventually solutions were found.

Our professional life and social life were often integrated, friends were clients or colleagues and we had good time together.

Bloomingdale's identity, 1972

What are some of the odd things that take place at a husband/wife design studio?

Sometimes we will fight on projects issues, but then things will get back to normal, no bad feeling hanging. In a normal office politeness and politics take precedence.

How long have you been married, and how long have you been working together?

We have been married for 53 years and have worked together for 50 years. Although I worked on the whole field of design, Lella has worked mainly in products and interiors, plus overseeing all administrative issues.

Poster for Knoll International, 1966

How do you manage disagreements in the workplace?

If one has a profound love for the partner, everything else is rather relative. Disagreements are the salt of life and a partnership grows stronger by having some of them, and resolving them every time.

Disagreements are the salt of life and a partnership grows stronger by having some of them…

Did you ever think you would marry another designer?

I had several couples inspiring me, Alvar and Aino Aalto (the finnish architects), Ray and Charles Eames were great mentors professionally and as designers, and some others as well.

Heller glass bakeware, product design and packaging design, 1968

Could you have married a bad designer, or a designer that didn't challenge you to be better?

Never! Never, Never!

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Filed under: design

By Thomas Wilder