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Oral history interview with Massimo Vignelli, 2011 June 6-7

Vignelli, Massimo, 1931-2014



Collection Information

Size: 9 Items, Sound recording: 9 sound files (6 hr., 52 min.); 153 Pages, Transcript

Format: Originally recorded as 9 sound files. Duration is 6 hr., 52 min.

Summary: An interview of Massimo Vignelli conducted 2011 June 6-7, by Mija Riedel, for the Archives of American Art's Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America, at Vignelli's home and office, in New York, New York.
Vignelli speaks of his youth and early start in art design and architecture; his early work at Catiglione architects at the age of 16; his father; his education; meeting his favorite architects; his influences; architecture and design magazines; organic and rationalist architecture in Italy; influence of Ignazio Gardella; Adolf Loos' idea of spoon to the city; European, American, and Italian architecture; education in Milan; his work with Venini Glass; Italian design; his early graphic work; design and vulgarity; marriage and working with Lella Vignelli; graphic design work at the Container Corporation; concept of design as a whole; his work on corporate identities; his establishment of Vignelli Associates; introduction and use of Helvetica in the United States; working with Knoll; choosing clients; design and culture; his work on St. Peter's Lutheran Church; design work for the United States National Parks newspaper design and layout; Unimark; timelessness and design; working with Poltrona Frau, Zero Labor design; major influences; his work for the United States Postal Service; connectivity and context in architecture; his clothing designs and historical perspectives on clothing; postmodernism; his work on the New York Subway; design work before and after computers; Japanese architecture and design; his work as a teacher; Oliviero Toscani and working for Benetton; America and international design; modernism and the office building; modern design and furniture; a timeline of his career; the Vignelli Center at RIT and archiving. Vignelli also recalls, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Giuseppe Terragni, Giuseppe Pagano, Domus, Gió Ponti, Metron, Bruno Zevi, Ignazio Gardella, Ray and Charles Eames, Giancarlo De Carlo, Venini Glass, Carlo Scarpa, Ralph Eckerstrom, Umberto Eco, Sansoni Publishing House, Vignelli Associates, Walter Kacik, Helvetica, Knoll, St. Peter's Lutheran Church, National Parks, New York Herald, Unimark, Lella Vignelli, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Poltrona Frau, Dieter Rams, Louis Kahn, Stendig Calendar, A to Z, Salon de Mobile, Michael Graves, Robert Venturi, Oliviero Toscani, Benetton, Herman Miller, Steelcase, and the Vignelli Center.

Biographical/Historical Note

Massimo Vignelli (1931- ) is a designer in New York, New York. Mija Riedel (1958- ) is an independent scholar in San Francisco, California.


This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and administrators.


Funding for this interview was provided by the Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America.



The following oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with Massimo Vignelli on 2011 June 6-7. The interview took place at Vignelli's home and office in New York, NY, and was conducted by Mija Riedel for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. This interview is part of the Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America.

Mija Riedel has reviewed the transcript and have made corrections and emendations. The reader should bear in mind that he or she is reading a transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.


MS. RIEDEL:  This is Mija Riedel with Massimo Vignelli in his New York City office on June 6th, 2011, for the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.  This is card number one.  Good morning.  Let’s start with just some of the early biographical information.  We’ll take care of that and move along.


MS. RIEDEL:  You were born in Milan, in Italy, in 1931?

MR. VIGNELLI:  1931, a long time ago.

MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.  What was the date?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Actually, 80 years ago, January 10th.  I’m a Capricorn.

MS. RIEDEL:  January 10th, ah, Okay.

MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]

[They laugh.]

MS. RIEDEL:  No, actually, that sort of makes sense.  Would you--did you have siblings?  Were your parents involved?

MR. VIGNELLI:  No.  No, I was an only child.

MS. RIEDEL:  You were an only child, okay.  Were you interested in art, design, architecture from very early on, as a young, young child?  I know when you were a teenager it became an interest.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, I started very early.  I mean, I started to be interested in design when I was 14 years old, basically, and before I was just like anybody else, any other kid.  You know, I was playing with everything.  I loved to do stage sets, you know, by cutting a piece of board and making a cut in three sides, flipping it down, making the stage.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Really?

MR. VIGNELLI:  And then picking up everything and imagining stories there.  It was great.  That was one of my favorite games, was spending hours and hours and hours.  But then one day I’d seen a mother of a friend, who was fixing her house in the country, and she had some furniture made.  And I didn’t know that could be done, so I was fascinating [sic] and I liked it.  And then she had magazines, and I started to look at magazines and I got involved into, you know, the field of architecture, and I loved it, and design.  From the very beginning, it really was always architecture and design, which is easy to understand, because in Italy it was always much closer, you know?  But this was still during wartime, you know.  And then after the war, of course, things got much more fused between one and the other--between architecture and design, because they were--there was a great need for this, you know.  So there weren’t enough furniture available, so then the architects designed furniture and designed everything else.  That was around, and that started the whole Italian design phenomenon, but it was more or less because of that.

Then, when I was 16 years old, I went to work in the office of the Castiglione architects, very good architects at the time, and they were working the whole field of design.  You know, so they were designing product design, designing beautiful radios, telephones.  [Coughs.]  Excuse me.  And they designed furniture, they designed exhibitions, they designed buildings,  they designed just about anything--flatware, you know.  So when I’m working there as a draftsman, I noticed that and I learned that an architect should be able to design everything from the spoon to the city, as Adolph Loos said, predicted, you know.  And so I always wanted to try myself on every one of these things, and I was looking for every opportunity.  And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since, basically.

MS. RIEDEL:  Did you draw a lot as a child?  It seems that if you were a draftsman, you must have drawn--

MR. VIGNELLI:  Not nature, no, not nature things,  not figurative things.  I was more interested in design, really.  So I was designing furniture, I was designing tombs, I was designing anything.

MS. RIEDEL:  Tombs, did you say?  [Laughs.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, because they were less complicated.  You know, one of the greatest things about a mausoleum, it has no bathrooms.  [Laughs.]  It has no windows.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And what spoils architecture most of the time is windows, as you know.  They’re the most difficult thing to place.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.  And what did your parents do?  Were either of them involved in design?

MR. VIGNELLI:  No.  My father had a background in pharmacy, and then he set up a little--a little chemical company producing salicylic acid, which is used for--as a preservative.  And--but I couldn’t stand the smell of that you know, chemicals.  And I was not interested, I was really interested in design.  So my father wanted me to become a chemist, and I wanted to be an architect.  So one day, I just picked up everything I had, and I went to sell it to a thrift shop, and I bought a T-square, you know [laughs] a triangle, and a board, you know, and then a drafting board, and then--

MS. RIEDEL:  How old were you?  Do you remember?

MR. VIGNELLI:  I was 15–yes, 14, 15.  And then--so my father realized that that was the end of it [laughs] you know, of his dreams.  And so my father was already sick, he had heart disease, and dying--and dying--when I was 16, so--but just in time to see that, at that point, I am going to art school.  And of course, the month before I went to every other school, I was always flat, you know.  I was not interested.  The moment I went to the art school, I was the best.  [Laughs.]  And so my father just had a glimpse of that before dying.  But ever since, it was always very rewarding, because I was always the best.  [Laughs.]  Interesting class, interesting school, and a legend. “That kid is good.”  My work was hanging on the walls.  You know, things--

MS. RIEDEL:  So he was able to see you--to see you succeeding, a glimmer of – [inaudible].

MR. VIGNELLI:  Just, just--not much, no, just--just in the beginning.  And--but this was a tremendous incentive for me.  I mean, of course, my passion for architecture was growing, growing, growing.  So I was reading everything and meeting every architect because I knew the names.  I was interested  to meet them, you know.  I became a groupie, an architecture groupie--[inaudible].

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  So I was collecting architects, in a sense.  And then in ’49, I was 18 years old and I had the CIAM [Congrès internationaux d'architecture modern]. The CIAM was the information organization of modern architecture started by Le Corbusier.  And they had annual conferences, you know.  And in--and in ’49, they had one in Italy, in Bergamo.  So I went there.

MS. RIEDEL:  In Palermo?

MR. VIGNELLI:  No, Bergamo.

MS. RIEDEL:  Bergamo.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Near Milano.  And so I had an opportunity of meeting all my gods.  That was the Valhalla of the architecture, you know.  That really was, you know, in a sense, the Valhalla.  So all the great architects were there from everywhere in Europe, you know, and in Italy as well.  So in one shot I met all of them.  And of course, I was the young kid, you know, and so everybody would say, “who’s that young kid?” you know, because I was younger than architecture students, you know, still younger. And then, of course, I went to the next conference again, and helping the art--the Italian community to set up whatever they had to do, you know, at that time for the conference.  So I was very much involved.

And then during that time, after – [coughs] – I have this cough in me now – so during that time, during all that time, since I was a teen, I was always working--since my father died, basically, I was always working part-time as a draftsman in all the best architects’ offices.  So my school has been really the architects.  They were--best, so by the time I went to school of architecture, I knew more than anybody else.  I knew more than my teachers, as a matter of fact.  You know, I must--you know--you know, when you’re young, you’re like a sponge, and you’re so curious, you know, every detail about the life of everyone, you know.  You know, you--all things.  You know, I knew the dates when all the architects were born, you know.  I mean, things like that--where they went to school and so on and so forth.  I knew already that for instance, both Le Corbusier and Mies and others had been working as draftsmen in the office of Behrens, and details like that, and what they were working on, and so on.  You know, these things I knew from that long time ago.  Isn’t it amazing?  That’s passion.

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes, and who, when you were that age, was most significant to you?  Who would you say was your major influences?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, Le Corbusier, by far, by far.  You know, Le Corbusier was great because he was not only tremendous form giver, but he also--socially involved-- [inaudible]--projects, and so on and so forth.  He had-- he was a man of vision, courage and determination, three things which I always like in my life.  [Laughs].  And so Le Corbusier was a great mentor.  And, of course, Mies was another tremendous mentor, you know, that I liked.  Just a second--[Inaudible.]

LELLA VIGNELLI:  Hi.  I’m sorry to be late.

MS. RIEDEL:  No.  Oh, it’s so nice to meet you.  So nice to meet you.

MS. VIGNELLI:  Very good.

MS. RIEDEL:  Let me move these things.

MS. VIGNELLI:  These things--yes, I have these things full of the--all the things I-- [laughs]--[inaudible].  So [inaudible] they go around that way.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]  Lella Vignelli has just joined us.  So we were just talking about the early days in--when Massimo was first beginning to experience all the architects in Italy, and he’d been a--would you say that--was it an apprenticeship at Castiglione’s?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Yes, Castaglione, yes.

MS. RIEDEL:  And how long--and how long did that go on for?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh, no.  While it wasn’t really an apprenticeship, it was like an apprenticeship, but it was just working on projects.  Let’s say they would hire me for a--as a draftsman for the length of a project, and then hire again for another project.  It was like that, I freelanced.  I was a freelance--draftsman.

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes. [Laughs.]  At 16, which is quite extraordinary.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, well, it’s--you know, passion is what--that’s what does it.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.


MS. RIEDEL:  And what do you think inspired--you were young--you said you weren’t necessarily, you didn’t draw necessarily especially well, but you made sets.  Was that to make models?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Yes,  but, you know, but that was before--but really what inspired me all the time was the work of the great architects, you know,  and particularly the European rationalists, you know, and Italian rationalist architects, you know, like--

MS. RIEDEL:  Sorry.  What was his name?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Rationalist, you know, like [Giuseppe] Terragni, you know.  The whole group of architects from Como, it’s a little city north of Milan that, before the war, had a [inaudible] season of architects, you know, many, too many names to mention [inaudible] but I [inaudible] have to tell you.  So – but Terragni was the most important one.  Terragni, [Pietro] Lingeri, [Cesare] Cattaneo, [Augusto] Magnani, Terragni, and Frigerio and so on, you know.  Many, many, many, but the--

MS. RIEDEL:  Sorry, Terragni--

MR. VIGNELLI:  No, don’t worry, Terragni is the most important one--is the key one.
And then in Milan, before the war, was [Giuseppe] Pagano.  And there was a magazine--there was every magazines--there was a very lively architectural debate all the time.  There were three magazines important.  Casabella that was the one by Pagano and it was very rationalist, you know.  Then there was Domus; that was run by Gió Ponti, you know.  And then--and Gió Ponti first, and then, immediately after the, war by Ernesto Rogers--very pivotal figure in the grotto.  Then there was another magazine, it was called Stile, also run by Ponti, Gió Ponti.  So Gió Ponti was also a pivotal figure, but Gió Ponti was older than the other architects, and he--and he was a little more decorative.  Very talented, very, very talented, and then great promoter of design and great promoter of architects, too, you know.  Italian architecture would, without him, be set back--[Laughs]--you know, forever.  And so Gió Ponti, I think, great impact as a journalist, as a publicist, you know, of architecture and design.

Rogers had a great impact in bringing in issues and basically sort of recovering the lost time, as--[inaudible]--you know, the time that was lost during the fascist, you know, era.  During fascist era, there was some--a lot of interesting architecture happening in Italy, but at the same time, it was isolated from the rest of Europe for political reasons, basically, you know.  And so after the war, of course, Rogers was a great proponent of the, I will say, recovering the time that was lost.  [Laughs.]  And so he was the one that introduces a lot of the European architects through the pages of Domus, you know, and also American as well, you know, [Richard] Neutra and some of people from the West Coast, you know, that period.  So--then, in the south of Italy, in Rome, there was another magazine that was quite important to me.  It was called Metron, I think--

MS. RIEDEL:  Metron?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Metron, and that was run by [Bruno] Zevi, you know.  Quite interesting to see the role of Jewish culture in the [inaudible] of architecture in Italy.  In Milan there was Rogers, and in Rome was Zevi, you know, if one can put it that way.  [Laughs.]  The--when--you know, once again, a demonstration of international liveliness, you know, compared to others.  So the --now Zevi, however, during the war, was in the States, while Rogers, during the war, was in Switzerland--being Jewish, he had to come to Switzerland.  And Zevi, being Jewish, went to States.  So by having grown up in the States, he was very much influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, so he was the one who brought Frank Lloyd Wright to Italy, basically--the knowledge.

MS. RIEDEL:  Interesting.

MR. VIGNELLI:  The organic architecture.  So Rome was the organic architecture, and Milan was the rationalist architecture.  Of course, having been born and raised in Milano, my background was toward rational architecture, you know.  And I’m very happy about that.  [They laugh.]  But still--and in Rome and--from Florence down, basically, was very much influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright.  Florence was a separate thing.  It was in limbo, by itself, as Venice was in limbo with Scarpa.

MS. RIEDEL:  I’m trying to think when Paolo Soleri went to study with Wright.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Soleri is from south of Naples, from Salerno.  And he’s basically--he wasn’t an architect, in a sense, mentally.  He was--well, he was, to a certain extent.  He is--I mean, Soleri is still alive, but he’s a ceramist.  He comes from a family of ceramists--

MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, interesting.

MR. VIGNELLI:  --and became an architect, but ceramics was really his soul, you know.  It’s, like, what he was doing was, architecture looked like vases.  [They laugh.]  So obvious.

MS. RIEDEL:  Interesting.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Which is not my vision of architecture, you know, but it’s another way of doing architecture.  There are so many ways.  And as a matter of fact, when he went to--you know, he came to the States, married and so on and so forth, and came to the States, and he started Arcosanti, you know.  And Arcosanti is nothing but a huge sculpture.

MS. RIEDEL:  It is an interesting place.

MR. VIGNELLI:  It’s a huge piece of ceramic, you know, it’s not a piece of architecture.

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.  Yes, interesting.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And--unless one wants to call it architecture, but I’m [inaudible]

MS. RIEDEL:  That’s an interesting, have you seen it?

MR. VIGNELLI:  No, but I have no desire.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.  It’s an interesting place--interesting.

MR. VIGNELLI:  I have a great desire to go to [inaudible] place, but zero percent to go to Arcosanti.

MS. RIEDEL:  Arcosanti is in--you can’t decide if it’s going up or coming down.  It has both the feeling of something that’s in construction and something that’s deconstructing.

MR. VIGNELLI:  It’s--it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter because it’s neither up or down.  It’s part of nature more than anything else, you know. So okay, that was the very, very south.  Naples had some architects, teachers there, you know.  Rome had Zevi and other people.  And Rome had some--[Luigi] Piccinato, for instance, [Adalberto] Libera, you know, great architects.  And, of course, they had [Marcello] Piacentini, then--the--all the architecture built in the fascist time.  Then we go up to Florence.  There was [Giovanni] Michelucci was a great Florentine cultivating the Florentine tradition-- modern, but at the same time very sculptural on one side and very crafty on the other one.  [Inaudible] – of Italy – [inaudible].  So then we come to Milano, where all the major ones were there.  So BBPR, which is Banfi, Belgiojoso, Peressutti, Rogers that is the firm BBPR.  You know, that’s Rogers’ office.  Then there was Franco Albini of course, major figure.  Ignazio Gardella, one of my great mentors, you know, I worked a lot with him in his office.

MS. RIEDEL:  Sorry.  What was his name?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Gardella.  Great, great, very good architect.  Great one.  Great gentleman, too.  Mentor for me, you know, in the personal lifestyle, in a sense.

MS. RIEDEL:  How so?  What about that was inspiring to you?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Because he had--well, he came from a family of architects.  His great--his great-grandfather was a famous architect during the neoclassical period in general.  And he married a rich family—Borsalino--you know, so he married the heiress of Borsalino Hats, so he was pretty well-covered from [laughs] economics side.  And he was--so he had fabulous connections, and because of the connections, he could build beautiful buildings, and you know, of all kinds--some for the Borsalino company and for the workers, a sanatorium, and then offices and then, you know, houses for the rich people and so on.  And the--so – [inaudible] – Gardella was a very influential person, and he always said that I would become a very good architect.  [Laughs.]  So he was very encouraging from that point of view.

MS. RIEDEL:  Was there something in particular that you learned from his architecture or his way of working?  There was a particular influence?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, yes, a certain--a certain amount of ardor --I mean, interesting balance between discipline and happenstance, you know, and how to control the happenstance, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  Mm-hmm.  [Affirmative.]  Interesting.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And that is how my interpretation of his architecture; he was definitely a rationalist.  But at the same time, it was also the beginning of a new development from rationalist architecture, so it was interesting.

MS. RIEDEL:  And Castiglione, is there anything in particular that you took away from there?  I think about--

MR. VIGNELLI:  Castiglione was just the fact that they were working the whole field of design, from furniture to spoons, you know.  I mean, it was from the spoon to the city from them,  so the variety.

MS. RIEDEL:  And the design was really a discipline and, I think, of a consistency, you know, a constant in terms of that.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Mm-hmm.  [Affirmative.]  Yes.  Yes, it was a language.

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes,  exactly.

MR. VIGNELLI:  It was a language  and you had to learn this language, and when you learned this language, that was--that was a way of talking.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  And the design was a discipline rather than a style.  Yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh, it was never a style, that is the key thing.  That’s the rule number one, you know--and to understand that difference, you know.  And this is really--

MS. RIEDEL:  And where did you learn that?

MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]

MS. RIEDEL:  In Castiglione?  Yes.


MS. RIEDEL:  Before?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Through Rogers and the whole group, the whole climate, Italian climate, you know, or architecture--the Milanese climate.  And Mies, of course, you know.  And--but that is really what we strongly believe in and still talk all the time about.  And this is really the great, the fundamental diversity from the European kind of a background and American kind of background.  In America, modern architecture was just interpreted as another style, you see.  And the best proponent or the best exponent, in a sense, of that interpretation is certainly [Enrico] Frigerio, you know, for whom architecture was just a style, you know, very decorative, lightweight, probing --not stupid.  I mean, I was intellectually provoking--how do you say? But nothing--

MS. VIGNELLI:  He didn’t last long.  [Laughs.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  --nothing like the rigorousness that the European discipline had, you see.  In Europe, we have thousands of years of history.  And that means nothing else but thousand years of thinking [laughs] you know.  And it means a sequence--continued sequence of theories, one from the other, and going [inaudible] from one to the other, you know, never ending, you know.  And that is what really gave birth to a lot of the manifestation that we have over there, that we had in the past, you know, from architecture to music and from literature, you name it, you know.  And over here, of course, the history of this country is a very particular one, you know.  This country has been made by people that had no education whatsoever to begin with, you know, and came over because they were desperate at home--the immigrants, the early migrations, one year after the other, forever.  And even today, even today, they still come.  Today is the Latinos immigration wave in a sense, you know.  Turn of the century was the Italians, the Russians, you know, and so on, so forth, you know, the European--history of  European migration--the poor countries, you know, and so on. And so of course, this doesn’t mean that it stayed that way.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Glad to hear you think so.  [They laugh.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  On the contrary, they brought--you know, there were also cultured people, and those people which were cultured took upon themselves to bring culture to this country, you know.  I mean--and some were born here--I mean, also.  The Jeffersons engaged all their life--Jefferson, I mean--and his kind, you know, to raise the standard, you know, of culture over here.  Endless number of them, you know.  But what I say is, then, because of them, because of the lack of history, of course, everything was always interpreted as a style.  Also because of the attitude-- there’s this young, generous, looking-forward kind of attitude that American culture has, you know, which is terrific from that point of view.  But, of course, it needs also the other.  [Laughs.]  You know, it is a--it’s like a rocket propelled into the future, you know, you know.  And--but it never comes back.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  So what you were describing earlier is the--learning that balance between discipline and happenstance, it sounds as if it was a very happy meeting for you to come to the U.S. with that sense of history and design and to come some place that didn’t have that, but did have that enthusiasm and that openness – [inaudible].

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Yes, definitely.  Well, this is really--well, this--again, because of my interest in architecture and because of my exposure and knowledge, in a sense--exposure, information--why--I mean, vast information.  Let’s put it that way to be more humble--about--I knew a lot about the development of architecture in America of course, the great school of Chicago, the skyscrapers and so on and so forth, but also the whole Bay Area and California area--people like--I mean, as we have Rogers with [inaudible] there was John Entenza with [inaudible] architecture over here.  And John Entenza was extremely influential--was a terrific person to begin with--I personally liked to know him, but he was a person with a tremendous influence, you know, through us and Arts & Architecture Magazine, which was not so much over here, which was very reluctant to understand and learn or adopt the modern movement, you know, because it was very conservative, you know, not enough culture and so on and so forth, you know.

And therefore, it was only a little intellectual fringe that was embracing modern architecture here, you know.  But they were the [Raphael] Soriano, they were, you know, the Eames, of course, you know, and other--Craig, you know – and other architects of that period, that as Craig Ellwood, by the way, Craig Ellwood was his name.  Craig Ellwood was a terrific architect during that period of--and so there was a climate there that was very different from the one that was in Europe, in a sense, you know.  In Europe, there was a lot of debate about, modern architecture should be like this, should be like that, should be like this, should we develop, we should move, not move – oh my god, there was so much theory and so on and so forth, heavy stuff, you know.  By comparison, what was happening in California was so lighthearted and joyful and Eames you know, so full of life--

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.  Right.

MS. VIGNELLI:  And also so new, so--

MR. VIGNELLI:  So new and fresh, you know, and so I was eager to come here, and I took the first--when the opportunity to come with a fellowship came about, and of course I grabbed that opportunity.

MS. RIEDEL:  I want to get there, but before we move to that, I’d still want to go back and talk a little bit about school in Italy before you came here, because you actually studied architecture in Milan and then in Venice, yes?  That’s where you two met, I believe.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, exactly.

MS. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]

MS. RIEDEL:  So you enrolled in school and--

MR. VIGNELLI:  Of course, for me, going to school was more like going to make--to school to make propaganda for modern architecture than study,  because I was so advanced, I was playing assistant to my teachers, to the good ones.  Because one of the reasons I moved from Milan to Venice is because the school in Venice had all the best modern architects.  They were all teaching there, you know--Albini, Gardella, [Giuseppe] Samonà was the director.  [Carlo]  Scarpa was there.  Piacentini was there.  [Giancarlo] De Carlo was there, so all, you know, all the modern architects, leading modern architects, were teaching in Venice, when in Milan--none of them.  Strange enough, at that time in the ’50s, none of the-- the Milan School of Architecture, the Polytechnic, was very classical, in a sense.

MS. RIEDEL:  So you were at the Milan Polytechnic from 1950 to ’53, correct?

MR. VIGNELLI:  ’51, it was just one year.

MS. RIEDEL:  ’51 to ’53.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And then I moved to Venice.

MS. RIEDEL:  And the university of architecture in ’53.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, right.

MS. RIEDEL:  And you were there for two years?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, I was there until ’57.  Because on and off, you know, things like that.  You know, because then I started--so I’m going to school, but then I started also to work part-time at Venini Glass, you know, and then--

MS. RIEDEL:  How did that come about?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Because I knew the Venini, and they were looking for --he was looking for someone to develop a line of lighting fixtures.  And I, of course--that was a perfect --you know, perfect opportunity for me.  And Venini was the best glass company, the most modern one, so the combination of this opportunity in that place was irresistible.  So of course I took it, very, very happily.  And that allowed me to live in Venice, by the way, instead of commuting to Venice from Milan.

MS. RIEDEL:  Was that a connection that happened through Carlo Scarpa, and was he working in glass at the time?

MR. VIGNELLI:  No.  No, Carlo Scarpa had been working before me at Venini, but he had left already.  You know, he was a teacher of us, you know, but the--but he had already left.  And so I stayed with Venini until ’57, basically, you know, doing all kinds of things--

MS. RIEDEL:  So two or three years?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Starting with--again, starting by doing glass lamps and so on and so forth.  And then I started redesigning the offices and, you know [laughs] and designing the graphics.  You know [inaudible] always did the whole room.  You know, it was never only one unit, since I knew how to do it [inaudible].

MS. VIGNELLI:  He had to do those things, because he couldn’t do--he cannot write [inaudible].

MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, she’s trying--she’s trying to tell you the story of my examinations, that I was bad in examinations.

MS. VIGNELLI:  They were so bad, very bad.

MS. RIEDEL:  And this makes--

MR. VIGNELLI:  But on the same--but on the other side, I was the best in school.  For all architectural things, all architectural courses, of course, I was the best.  And the art history--I didn’t do art history just with a paper.  I did it with a movie the first time.

MS. RIEDEL:  You did it with a movie?

MR. VIGNELLI:  I made a little film, yes.

MS. RIEDEL:  You made a film for art history.

MR. VIGNELLI:  At that time that was the first time in Italy that anyone did a university paper, essay, using a camera instead of paper, and that, naturally, was in every newspaper.  It was in the news.

MS. RIEDEL:  Really?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, it was that kind of a thing.  I was that kind of a young guy, you know.  [Laughs.]  Then I was coming up, always, with something that--you know, it was different.

MS. VIGNELLI:  He was different and he invented, you know, for himself.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MS. VIGNELLI:  And then, you know, if he had to do something for the [inaudible] the thing that he had to go and say something to them, he was unbelievable--

MR. VIGNELLI:  But I was--again, the examination--

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes, that was not the way for you.

MR. VIGNELLI:  – you know, probably like in mathematics and things like that, you know, chemistry or I couldn’t do it.

MS. VIGNELLI:  I’d even have to work with him and, you know, try to [inaudible] what he had to say.

MS. RIEDEL:  It’s interesting, though, because it--from a very--it makes me think of a quote of yours that I really liked from the books about being against specialization.


MS. RIEDEL:  You know, we think that it brings entropy and entropy brings creative death.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Perfect.

MS. RIEDEL:  From the very beginning, you were interested in exploring that wide range of opportunities for design.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Exactly, the whole field of design.  Yes, and I was just eager to do it.  I mean, whatever, if I will meet somebody that’s doing a chair, I will meet and say, how about doing a new chair, you know?  It’s always been like that.  You know, immediately I will propose something, you know, all the time.  I wasn’t waiting for someone to come to me, just like that.  That was always--whatever field, you know?  So half of the day was with glass, and then the other half of the day was supposed to be with school.  And then I started, instead, to do type--I mean, graphic design.

MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.  How did that--yes, how did that come about?

MR. VIGNELLI:  So I started to do catalogs.  You know, for the Biennale in Venice, so I started--I met somebody that was a director of a printing, and he was a publisher--of a printing shop.  And when he saw my kind of work, he liked it, because there was nobody else around that could do things like that in Venice, and so I started to design everything.

MS. RIEDEL:  What were some of those early graphics projects that you were designing that he would see?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Catalogs for the Biennale in Venice.

MS. RIEDEL:  You were doing catalogs for the Biennale?  As a student?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  A catalog for a particular kind, like the music, or I did a catalog for another guy – [inaudible] – I mean, a catalog, brochures and things like that.  I did one for Laurence Olivier when he came with Titus Andronicus.

MS. RIEDEL:  Laurence Olivier?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, yes.  And I did beautiful books.  And I just had a few photographs, you know, to play with, but I start to move into these photographs, making the spreads and things like that.  Make a book out of three photographs, you know.  And that, you know, that was like the best.  That was something that hadn’t been seen before, you know, square in a [inaudible].  You know, I didn’t invent the square, but the books were not square at that time.  Books were just books.  And the books were so horrible at the time.  And so the--you know, in playing with type and size, and contrast of sizes and things like that.  And in doing that, I was developing a kind of language, in a sense.  You know, things like--for instance, I remember maybe just placing something there, you know, and having it be all these pages or doing covers and then putting the title right there.  Fine.

MS. RIEDEL:  Very minimal, asymmetrical.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, that’s it.

MS. RIEDEL:  A real contrast between the positive and negative stuff.

MR. VIGNELLI:  I don’t see symmetrical and asymmetrical, playing always with these elements--symmetry and asymmetry, you know.  So central here, but then you turn the page, it becomes asymmetrical and so on.  But, you know, these elements were beginning to creep in as a personal element of a language.  You know, and the relationship between an object and a space-- the object and the space, you know.  The object would be type, a title, whatever it be, you know, things like that.  And so then the guy that had this printing shop, you know, was involved with the Socialist Party, you know, so in--I think it was--Then he had a paper that was done so poorly, so badly, like a turn-of-the-century kind of thing, and I said, “Let’s do it.”  Let’s really do it, you know.  So I did this newspaper, like this.  Well, this was the masthead of [inaudible] you know, big red condensed type, and then type underneath, you know, like that.  You can see, just by looking even now [Laughs] it was completely different from anything that was run in terms of newspapers, but again, another great--and every-- another great experience, every time was a new experience--this now was the experience in doing a newspaper.  That means handling news, handing things, and deciding--this was long before computers, naturally, it was all moveable type.  And you do it right in the printing shop, moving all the type around, you know, quickly, to get the whole thing done and out and printed, and so there was a lot of these. 

And then, of course, I met other people, you know, connection, connection --met somebody who came to have some packaging done, so I start to do the packaging.  Then they were so happy, so the cousin of this at another company came on, you know.  And then a restaurateur from Modena liked the Venini lamps, bought the Venini lamps, then he came to meet me because he liked the lamps.  He filled up his restaurants with those lamps.  And then, of course, you know, as I listened--but now that you have the lamps, you cannot go have a menu like this.  And then he had a whole line of products, you know, packaging.  I said, “we’ve got to do the packaging,” and that is Fini.  And it’s, again, another big line of products that came out at the time.  Some are still on the market [phone rings] you know, that long ago.  Excuse me.

MS. RIEDEL:  Mm-hmm.  [Affirmative.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  So that is the way I was--you know, it works.

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.  [Laughs.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  That is the way I was just growing, really, you know, from one project to the other.

MS. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible] thinking about what he did, because when he had to go to take, you know, to go to talk to a professor, because he had [inaudible] to say that he was in business – [inaudible] [laughs] he’d know what to do.  [Inaudible.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]

MS. RIEDEL:  We’ll get to that.  This leads me to--it makes me think of a question that was on this list, about where do you get your ideas.  And it seems as if one aspect of a project would lead to the next.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Well, for instance, you know, this publisher here, you know, the guy actually was a publisher, but was also the director of this printing shop.  And so any kind of printing thing, project that would come around, he would pass it to me.  But also, for instance, he had friends that wanted to do books, so I would design the book.  I mean, so I’m going into book design all of a sudden, and that is why I still have these books--one of the first books I’d done. 

And then, again, always this guy here--well, he was a socialist, you know, he was very good friends with one of the richest families in Italy, as a matter of fact, at that time--the one that owned the beautiful Palladio villa – it’s called Maser [Palladio Villa Barbaro at Maser], you know.  So he introduced me to, you know, to these people.  And these people introduced me to the whole nobility of the Venetian area, all the people with Palladian villas.  And so we were spending, you know, time going, you know, all of Christmas vacation going from one to the other to the other.  You know, one thing is to look at Palladian villa.  Another thing is to wake up for breakfast in a Palladian villa.

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]  I imagine.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And dine in a Palladian villa.  So, you know, and--

MS. RIEDEL:  What was that experience like for you, as a young designer?

MS. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh, it was fantastic.  Fantastic, and imagine, you know, but all this is very formal, if you know.  You see, intellectual elegance comes from many sources.  You know, it comes from what you read, what you’re exposed to, you know, and all this is beginning to form your mind in such a way that rejects vulgarity.  And, of course, when you grow up in this kind of a situation, you can’t stand vulgarity.  You fight it and make it a crusade for the rest of your life to fight vulgarity.  That’s why I came here.

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]  To the heart of the beast.

MR. VIGNELLI:  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  That is something that you have said repeatedly--just that design is a fight against vulgarity.  How would you--how would you define vulgarity?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Lack of intellectual elegance, to begin with.

MS. RIEDEL:  And how would you define intellectual elegance?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Lack of vulgarity.

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  But vulgarity is the byproduct of greed, ignorance--and mostly greed, you know, uncontrolled greed, and lack of education--ignorance, basically.  That is it.  And that is really, you know, well, it’s true when I say that a major reason for me to come over was really to dedicate myself, my life, to fight that, you know, try to raise the standard maybe just one inch in a century, but that would be enough.  It’d be better than nothing, you know.  Someone has to do it.

[They laugh.]

MS. RIEDEL:  And you just saw--I imagine it was a time of great opportunity here, where there was--

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, yes.

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes, but why did you--you chose to come here rather than stay in Italy.  Why?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, I’ll tell you.  As I said, I was fascinated by the American culture at the time, you know, we’re talking about the middle of ’70s, middle of--middle of ’50s, you know, and in ’57, I got a fellowship, you know, to come to America, so I –

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.  Silversmiths, right?  Towle?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Towle Silversmiths, yes, and to design forks, knives, and spoons.

MS. RIEDEL:  Really?

MR. VIGNELLI:  I don’t care.  I would have taken, as I say, the sanitation department fellowship, you know, just to--

MS. RIEDEL:  This was in Massachusetts?  Boston?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, in Newburyport.

MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

MR. VIGNELLI:  So, you know, I got that fellowship, so Lella and I, we got married and we came over.  Lella continued her study at MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] and I was doing the--

MS. VIGNELLI:  Yes, because I was about to finish my--get my thing for [inaudible].  But then we had to come.  So then, you know, they still gave me the--

MS. RIEDEL:  Degree?

MS. VIGNELLI:  --the finish, you know.  But then I could go [inaudible] – MIT.

MS. RIEDEL:  And finish up at MIT.


MS. VIGNELLI:  And that was a very good option.  I loved it.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And so we spent one year in Boston, and then we went to [inaudible].  We stopped in Chicago, and we met Jay Doblin--that was the director of the Institute of Design, the IIT [Illinois Institute of Technology].  And Jay Doblin offered me to go and to be a teacher at the IIT, the Institute of Design, and of course, that was a fabulous opportunity.  I couldn’t refuse.

MS. RIEDEL:  Absolutely.

MR. VIGNELLI:  So I said, “Okay, fine.”  So we went there in Chicago.  We stayed there for two years, and Lella went to work for SOM.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.  Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill, right?


MS. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible] and I really, they were very happy with me.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Of course.

MS. RIEDEL:  I bet.

MS. VIGNELLI:  And then, after three years [inaudible]

MR. VIGNELLI:  Two years.

MS. VIGNELLI:  Two years, you know, he went to have some time, more time, because he went three --

MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]

MS. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible]   to say, you know, we are to go back.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right, right.

MS. VIGNELLI:  So he went, and they said, you know, they saw--they [inaudible]  that I worked.  They got really upset, because they said, “We are just ready to” [inaudible].

MS. RIEDEL:  So you were working as an architect?


MS. VIGNELLI:  Oh, yes.

MS. RIEDEL:  And you were teaching at the university, at the institute?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  I was teaching there, and I was also working part-time at Container Corporation.  And that’s where I met Ralph Eckerstrom.  Ralph Eckerstrom was the director of design and advertising at Container Corporation.  We became very good friends, and so eventually, then, we--the name will come back--so eventually, then, we had to go back to Milan.  And so we got back, but at this point, I already had fabulous connections all over in Italy, in Milan in particular, being my city--

MS. VIGNELLI:  And when we came back, you know [inaudible] to see what was new, you know.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Before we get back to Milan, though, just a little bit more about Illinois.  What were you teaching in Chicago?  What was the focus?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Graphic design.

MS. RIEDEL:  You were teaching graphic design?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, I was teaching corporate identities, as a matter of fact.

MS. RIEDEL:  And had you made a decision to work in a more full-scale sense of specifically graphic design?  Go more 2-D rather than 3-D?  Were you pursuing that rather than architecture, or how did--how did your focus come about?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh, yes.  I eventually dropped out, in a sense.

MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, well, I did a building when I was a student.  You know, and it was fine.  It was, you know, it was nice, was published in Domus, and so on.  You know, so it wasn’t just a piece of junk.  It was a nice little building, very influenced from American architecture of the West Coast.

MS. RIEDEL:  And where is the building?

MR. VIGNELLI:  It’s near Milan.

MS. RIEDEL:  Really?  Okay.  Is it still there?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Still there.  Yes, and completely [inaudible] and completely transformed.  Before, it was a nice little house; today, it’s all--we can’t find it anymore; it’s all built around like that, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  So it was a home, a single-family home that you designed?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  It was nice.  It had a plan, basically, like that.

MS. RIEDEL:  And you said, influenced by California architecture.

MR. VIGNELLI:  It has a left H-plan, you know.  Well, this was the--these were the bedrooms, and then here was the kitchen and this was the whole living room, and this was the patio, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  So very modular.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, yes.

MS. RIEDEL:  And did you make a decision, for one reason or another, to focus more specifically on graphics, and what in particular--

MR. VIGNELLI:  No.  No, it just--

MS. RIEDEL:  Or corporate ID?

MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible] what I got it [inaudible] was happening.  And, of course, why corporate ID, because when you do a corporate identity, basically, you touch every area, every aspect, so there it was again, from the spoon to the city, in one profession.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right, right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, legally, in a sense.  Not just a troubadour, you know, but so you go from the logo to the stationaries and forms, and then you get to the packaging, and then you get to the product, and you get to the showrooms, and then you get to the trade shows, and then you get to the building, then you get to the office interiors.  You see, that’s the whole thing.  And you provide it always, the whole service, throughout [inaudible].
And--but again, why we could do that?  Because of that initial interest--from the spoon to the city.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, that is the thing, this lack of specialization, from the beginning, you know, the fact of not being just focused on one thing, but focused on a whole concept of design.  So that is what was unique.  And this is why when I was teaching in Chicago, when nobody was teaching corporate identity, but this is exactly like I just mentioned now.  I was teaching the whole width, you know, and the scope of design--not as designing a logo, you know.  I was saying, when you design a logo, you’ve got nothing.  To think that the logo is everything is like thinking that a door is a building.  [Laughs.]  A door is just a door.

MS. RIEDEL:  So did this, as you were beginning to design these corporate identities, is that when you began to formulate that theory about semantics and syntax and pragmatics?


MS. RIEDEL:  Yes, I would think--

MR. VIGNELLI:  Eventually, yes.


MR. VIGNELLI:  I mean, it didn’t crystallize very clearly, like that, you know, for --it took a long time, really, to come to maturity on that.  But that was, of course, the--the semantic, the semiotic [inaudible] was something of my generation.  You know, Umberto Eco is a very good friend of mine.  We grew up, in a way, in a sense, together--to a certain extent, you know.  And we’re partners in culture.  And I remember, one day I was telling to Umberto, “Umberto, but we never study, really, semiotics.  We are semiotics.”

[They laugh.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes, yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  That is a--

MS. RIEDEL:  You can see--I can see, though, how your--your inclination towards that whole corporate identity from, basically, the metaphorical spoon to the city--that mindset of that whole world of design is very much present, or could lead to, or would have been led to by that focus on semantics and that search for meaning within the object or the corporation, the syntax, how it all connects, and then the pragmatic, because, of course, it has to work.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, exactly.  Very important, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.  Yes, yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  But again, it’s very important--in a sense, it’s also American.  It came from the American experience, also.

MS. RIEDEL:  How so?

MR. VIGNELLI:  The importance of that--pragmatic, or pragmatism, was an American invention.

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  Europeans are not pragmatic.  They couldn’t care less.  They’re idealistic.  If it goes, it goes; if it doesn’t, it’s just too bad.  Over here, it’s that if it doesn’t work, something is wrong. [Laughs.] Fix it.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right, interesting.  Interesting, so the pragmatics came from the American experience.

MR. VIGNELLI:  So the opportunity of spending two years in Chicago was very formative in a sense, you know.  And at the same time, also, the exposure to the other Chicago designers--

MS. VIGNELLI:  There were quite a few.

MR. VIGNELLI:  It was both ways, you know.  It was working both ways, and so then, when we went back to Milan, of course, as I said, we had good connections, and so we got immediately fabulous work, you know, from the best companies--Olivetti and Borelli and Rank Xerox, you know.  And that gave us a tremendous amount of super-exposure, but also, even more solidity, now, in our contacts, you know, people who--you know, you’re young.  You go to parties all the time.  Everybody was having a party.  They were all my age, and, you know, people, more or less [inaudible] they were older than me.  Xerox was old--Xerox, over there, was a little older than me, perhaps, perhaps the same age.  I don’t know.  A little older than--the Olivetti people were a little older than me, but not much.  We were all part of the same generation, in a sense.  And all of the sudden, I was one of them that knew how to do things.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, so we’re having a lot of fun all the time--parties and so--and every time, the connections would be growing, and more work was pouring in.  And so it’s  [inaudible]  you know, and everyone [inaudible] more work, more things.  And it was incredibly, fantastically a success, you know, for the first five years, four years actually.  And, you know, really glamorous work, like the Piccolo Theatre, for instance.  Again, there my god, Piccolo Theatre in Milan was a fabulous institution.  And again, to do all this was, you know--

MS. RIEDEL:  And what exactly were you doing for the Piccolo Theatre?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh, the whole thing.

MS. RIEDEL:  Again?

MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible] you know, all graphic program--

MS. RIEDEL:  The entire--all the graphics?

MR. VIGNELLI:  No, not the whole thing.  Just the graphic program, but at the graphic program, they start with graphics and will do exhibitions.  And, you know, and I would--I also invented a way of doing an exhibition, at that time, with panels, you know, panels in the theater, in the lobby, you know, great exhibit.  And then with samples and things--and little masks and costumes as well, you know, but mostly printed stuff.  And the whole panels, pictures and text and drawings, you know.  And then I developed this trick of designing everything--about this size, let’s say, and then blowing it up to become a panel, and shrinking it down to become a folder, you know--

MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Again, so that you would go to see the exhibit, and then take the exhibit home.

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  Fantastic, but you see, again, that is that “spoon to the city” kind of attitude.  It doesn’t stop to graphics, you know?

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  It becomes exhibition, design.  It becomes an object to take home – [inaudible].  It’s that kind of approach, you know, that I [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  That was an especially interesting project, and correct me if I’m wrong because it was the first time that I’ve seen--or I’m familiar with, when you began to develop those information bands that I know so well from the national park brochures.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Yes, of course.  And that-- that was an invention really.

MS. RIEDEL:  But that was really the very first time, yes?

MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, that was the language.  You say something because that is the way I write, really--the way I make notes.

MS. RIEDEL:  That’s the way, yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  I write with [inaudible] and I’d always done that, you know, all my life.  And when I was doing this, of course, it became natural to do that kind of a thing.  Because you have the name there, you know, and then the first one is where you put the name of the theater and the symbol, whatever it is, and the date and all the--you know, it’s a language, it is a handwriting at the same time.  And when I discovered that, that was my handwriting, that was the greatest day in my life, because I discovered I had my own language.  You know, and all of a sudden, all I had to do is just refine it.  I didn’t have to scout around for something, you know, and so on, and I didn’t do that by looking for it.  It came out.


MR. VIGNELLI:  And that is why it’s so good.  You know, it came out as a personal thing.  And then the same kind of attitude comes when you, you know, apply it to a sofa.  This sofa is the same age as this Piccolo Theatre.

MS. RIEDEL:  Is it really?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, same design, same year, 1964.  You see, but it’s the same--

MS. RIEDEL:  Was this the Poltrona [sic] design?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Poltrona--Poltronova.


MR. VIGNELLI:  But, you know, this is the same language of the Piccolo Theatre.

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes, yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, you have a bench on which you sit, on which you rest.  You know, these are modular elements, like that.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And it’s a way of thinking.

MS. RIEDEL:  And the juxtaposition between the very linear, simple bowls, and then the softer, more organic shapes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And the Gardella, I think, again--rational and happenstance, you know.


[End of Disc]

MS. RIEDEL:  [In process] yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  The control of these two elements, you know.


MR. VIGNELLI:  I hate having it stand by itself.

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]  Yes, I know it.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And I hate rational by itself, it is the marriage of the two that excites me; you know, that’s great.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  The tension that happens there, yes. 

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, yes.  Yes, and tension is a very important element.  You know--you know, one thing is to do these and another thing is to do that, you know?  And you see this margin and you see this margin?  This margin is tension; this margin is flat tire.  [They laugh.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Flat tire.  [Laughs.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  You see that is how these things work.  And so I spent four years in growing and being exposed to a tremendous amount of work, and accumulating an incredible amount of experience, you know, in printing particularly, you know.  And--

MS. RIEDEL:  What besides the Piccolo Theater stands out in your memory?  Are there other projects that were especially memorable?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Only essentially publications, books.  And in every book from this publishing house, and I’ve used many, many, many collections--I mean, many series of books.  I mean--

MS. RIEDEL:  What was the publishing house?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Sansoni [Publishing House].

MS. RIEDEL:  Sansoni

MR. VIGNELLI:  And, you know, and then very innovative kind of approaches.  And you know, they are [inaudible] you know, compared to a regular book design.  There was nothing similar in my time to that in Europe at the time.  And--

MS. RIEDEL:  How extraordinary.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Hah, not to mention in America, which was being far behind in the publication business, you know, I mean, book design--particularly in large work--I mean, in paperbacks or things like that, you know, or of textbooks and things like that.  So, you understand, I was very dedicated to designing textbooks because they go to schools.  And it really is important that students from the very beginning learn to grow up into an environment--it’s like I was saying, growing up in a Palladio house, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  It’s the same kind of--you learn from everything and apply it for--to everything.

MS. RIEDEL:  Well, it’s an experiential understanding of the experience versus a visual--

MR. VIGNELLI:  Right.  You see, and these things, they never leave you for the rest of your life.  And of course, and this is why it’s so important--this is why I believe so strongly on the importance of design in the society, you know, the responsibility of designers for the society not giving vulgar design, because vulgar design breeds vulgar people.  It’s by--you know, a chicken and the egg situation. You bring--if you expose young students to well-designed things, their mind becomes more refined.  They will not accept vulgarity thereafter, they will just reject that.  They will begin--they won’t like it, you know?  But until there’s a culture that provides that, of course, that this becomes the main choice--it depends on--and if the other, and there’s just so few, disappear [laughs] so this is why it’s so important for all of us designers to really be engaged in activities as much as possible. 

And so then in 1964 we decided, let’s go to see our friends in Chicago.  So we went to Chicago.  And the first friend I called up is Ralph Eckerstrom, you know, at the Container Corporation.  And they’re telling me he’s no longer here and just left last week, you know, Container Corporation.  So I called him at home, I said, “What happened?”  He said, “Well, I just left Container.  I’m considering, you know, other alternatives.  Hey, let’s get together.”  So we got together and so he was considering an alternative at Ford to begin, you know, design director, graphic communication director--I don’t--at Ford.  And I said what--

LELLA VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible] he already did work for Ford.

MR. VIGNELLI:  No, that was before.  And so he – and I said, “Why do you want to go to work for another company?  You just left Container Corporation, why do you want to work for Ford?”  And saying, “Listen, why don’t we set up an international company?  And then we--where we can put under one umbrella all the best design of existing work.  You know, and I’m--they’re all friends of mine.  You know, someone will accept that.”  Okay.  So I went to--came to New York and took [inaudible] and they said, “Well, Massimo, we like you, but we don’t like Ralph.”  I said, “Okay, fine.”  And then I went to London and talked with Alan Fletcher at Pentagram, it wasn’t Pentagram yet, but it--what became Pentagram.  Fletcher--I then took--Alan Fletcher was my great friend, and Colin Forbes.  And so I said, “Let’s do this.  Let’s get together.  And, you know, let’s start this company.”  And they said, again--Fletcher had worked with Eckerstrom before.  So he said, “He’s your friend, he’s not my friend.  Why don’t you buy it?”  So I went to Milan, talked with Bob Noorda.  And Bob and I were thinking already of joining our offices in Milan because we were very good friends, we were teaching together and so on and so forth.  We had the two best offices [laughs] in Italy at the time.  So I said, “why don’t we join?”  And so I said to Bob about our whole idea.  I said, “Okay, let’s think.”  So I called Chicago and I said, “Okay.  Fine, here we got Bob Noorda and I--at least we can start with this unit.  Why don’t you start to organize something there?”  So he organized some other office over there like Larry Klein and--

MS. RIEDEL:  So it was you and Bob and Ralph to start?


MS. RIEDEL:  And Larry Klein.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, actually, me and--me and Ralph to start.  In Milan it was Bob and I.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right, okay. 

MR. VIGNELLI:  So--and then Ralph talked to Jay Doblin.  Jay liked the idea, and so a fourth [inaudible] you know, the protagonist of this event, you know?  And so we decided that in January ’65 we started Unimark, you know, International.   And we started the company with an office in Chicago, one in Milan, one in New York, and one in San Francisco.  So in day one we already had four offices--day one.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  And who was in San Francisco?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Nobody.  [Laughs.]  No, it was a guy--there was a guy there.  You know, nobody relevant.

MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

MR. VIGNELLI:  So it was more a contact office, but it was good for our contacts there.

MS. RIEDEL:  Absolutely.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Chicago, of course, there was Ralph and other people, you know.  And Larry Klein as a designer, that’s the only one.  Then in New York there was James Fogelman.  And James Fogelman started with--rented an office--sub-leased an office in the Seagram Building.  And I said, “Are you crazy?  I mean, this is--how can we--I mean, if we start that way, we’re--we can’t afford it.”  And he said, “It’s the right image,” and he was so right, you know.  And I would have chickened out, but instead I learned the importance of that.  And then so we rented that space, but we were outnumbered because, after all, Jim got sick. Jim Fogelman and he couldn’t run the office there [inaudible].  So he just had a designing of Walter Kacik which was a good designer.  And he’s the one that designed the sanitation trucks.

MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, so he’s really good. 

MS. RIEDEL:  What’s his name?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Walter Kacik

MS. RIEDEL:  Walter Kacik, okay.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And then--and then there was the Milan office, you know, of course where the two of us were.  And all the best work was done by the two of us in Milan, you know.  So that’s all we had to show to clients, but Ralph was the greatest salesman in the world. 

MS. RIEDEL:  Really?

MR. VIGNELLI:  He was fabulous.  Very handsome man, tall; he came through the [inaudible] Italy.

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  But anyway, yes, super guy.  And so he--you know, he would make contacts.  And I would fly from New York from Milano to Chicago once or twice a month.  And that kind of--and we were making presentations everywhere.  I mean, I’m showing the slides, showing the philosophy, you know, and I’m showing this in slides the photography that we had, you know?  And the--and it was incredible operation.  And of course the clients--

MS. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible] from here to now to everywhere [inaudible] you were never coming back.  And then the kids were small; they were four, you know, something like that.

MR. VIGNELLI:  No, there was only one at the time.

MS. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  There was only one kid.

MS. VIGNELLI:  Only one?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  He was the only--

MS. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]  [They laugh.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  He was--

MS. VIGNELLI:  And he was coming back and the kid was--he didn’t even know that that was his father, you know?  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Traveling so much, yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  But then – but they – so just to give an idea, the first client we had was the Ford Motor Company because Ralph had that kind of--that contact. 

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]  Perfect.  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  So we went to Detroit, and Ford said, “Well, but you have to have an office here.”  Fine, no problem. So we went to--back to the motel.  We rented five rooms at the motel.  We went downtown, we got tables and T-squares and drafting equipment and all this--  put it in the living room,you know, the next day we had an office.  [They laugh.]  The Ford people, said, “What – these kids are not kidding.” 


MR. VIGNELLI:  You know.  So in the meantime, we started to look for a real office.  And we found a beautiful office next to the Ford Company.  You know, as I said, it was mainly [inaudible] so we set up with the office there.  So now beside the four original offices, we had Detroit.  Now, then Ralph makes a contact in Denver, you know, with a client in Denver, and it was--it was called--a sugar company, used to--well, anyhow. 

MS. RIEDEL:  Domino?

MR. VIGNELLI:  No, it was a Pacific-something.  Not Georgia-Pacific. [Great Western Sugar Company]

MS. RIEDEL:  We can come back to it.  I’ll make a note.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, yes.

MS. RIEDEL:  And just a quick question about Ford.  Were you designing their corporate ID, or--

MR. VIGNELLI:  Of course, of course.

MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And that was the job to do--to design the corporate ID.  And our--and of course, not only are exciting, you know, I’m talking 1965.  Our fee for that job was a million dollar.  That put us in business. 

MS. RIEDEL:  I should say.  1965?

MR. VIGNELLI:  1965.  That was a lot of money. 


MR. VIGNELLI:  Enough.  And so all of a sudden we were the talk of the world.  You see, the company had just started.  Not only that, but in a--back in Milano, of course, I learned how to use Helvetica from--since day one, when it was just flash for the foundries.

MS. RIEDEL:  Really?

MR. VIGNELLI:  So by the time I got to--got to New York, I really knew what to do with – how to make that typeset, you know, beautifully.  So--

MS. RIEDEL:  Now, how were you exposed to Helvetica in Milan through your printing work?


MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Exactly.  I ordered it wasn’t very--

MS. RIEDEL:  It wasn’t--

MR. VIGNELLI:  I sent the printer in Switzerland to buy it, you know, and bring it to Milan.  So--and then we use this in the meantime.  So when we got--when we started here I, of course I wanted to have Helvetica.  And Helvetica was not available anywhere.  And I couldn’t work without it.  [Laughs.]  You know, I need it because I--Helvetica is a very particular thing that you can--you had to type very close on the autotype--and big shoulders like that, you know.  So I needed that type.  So I ordered in all the typesetters that used to be around the United States--so in all the five cities--to type the Helvetica. 

MS. RIEDEL:  And it wasn’t here before that? 


MS. RIEDEL:  Amazing.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Automatically that--the using of Helvetica throughout the United States.  That’s why when I say that I single-handedly imported Helvetica, it’s true.  [They laugh.] 

MS. RIEDEL:  That’s extraordinary.

MR. VIGNELLI:  That’s how it happened.  And--because of that kind of situation.  [Inaudible.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  So then--well, then I would start to use--we would start to use Helvetica for a [inaudible] which was never heard of kind of a thing.

MS. RIEDEL:  Revolutionary?

MR. VIGNELLI:  No, no.  The advertising agency was using these kind of typefaces.  They used [inaudible] was best because they were always used, you know.  Advertising agency have no type of graphical sense whatsoever.  And basically they are merchants.  And they are salesmen of space, you know?  They’re not designers.  I mean, some are.  [Inaudible] Doyle Dane Bernbach at that time was a fantastic one, you know.  Or – because, like, people like George Lois and people like, you know, Larry Kroin, but, you know, like flies.  So automatically Helvetica was run with five offices around the world.  You know, then we got clients in Cleveland.  And I say, yes, it’s close to Detroit, it’s close to Chicago, but they need more daily service, and so we decided to open an office in Cleveland.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  And who was this client?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Halles [ph].

MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And then in the meantime San Francisco opened up in terms of clients.  And we got Memorex for instance and--you know, Varian, Memorex and other clients, you know, in that area.  And so we started to expand and expand and expand.  Then in--then in New York we got Gillette, you know.  So we had a lot of work for Gillette.  In Chicago, they got a lot of other major clients.  And here we got J.C. Penney, you know, we got American Airlines, we got, you know, Knoll and so on and so forth.  So we had these fabulous companies.  And of course, the New York office had the best clients [laughs] you know?  And on top of this, when we started Unimark, you know, of course I said, “Okay, Ralph, you become the president.  I will be in charge of design.  You leave design to me, you know, I’ll take design throughout the world--the whole world.” 

MS. RIEDEL:  You’ll take design throughout the whole world?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, exactly.  And I say, “I take design through all the offices because they want all the offices to--”

MS. RIEDEL:  Uniform.

MR. VIGNELLI:  To be uniform.


MR. VIGNELLI:  Not only uniform in design, but uniform was included.  We all had a white smock, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, that’s right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  All the offices were exactly the same design.  This office, you know, white, black --white sofa, black cushions, gray carpets, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  This was the Saratoga seat?  Is that was that was called?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, yes.  And so there was this incredible consistency--again, the same principle.  Why should it be different for us, you know?  Similar degree applies to us.  So that’s the way it was.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  So he was the president and you handled design in all the offices.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  I was the vice president in charge of design for the whole company, yes. 

MS. RIEDEL:  And you must have been--

MR. VIGNELLI:  And every kind--you know, I would see--I would go to every office, see whatever new clients there are there, listen to what their situation is and then say, okay, we’re going to do it like this, because I always think quick.  [Laughs.]  We’re going to do it like this, like this, like that, and of course, I’d always use Helvetica [inaudible] you know, few typefaces, you know.  So it was fast for me to tell--to leave instruction how to do it, you know, the grades and all--we had our language.  We had our grammar.  We had all our elements so it could be applied throughout.  And then designers that we were hiring were all designers that were sharing our--eager to come to work with us, because they were sharing that kind of a philosophy, and so on, and so it was terrific. 

MS. RIEDEL:  Was there a different sense culturally of corporate identity in the U.S.--or in New York versus San Francisco versus Milan?

MS. RIEDEL:  Or were you--you noticed no cultural distinction whatsoever?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Not much.  No, the needs are the same, you know, basically.  There are no cultural differences [inaudible].  An airline is an airline.  A J.C. Penney is a J.C. Penney.  I mean [laughs] all over the world, you know, I mean, department stores.  And we have everywhere. So after then, then we got – you know, we were planning an office in London, then an office in Johannesburg, one in Melbourne, one in Copenhagen, which didn’t last too long.  But in a short time we had 11 offices around the world and became the largest design company in the world.


MR. VIGNELLI:  Isn’t that fun?

MS. RIEDEL:  [They laugh.]  Yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  That was a lot of fun.

MS. RIEDEL:  And very early on.

MR. VIGNELLI:  The problem is that none of us was a good businessperson in terms of handling, you know, the finances and structuring and so forth.  We--you know, a good company is a pot.  We were in a colander, you know?  There were more holes than--more holes than surface.

MS. RIEDEL:  How so?  Just nobody to manage the--

MR. VIGNELLI:  None of them was really good at that, you know.  And we never been lucky in finding a good one, you know, that could really manage such a large operation.

MS. RIEDEL:  It was huge.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And locally, you see, then--

MS. RIEDEL:  And that was before fax.  That was before the Internet.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Because everything was centralized.  It was Ralph’s belief in centralization.  Okay, and that was his approach.  I believe in just the opposite, in decentralization.  So I want to have every office a profit center by itself, and so that--the incentive would be on every office.  And I want to expand the offices like a franchise all around the world, every office that is good and is worth it, we will provide the support and they will operate and just give us a percentage and that was my idea.  Ralph wanted to have the whole thing.  And it--so it was a working [inaudible]

MS. RIEDEL:  And also very early on, this was--this was when you designed the New York City Subway map too, isn’t it?  During this time, yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Of course, one of the very--one of the very first things that we did.

MS. RIEDEL:  ’66, right?



MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, and imagine we came--we came at the end of ’65 in New York, and all this--I mean, it made time traveling back and forth, you know.  We decided to come over here and give Bob--turn it into an office.

MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.  So you relocated here in ’65?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, and Bob was a terrific designer, and very honest and Dutch--very good person.  So we decided to leave the office in [inaudible] and we moved in the Seagram Building, which I loved doing.  [Laughs.]  We moved in the Seagram Building, then when I got the green card, I say we have to celebrate.  So we got a Rolls-Royce.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, for goodness sake. 

MR. VIGNELLI:  So between the Seagram Building, the Rolls-Royce, and all of us had great success--you can imagine, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes, yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  But that is also managing your image in a sense, you know?

MS. RIEDEL:  Exactly.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And not that I was too conscious.  I was just doing it because I like it.  But it’s a fact and I knew, and I said, “Okay, it’s an image that’s okay.  It’s okay with me.”  It’s not that we’re doing it for the image.  [Inaudible] -- interested because I like to have that, you know, and [inaudible] and so on and so on.  And so--but it was fun.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  It must have been an extraordinary time, and this was before there was much telecommunications, so you had to literally be in all these different places all the time.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh yes, exactly.  Exactly, zero.  This was long before the computer, long before--

MS. RIEDEL:  And long before fax, long before anything.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Before anything.

MS. RIEDEL:  The telephone was all you had.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Just the telephone, yes.

MS. RIEDEL:  That’s amazing.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And writing.  And that’s it.

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.  Yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, it’s amazing when I think about it.  That is really pre-history.  I mean, but as I say all the time, it’s B.C.--before computer.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.  [They laugh.]  And what’s really extraordinary is how many of those early designs are still in place – still functioning.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, it’s an interesting time.  Every two times in the year there is a B.C.  [They laugh.] 

MS. RIEDEL:  So you had done the New York City Subway map at this point, and the signage –

MR. VIGNELLI:  It was the ’70 and we did--we did--in 1966 we did the subway.  1970 we did the--

MS. RIEDEL:  The Stendig Calendar was?

MR. VIGNELLI:  The Stendig Calendar in 1966 too, you know.  Basically--actually, at the end of ’65, because the first one was 1966, so it was done in December.  So--

MS. RIEDEL:  Modernism was in full flower.  It seems it was just a real need to--for that sense of design.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And New York was exciting in terms--you know, people like [George] Nelson was here, and--well, and a lot of the good architects and the good graphic designers, you know, whole crowd was there, you know.  So anyways, you know, people like Will Burtin, Lou Dorfsman, you know, and Herb Lubalin and, of course, you know [inaudible] the whole gang of that period.  It was terrific.  And the--and then, of course, I became president of the – of the AIGA [American Institute of Graphic Arts] and then became--

MS. RIEDEL:  The what?


MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And then I became president of the AIGA, you know, and so on and so forth.  You see it’s all--but, I mean, this is in the ’80s.  But, you know, it’s all part of that kind of thing.  Now, in--so I stay with Unimark until 1971.  You know, and then in ’71 I was tired of that life.  I wanted to go back to--I wanted to go to this profit-center situation.  And I was tired of traveling too much and dah, dah, dah, dah.  So I said, I want to have a small job.  [Laughs.]  I want to [inaudible]

MS. RIEDEL:  Just too much, too big.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Just a simple [inaudible] and do small jobs.  So I kept Knoll.  They wanted to stay with us, so we kept Knoll as a client.

MS. RIEDEL:  So you had Knoll that early?


MS. RIEDEL:  In the ’60s.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  And they were [inaudible] in ’71.  And we had Knoll since 1966.  So we had it for a long time.  And then--and then after, when we started--so in 1971 we started Vignelli Associates, and just the two of us, but we were lucky enough to get some very glamorous jobs from the beginning.  Knoll gave us an exhibition in the Louvre in Paris to do--so we did a book for it, you know, the exhibition.  And then out of the blue came Bloomingdale.  I thought, “What a glamorous job--the exposure is [inaudible] design Bloomingdale, the whole world talks about it.”  [Inaudible] Bloomingdale?  It’s enough [laughs].

MS. VIGNELLI:  But also they were the [inaudible] stores coming here, you know.  It was very, very happy, this kind of thing.  And he is the one that really started [inaudible, background noise] really good.

MR. VIGNELLI:  So you know, the--

MS. RIEDEL:  So the whole corporate identity, again, for Bloomingdale’s those fabulous colored bags, the typography--

MR. VIGNELLI:  The whole--the whole thing, yes.

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes. 

MR. VIGNELLI:  The type--everything.

MS. RIEDEL:  And Bloomingdale’s at that point in time was--

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  And then – that’s 1972.  You see, we started ’72.

MS. RIEDEL:  ’72.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, in ’72 [inaudible] was Bloomingdale, you know.  And it continued with it.  And ’72 was also the [inaudible] Louvre.  You know, so, with a fabulous exhibition.  We lived there; published all over the world.  So again, we were already famous.  But all of a sudden, we were not Unimark anymore.  We were Vignelli Associates.  And as Vignelli Associates, we had this fabulous start, you see, that is where [inaudible, laughs].

MS. RIEDEL:  Would you describe that Louvre exhibition for Knoll, exactly what you did and why?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, what we did there, there were two areas of the Louvre, you know.  So this is a huge room, very high, 45 feet high.  And so here we put--we designed some cubes, you know, and then I actually, I tell you; we had these plan [inaudible] here is the part.  And so we were – Lella had the plan on the desk, and we were thinking what to do, you know.  And so she says, “What are we going to do?”  [Inaudible] and turned around, and on the bookshelf, I had a whole bunch of little cubes, plastic cubes, you know.  I pick them and I throw like dice over the plan, you know, like this, you know.  And I said, “That’s what we’re going to do.”  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Interesting.  Sort of a little John Cage/Merce Cunningham/Jan Stance [ph]--just toss those dice and see where they land in happenstance, right?

MR. VIGNELLI:  I could stand some discipline, right?  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  And is that really what you did?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Yes.

MS. RIEDEL:  That’s extraordinary.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, it’s--exactly, and then I said we’re going to put casters--wheels--underneath, so we can move these things around till they find the right position, you know--

MS. RIEDEL:  Perfect.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Because, you know, and those went--and in these cube--

MS. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible] Or somebody [[inaudible] know--they think that you [inaudible] because they are moving.

MR. VIGNELLI:  No.  No.  I’m--

MS. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible] – like this, you know?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Yes.  No.  No.  This--this, I’m just--these cubes were--

MS. RIEDEL:  So very large pieces.

MR. VIGNELLI:  These cubes--

MS. VIGNELLI:  Don’t release them.  Don’t--you know, you have to--

MR. VIGNELLI:  These cubes--

MS. RIEDEL:  Think big.

MS. VIGNELLI:  --just think yourself [inaudible].

MR. VIGNELLI:  These cubes were 8 feet by 8 feet.  And the reason why, I tell you--a chair, you know, is only three feet high.  This space was 45 feet high.  So the chair will disappear in that space.  So I had to find something that would mediate the relationship between the human scale and [inaudible].  So the chair inside here was fine because [inaudible] to--is, you know, 5 feet, I mean, 3 feet [inaudible] 8 feet high.  And these 8 feet cube was fine within the, you know, the--

MS. RIEDEL:  So these were cubes that one would walk into?

MR. VIGNELLI:  No, the--


MR. VIGNELLI:  No, he just looked through.

MS. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  But the furniture inside was all there.  So some of these cubes were like this.  Some other cubes were made of plexi, you know, so there would be chairs [inaudible] displayed inside there.  And it was very effective and beautiful.  I have pictures from that.  And the--so--but interesting thing was really this mediation:  first, to put the object in his own environment, and then put the mega-object in his own--in an exhibition environment.

MS. RIEDEL:  I see.

MR. VIGNELLI:  You see.  Now then, on this side of the exhibit, we had windows.

MS. RIEDEL:  It’s a very modular way of – yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  There were windows like this, you know, all around the--

MS. VIGNELLI:  Yes, there is like a big--a big--

MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible]

MS. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible] you have all this opening.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And the--so what we did, we did a wall here.  We raised the floor there, you know.  And then--so that we [inaudible] into the window, basically, so that the window became a floor-to-ceiling window rather than a window from there, so we [inaudible] a modern window, you know, out of a, you know [inaudible] building.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Again, perfect.  And this was only linen, you know, all these patterns with linen--and here we had the furniture.  So you can see the furniture like that.  It was terrific.

MS. VIGNELLI:  But the [inaudible] was also doing something, no, with the glass.  It was not completely straight.  It was--

MR. VIGNELLI:  No, the glass was straight.  Just the wall was [inaudible].

MS. RIEDEL:  So you were altering the space itself to suit the exhibition.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  And--so this was a terrific exhibit, naturally.  And naturally, the whole world, other than the magazine world, was talking about.  And that was giving us [inaudible].

MS. RIEDEL:  Right, and that was one of the first Vignelli Associate[s] projects.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, exactly.  And then just about the same time, maybe a few months after, got a call from Chicago that says, “We decide to close the New York office.  Would you be interested in this person?”  I said yes.  So I--

MS. RIEDEL:  In the Seagram building [inaudible].


MS. RIEDEL:  Ah, you moved.

MR. VIGNELLI:  I’d already--we had to move from the Seagram a long time before because it was too small.  We needed--in the Seagram we had 2,000 square feet and we needed then--we--8,000 square feet thereafter.

MS. RIEDEL:  Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]  8,000 square feet.  Mm-hmm.  [Affirmative.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, so much bigger.

MS. RIEDEL:  Much bigger, yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And so--but anyhow, they say, “we’re closing the New York office.  Would you be interested?”  I said, “sure.”  So I got the--I got back to my office.  I just changed the name.

MS. RIEDEL:  And--oh, this is where you had meant to start.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  I just changed the name to [inaudible] to Vignelli Associates [inaudible] free.

MS. RIEDEL:  What was the address?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Sixty-second street, 410 62nd street.  And completely free.  That was--became my severance.

MS. RIEDEL:  Amazing, yes?


MS. RIEDEL:  Yes, very.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Very lucky.  Very generous from Ralph [inaudible] too, because he – I mean, he had a very good reason.  Not only was sorry because we were very good friends, but it was a tremendous damage to the company, also, for--when I left the company [short whistling sound] it fall apart thereafter, you know.  And--but he was really generous and--beyond belief.  And he gave us, you know, the office there.  And so we were back in our own place, and we start to [inaudible] new energy again, and we start to – we wanted to be small.  We were small for a couple of months.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  So this was ’71, ’72?

MR. VIGNELLI:  ’72, ’72.

MS. RIEDEL:  ’72.  Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  ’72, ’73, we got already St. Peter’s Church project to do, and the Minneapolis museum.

MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, right--the interior.

MS. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  I mean--large projects like that [inaudible].  Lella was busy [inaudible].  And then, on top of it, we had--

MS. VIGNELLI:  That museum was something.
MR. VIGNELLI:  And then we had, you know, Heller [Heller glassware].  We were doing always problems for Heller.  Lella was doing a glass bakeware.  I was going--keep going doing a plastic ware.  So--

MS. RIEDEL:  The Melamine that [inaudible] the [inaudible].  Mm-hmm.  [Affirmative.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  So, you know--and, of course, we were keeping working for Knoll.  So all of a sudden, we have--we were plenty of work.

MS. RIEDEL:  Did one project feed another in terms of ideas?  Or were they all fairly separate satellites?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Always.  That is the idea.  That is really why design is so important because the cross fertilization is what enriches everyone, every design.  Instead, if you specialize, you never can benefit from any other experience; but when you do everything, you know, you bring all your, dowry, to fruition.  [Laughs.]  You know, you bring everything to fruition, and that’s great.  And that is why it’s so good.

MS. RIEDEL:  When I think of the Bloomindale’s project, is that a--would that be a good choice to examine in terms of the development as a corporate identity and how--

MR. VIGNELLI:  I think Knoll would be better.  Yes.

MS. RIEDEL:  Knoll.  Let’s talk about that, then, and just--you’ve talked about the meaning of an object and how that grows your sense of a corporate identify.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, Knoll is a perfect example, starting from the logo to all the applied things, and then all the applied graphics and catalogs were very relevant--catalog, because nothing was done that way before – the price list, the showrooms and the whole thing, you know-- the big--

MS. RIEDEL:  Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]  The topography, the packaging, right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  --big exhibition, like the Paris exhibit.

MS. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  And then book, the final book on Knoll.  And so [inaudible].  So is--the final book was really the closing chapter on that long, you know, collaboration.

MS. RIEDEL:  And that was 20 years?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  It only lasted about 20 years.  Yes.

MS. VIGNELLI:  From what?

MS. RIEDEL:  ’66.

MR. VIGNELLI:  From ’66 to ’76.  [Inaudible.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, ’76.  Ten years, then.

MS. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  No, no.  ’86.

MS. RIEDEL:  ’86, yes.  Yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, ’86.

MS. RIEDEL:  And how did that corporate identity change or evolve over that time?  Or was it really quite consistent?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Very consistent, yes.  There’s no need.  [Inaudible] a certain way, there is the need of changes provided by the change of times, you know, to a certain extent.  But this doesn’t mean that the supporting material has to change necessarily.  Corporate identity is not a chameleon, it is--on the contrary.  The purpose of a corporate identity or a graphic program, as we like to call it better, is consistency.  And therefore, there’s no need for a change.  It’s just that there are many things to do, and one is, what do you--you know, we work with the concept of appropriateness.  And that provides the need of change without artificial needs, without artificial means.  And it is the nature of whatever you do and how appropriate is the solution that provides, then, a need to change, in a sense.

MS. RIEDEL:  How would you determine appropriateness?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Many ways.  For instance, we were doing the Knoll brochures--you know, by the way, in doing the Knoll brochure, we were also--I choose a particular painting system that was not available in the States, because I’m--my experience in Europe, I know that a lot of gravure was not existing over here, and it’s a very particular feeling.  So we started to do every brochure in proto-gravure.  And automatically, everybody was saying, “no.”  Also, the graphic designers, everybody – “what is this?” you know.  It’s not offset--I mean, well, how do – you know, that kind of--and that’s magic.  And that is the intangible element that you bring in to increase your charisma, in a sense, onto whatever you do, you know, so that was one thing.

And then we went on with that for quite some time.  Then, in the ’70s, when things were changing in the air, you know, I said, “enough with the brochure.  Let’s do a tabloid.”  I find out that there was a new machine, a new printing press in Milwaukee that could print newspaper in four colors – first time in United States, the first one.  So I went to see that and then say, “Show me how to do, ta ta ta. Can you do this, can you do that?”  So we sent something to do in – and we printed these newspaper [inaudible] you know, in four colors--terrific for Knoll, but designed our way, you know, not like a newspaper, designed our own way.  So all of a sudden, we were bringing a new language of design into a[n] established medium, which is the newspaper, you know.  And that was “wha-boom” as a bomb, you know.  The unusual into the usual--you see, that’s the trick, always to play that, you know.  And that is what makes it.

So the --that is, again, another form of bringing change, you see.  Sometime, change comes from technological point of views, and sometime it comes from the need that you set up, you know, yourself.  And that is how we develop these things.  This is a--people were asking, “how do you determine appropriateness?”  You determine by knowing what you’re hired to do, and doing such a way that is appropriate.  [Laughs.]  How can I put it?  You know, how is appropriate?  Because it fulfills the function.  It’s not taking foreign element--taking--to prevail--I mean, foreign things which are not pertinent, you know, to prevail--by being very carefully sifting what belongs to it and what doesn’t belong to it, looking into the nature of things--semantics--again, look into the nature of things, finding out what it wants to be and doing it.

MS. RIEDEL:  So you’ve talked about doing deep research into--yes?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Well, do it anyway,or more than anything else, it’s just, you know, I have this kind of a mechanism, mental mechanism, you know, that helps.

MS. RIEDEL:  Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]  When did the sense of ambiguity become more present in the work that [inaudible]?

MR. VIGNELLI:  In the moment I was born.

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, ambiguity is an Italian trend, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  I think American art is too, a sense of ambiguity.


MS. RIEDEL:  Maybe increasingly so, right?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, but the--you know, Italy has a--I mean, ambiguity is a bad problem for Catholic culture.

MS. RIEDEL:  Really?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Ambiguity is powered by hypocrisy.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  How so?

MR. VIGNELLI:  And of course, the Catholic Church has been hypocritical for thousands of years, so they really mastered that thing, you know [inaudible] well by now.

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  But what it is in Italy, ambiguity is not--is plural--means plurality of meanings.  That’s why I like it.  In the Protestant culture, ambiguity is a bad thing.  It means not knowing what--not being reliable [inaudible].  It has a negative aspect.  It’s not that it doesn’t have it in Italy too.  I mean--but most of it in Italy, in Italian culture, ambiguity is an enrichment of something, rather than a false, you know appearance.  So is--

MS. RIEDEL:  Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]  Right.  Varying levels of nuance, yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Which are culturally loaded, as I say.  I attribute that to the Catholic culture that pervades through centuries – [inaudible].  And, you know, in Italy, there is a way of saying, “here I say, here I deny.”  What that is, ambiguity.  You’re just born and raised with that, that thing, “here I say, here I deny.”  So is it false?  No, it’s not false?  Is it true?  No, it’s not true.  [They laugh.]

MS. VIGNELLI:  He’s Italian.

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]  Clearly.

MS. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  You see, that’s the way it goes.  And then--so you’re asking where my sense of ambiguity comes; it comes from there.  So I love to play, that whenever I design something, that it could be read many ways.  A classic example I show is that invitation we design for one of our exhibits where we print it on, you know, tissue, and then we crumple, you know.  And people do not know if it was a mistake.  Was it meant?  Was it real?  Or, you know--

MS. RIEDEL:  Was that shipped in an envelope?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Yes.

MS. RIEDEL:  I was always curious.  It was crumpled up and shipped in an envelope.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Yes.  And somebody just understood and somebody start calling me back and says, “Massimo, I don’t know what happened.  I got mine all crumpled up.”

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  “Did you have it so nice that you have a flat?”  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  And was this for the big traveling retrospective in ’80?  Was that the –

MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible] retrospective at Parsons, yes, small one.

MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, at Parsons, Okay.

MR. VIGNELLI:  The big ones came later on, came in the ’90s all over Europe.  Start in Moscow; from Moscow, went to St. Petersburg.  Then we went to Helsinki, then Copenhagen, London, Barcelona.  Then we went to Munich, Prague [inaudible].

MS. VIGNELLI:  And another one.

MR. VIGNELLI:  [Laughs.]  Yes.

MS. RIEDEL:  We’ve got about nine minutes left on this card, so just a couple more questions, maybe take us up through the--through the late ’70s.  Couple of projects I wanted to touch on: the St. Peter’s Lutheran church, and then also the CIGA hotels.  You’ve described that as a landmark project.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, I mean, the--definitely St. Peter’s Church was a landmark project, number one, because the nature of the assignment, a church; number two, because the place, in the heart of the city, New York City.  So again, great exposure, and any [inaudible] beautiful building, I mean, by good architects--so that everything was fine, you know.  And then when we got, you know, in the church [inaudible] as I was saying, the church is a cube split in, you know, this direction.

MS. RIEDEL:  Diagonally.  Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  And originally, the architect that had the, you know, plan [inaudible] and I said, “Well, that’s the wrong orientation.  You know, the right orientation is this one, you know.”

MS. RIEDEL:  So a square within a square as opposed to two triangles.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, a square within a square, bisected by this cove of light, and which makes it too high– [inaudible] – like a [inaudible] like this, you know, with the church inside and with very free kind of plans, so they can be changed, but with one part fixed and one part movable.

MS. RIEDEL:  Because the church was also used for more than just services.  It was for concerts and all sorts of things.  So it needed to be right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Yes., exactly.

MS. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  And so we designed the steps, you know, that could – you know, the steps are [inaudible] and you could open these up, you know, here.  So you can sit here.  You know, and these becomes your back rest – becomes the back rest, but also becomes the vanity--yes [inaudible]

MS. RIEDEL:  Place for feet for the next--yes.  So this--

MR. VIGNELLI:  For the person sitting behind, so it covers the legs of the person right here.

MS. RIEDEL:  So the steps could become chairs?  Extraordinary.

MR. VIGNELLI:  So not vanity,modesty panel; it becomes a modesty panel.

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]  A modesty panel.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Very Freudian.  [They laugh.]  And then--so the steps are releasing.  When the steps are closing  [inaudible] you know, so it doesn’t look like empty chairs, you know.  It just looks like a [inaudible].  And then we had the pews—like [inaudible] regular pews, but again, very movable.  [Inaudible.]  Fabulous concept, because it has a great flexibility in the center, and contained by this – by the steps on the outside; then here it would be [inaudible].  But the altar could be here.  Here you put the organ.  So, again, it’s like that, you know, over here.  Here we put the altar, but the altar can be also in the center in--or in any position that you want to.  And basically they are here.  And it works beautifully.  So that is, from my own point of view, is really the best work we’ve ever done.

MS. RIEDEL:  So it – really?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Our favorite, yes.


MS. RIEDEL:  Mm-hmm.  [Affirmative.]  It’s your favorite.



MS. RIEDEL:  Interesting.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And favorite because it’s so architectural, but also there again, it’s from the spoon to the city.  We did everything.  We did the objects over the altar, you know, for the service, we did the books, we did the uniforms, we did the dedication plaques, we did the newspaper, you know, the bulletin and so on and so forth--everything.  And then--you see --a total service, total design service throughout.  And that is, again, another demonstration of our approach to design.  So we didn’t--anybody else would have just done the church, and then maybe call a graphic designer to do the graphics, you know, probably design--maybe [inaudible] the other things--

MS. RIEDEL:  I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone else who would do that level of complete design.

MR. VIGNELLI:  I think we are the only one, basically.  [Laughs.]


MR. VIGNELLI:  Now, it’s becoming more and more [inaudible].  You take Richard Meier, for instance, now.  He not only designs architecture, but he designs furniture.  He designs objects and silver and, you know, watches and everything.  But generally speaking, he’s [inaudible] many, you know.  Now, there are people--a young generation, like Karim Rashid, for instance, he designs everything:  interiors and furniture and [inaudible] and graphics and packaging, so he does everything.

MS. VIGNELLI:  Who is that?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Karim.  In a very different way, but he’s a--but [inaudible] he embraces our idea.  And it’s becoming more and more common.  You take Michael Vanderbyl in San Francisco--also very good graphic designer, and also designs exhibitions and furniture and so on [inaudible].  So it’s going to [inaudible] more, you know [inaudible].  And that is all really stemming from our example.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Your approach.  Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]  Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  To a great extent.

MS. RIEDEL:  So St. Peter’s was a project in the mid-’70s – ’77?


MR. VIGNELLI:  ’75 – [inaudible].

MS. VIGNELLI:  No, ’77 – [inaudible].

MR. VIGNELLI:  ’77, yes, it was finished, yes.

MS. VIGNELLI:  Yes, because also, when they did that other--after few years that you were away, before ’75 [inaudible].


MS. RIEDEL:  And is that –can one go today?  And it is as you designed it still?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Immaculate.

MS. VIGNELLI:  They keep it fantastic.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Fantastic.  They keep changing, moving plans around, you know?

[End of Disc]

MS. RIEDEL:  This is Mija Riedel with Massimo Vignelli at the designer’s office in New York City on June 6th, 2011, for the Smithsonian’s Archives of America Art, disc number two.  And – actually, before we start I wanted to touch on something that we ended with on the last card.  You were talking about rigorous happenstance.  And I just want to make sure that we touch on that, because the disc may have ended before you mentioned that.  But I just wanted you to mention that again, if you would, and define how that came about and what it meant to you or why it’s significant.

MR. VIGNELLI:  One is that, as part of my training, as part of being raised in a--among those Milanese architects, which, at that time, were probing the values and the assumption of the modern movement--so the--you know, back in the--in the ’50s in Italy, when I was growing up, again, there was a lot of discussion about the modern movement:  if it were still alive, or what kind of transition, where will we go, and so on and so forth, you know.  And the work of some of the best architects like [Ignazio] Gardella, and [Franco] Albini , et cetera, [Carlo] Scarpa was really marked by these two entities, in a sense.  On one side, great rigorousness throughout all the--today, we will call it extremely syntactically correct [laughs] you know, on one side, and on the other side, very probing and adjusting and taking away the rigidity of rationalist approach.

So that is why--I was mentioning, you know, rigorousness and happenstance.  Actually, there was a--I remember Gardella was--one of the things he was always saying--he’s teaching boarding school in the office.  It was said that when you drive, you know, any--you drive, you stay straight when you--with your hands over your wheel but when you approach the curve, you’re adjusting--you’re moving according to the kind of curve, sharp or less sharp.  You know, you adjust.  And that is the happenstance, you know.  You just don’t keep rigidalist – going straight; otherwise, you will go off the road [laughs] against the tree.  And this is what rigidity brings you, against the tree.  Bang.  [Laughs.]

So the – that continuous adjustment between the intention and the happenstance, between the rigorousness and the happenstance, between discipline and happenstance, in a sense, you know, between genius and beyond genius [laughs] you know, in a sense.  That kind of a dialogue between those elements was emerging, you know, at that time--when I was growing up, in a sense.  And so that is stuck to me, and I like that, you know.  So also I’m very rigorous; at the same time, you keep moving, keep adjusting.  You just--you try not to be dogmatic about it.

MS. RIEDEL:  And it seems, from your story about tossing the plexi cubes on the table, on the diagram of the Louvre, that there--you had found a way to incorporate into your process.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]  Everything--

MS. RIEDEL:  Some manner of bringing in chance, the unexpected.

MR. VIGNELLI:  St. Peter’s like that.  Everything we do is like that.  You know, the--even we work very much with grids, but at the same time, some time, we might make an exception--stick out of the grid, you know, but this doesn’t mean that we deny it.  It means we just--we must label it, you know.  It is a tool to help you, not to contrive you.

MS. RIEDEL:  Sometimes it can be torqued.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, exactly.  It’s very important to use a tool in the proper way and not to contrive [inaudible].  That’s really at the essence of our work, in a sense, if I can put it that way, you know.  Yes.  The-- that’s why I say, discipline and happenstance, or rigorousness and happenstance.

MS. RIEDEL:  Let’s jump into the ’70s.  I think we just--we’ve been talking about St. Peter’s a little earlier, and we wanted to talk about both the National Park Service and the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies.  The ’70s were a very dynamic time.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, the ’70s were very interesting.  You know, while the ’60s were my Unimark, you know, times where we approach a great number of subjects and, you know – and then – in a more corporate way, in a sense, the--when we start to work with our own office, we were lucky enough to have terrific projects [laughs] you know.  St. Peter’s was one.  The Dugati was another one.  The National Parks was another one.  The Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, again.  There’s all--and Knoll, of course, always has a [inaudible] And so I think we were very, very lucky to have such incredible clients and possibility of doing just the best of [inaudible] you know.  There was no limitation with the institute.  You know, we were doing just--nobody will say it.  First, it was a freebie.  So Peter felt very guilty from that point of view.  But we were doing--I was doing, really, what I thought had to be done, and not only the relation just to solve the particular poster or piece of paper, whatever it might be but that in relation to a general vision of what the institute should look like, you know, later on in the times, you know--so a complex vision.  So if I was insisting on a details, because I knew what was going to happen [inaudible] after.

MS. RIEDEL:  And what specifically were you designing for them?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Just everything.

MS. RIEDEL:  Everything again, all the graphics?

MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, so posters, catalogs, books, exhibitions, and then the magazines.  You know, Opposition, that was a very seminal kind of a magazine, even from a graphic point of view.  And also Skyline.  And there was a tabloid.  You see, the fact of--we had already had the experience of the Knoll tabloid, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Comes very handy, too.  I remember two things were going on at the same time.  Always, you know, there was this interest of--you know, on the--on the journal.  And at the same time, I was also designing newspaper.  So I was very much interested on seeing how our approach, a systematic approach in terms of grids, discipline and so on, could be applied against the newspapers, which were done so ignorantly, you know, such a low level; zero knowledge of what typography is all about.  And that there is no reason--they were working with--newspaper was nothing but type.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  So how--you know, if they are concerned about the writer or a journalist writing properly, why shouldn’t they be concerned about the design--doing a proper job in the typography?  So that was my point.  I mean, why they would – when it comes down to the newspaper, instead of using the same discipline that they use for writing, they will abandon that in the hands of workers, you know, unskilled labor, in a sense, you know.  And so I was trying to point out that, you know, professional leadership is of course needed there too.

MS. RIEDEL:  Did you ever work with any large newspapers?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well [inaudible] but they were not lasting that long – yes, yes, like the Herald, for instance, the Herald.

MS. RIEDEL:  Pardon?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Herald.

MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, the HeraldThe New YorkHerald?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  That didn’t last too long, but not because of the paper as much as because of distribution problems, which was controlled by the market at that time.

MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, dear.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And so it didn’t--couldn’t survive. [Laughs.]  And then we designed another one, another newspaper.  That really didn’t last also.  You know, the major--like, New York Times, at that time, was not even thinking of design.  Louis Silverstein was the – or Silverstein– was the art director of New York Times during that times.  And I mentioned many times, why don’t I come one night, and we do the front page our own way?  [They laugh.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Did you suggest that?


MS. RIEDEL:  And he wasn’t having any of it.

MR. VIGNELLI:  There was no way.

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  He would [inaudible] on the fire [inaudible] put to the wall.  [Laughs.]  Shoot and shot.  And anyhow, it’s interesting to see how today how well the New York Times is quite well designed, you know, and it took a long time.  We have been breaking ground, you know, and insisting and talking, you know, the whole spreading.  Of course, we started back in the ’60s through bringing all those theories about grids, about type, about consistency, about modulation, and explaining--hundreds and hundreds of lectures, you know, why and how a newspaper should be done and how we were doing it with modules, because that was speeding up the whole production process--not for an aesthetic, it’s just for the production.  It was industrial design approach – you know, designed for industry--what I mean is when I say industrial design, it’s design for industry.  And – you know, and at that time, no one was even knowing or doing anything like that, you know, but with the Herald, we show it.  And the Herald became a legendary piece.  Historians of graphic design, they keep talking about, you know [inaudible] Steven Heller has a collection.  [Laughs.]  Or things like that.  So--

MS. RIEDEL:  And what was it that you brought to the Herald that you feel was groundbreaking?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well--to the Herald?

MS. RIEDEL:  Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, number one, the organization of the structure--modern organization of the--the grid, basically, you know.  So this--let’s say this is the first paper.  The paper was divided in a certain number of columns.  I don’t know how many.  Six, I say.  And this is what every paper was.  It was just columns.  Columns don’t mean anything, you know, really, by themselves.  What is important is the cross row, for instance.  So here we had a modulation that--I don’t remember it now how many models we had, you know.  But each one of--this is a module.  Let’s say that one module was dedicated for headlines, you know, and then the--that kind of a thing, for instance, you know.  And then, let’s say that one module – just to make an example, just for the sake of how you say? --let’s say one module--every line has 10 words and every module has 10 lines.  So you know that this is a hundred words, right?

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  When a newspaper man gets an assignment, he says, “write me 300 words,” “write me 500 words,” “900 words about that thing.”  By the way, he knew how many.  If he’s 900 words, let’s say yes, three times three is nine; this is 900 words.  So automatically, everybody knows how much space it’s going to take.  It could be like this or it could be also like that, you know, and so on and so forth, you know.  And--so there is--or it could be all like that--whatever, you know.  So bringing modulation, speed it up an incredible, an entire production process which was manual at that time; this was before computers, you know.  So it was linotype setting [inaudible] after, and so on and so forth, you know, so incredible.  And that was the purpose of design.  And--

MS. RIEDEL:  You’re taking it from columns to a grid, basically, yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Taking to a grid and inserting the grid.  Then the next step was to choose a typeface, you know, for the newspaper, so that they will have an identity; second, to limit the number of sizes.  One size for major headlines, one size for text, you know, and one size for the--for the--for the text.  So you see already a limiting now, the--you’re dedicating this to headlines.  This is for text, you know, and [inaudible] columns, whatever it is.  By the way, you’re beginning to give a discipline that not only speeds up preparation, but also gives you grid identity to paper, which is important for its own voice, basically.

MS. RIEDEL:  Absolutely.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And because of the type, the handling, modulation, and the consistency and the cleanliness of the operations, the absence of vulgarity [laughs] the absence of only happenstance.

MS. RIEDEL:  Into fusion.


MS. RIEDEL:  Just looking at your drawing makes me think of--

MR. VIGNELLI:  If you didn’t have happenstance without rigorousness, you have just a plain disaster.  If you are rigorous without happenstance, you have rigidity, and that’s also a disaster.  So that’s why the combination of the two, from my point of view, is so important.  It’s like bone and flesh, if [inaudible] put it that way.  So if you have only flesh, it just [inaudible, laughs] together.  And if you have only bones, you’re pretty scary.  [They laugh.]

MS. RIEDEL:  It makes me think of the designs I’ve seen so many times on the National Park Service brochures – whenever you go to Yosemite or Yellowstone.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, same concept.

MS. RIEDEL:  It’s--and it’s--it’s a very similar layout, this grid that’s in a foldout brochure.  But no matter which park you go to, there’s a similar design, so it’s very easy to access the information; text is –

MR. VIGNELLI:  You recognize it?  There’s a native--there’s an identity.


MR. VIGNELLI:  You recognize they are national parks, instead of--before--and --before, they were doing nice things, but every piece was different from the other--totally unrelated and so on.  I gave a speech in Washington one time and I was talking about these kind of issues, you know, all these issues we’re talking of.  And in the audience, there was a guy, Vincent Gleason.  He was the director of publications for the National Park [sic].  He had nobody above him [inaudible].  Just the--just the--how do you say? --ministry of interior, Secretary of Interior, it’s called here.  That was the only person that was above him.  So he --at the end of the lecture, he came to me and says, “I’ll be interested to come to New York and talk to you about our problems.”  You know, “I can see that he might – he might help us.”  So he came to New York.  We talked about all this.  As a consequence, we decided – we designed a whole system of them, which is called the Unigrid.

MS. RIEDEL:  The Unigrid?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  And basically, again, it was--well, it was whatever it was, like this, you know, but it had--

MS. RIEDEL:  A certain number of columns, a certain number of rows.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  It had the identification over there, and it had the notion of horizontal panes of information, which I developed back [inaudible].

MS. RIEDEL:  Exactly.

MR. VIGNELLI:  So, again, you see, you discover something, and you carry it in your luggage forever.  [They laugh.]  And so not only we establish a grid, we establish a format, we establish a direction of information, we set up a discipline for images, we set up – we designed a whole new kind of cartography--five different levels of cartography.  We specified even a kind of text the way we want to have the text written, and so on.  So entire--every detail of that, nd then we’ll let them loose, so to speak.  We leave some samples myself, and then, you know – to show how.  And this--also, not only for the--for the posters, so to speak, you know, for the folders, but also for books, publications, et cetera.  And then, what we did--and when I was going down the first day every month to Harpers Ferry, and, you know, Washington, and check what the inside designers were going to do by using this.  And I would say, “this is fine,” “this is wrong, totally wrong,” “this is very good,” “Okay, keep going,” “no, this is [inaudible]” “don’t do this,” “do that” and so on and so forth, you know.  And sometime I will say, “this is too rigid, loosen it up.”  And then next time, they were loosening up too much; I said, “Now, it’s too much, you bring it back.”  [Laughs.]  It’s like an orchestra.  So, I mean, that’s what I’m--I’ve been for most of my life, really, a conductor, basically, you know.  That’s what I mean.  My professional design is really like being a conductor [inaudible].

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes, that’s a perfect description.  Yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, because I always design things, well, I was a composer as well, you know.  But the most important thing was to instruct a performer how to play it in the most beautiful way, you know, the best way possible.  And that is really what a conductor does, in a sense, you know.  And I will say, my aim was really to bring an orchestra to perfect pitch all the time [laughs] you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  And it seems you--

MR. VIGNELLI:  And the orchestra are these design officers that we were working with, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  That’s--yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  The outside.  The clients, like in this case, they had very good designers inside, you know.  But they were not--they were working individually, everyone in his own directions, you know.  And what we--what we did was to bring all that energy to work in a directions so that the best can come out, and that’s what they did.  You know, that’s why it’s so good.  And that’s why I’m so proud, because there are hundreds of those printed pieces there, which are used by--printed in millions, you know.  And I’m--and I haven’t done, actually, one by one.  They’ve been done by these people, of course under--using a language, okay?  [Inaudible.]

So I was saying, you know, okay, this is the score or this is the language.  Speak this language as best as you can, you know, or play this chord as best as you can, you know.  And I’m not interested in seeing different scores.  I’m interested in seeing fabulous performances.  See, that is really the key.  See, this is why I deny that I’m an artist or a designer as an artist.  An artist doesn’t do this kind of thing.  An artist is an individual working on his own issues and problems, you know.  I don’t work on my own issues, but I have no issues and problem.  Without the clients, I have nothing to do, in a sense, you know.  Without a client, I can’t write about design.  [Laughs.]

But, you see, my job is to see that these things are done, you know, in the best possible way, and that’s what I’ve done with my life.  But that’s what Unimark was, you know, working 11 offices around the world, in a sense for hundreds of different clients, you know.  This is what I’ve done with my own office working for dozen and dozen of clients, you know.  And that is what I like.  And I retain each client, so to speak, with each project.  With each client, I would say there are many different projects.  And our job was to coordinate ourselves, you know, these things.  And if we do not do it ourselves, than we will design a manual so the other people can do that.  But otherwise the main purpose was always set up the parameters for somebody to follow.  And so that they can go below a certain level, but they can fly high if they want to, if they have wings, they can fly, but if they don’t have wings, at least they can walk, you know.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  It makes me think of two things.  The first is one of the questions on this list from the Archives, which is where do the ideas come from.  It seems the ideas really came from the clients and the raw material that you were handed, and what ideas you could take and develop in a certain way.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, the idea--some--no, it doesn’t come from the client, the idea.

MS. RIEDEL:  The raw material.

MR. VIGNELLI:  The raw material might come from them.  I mean, in a sense--let’s take an example to be more specific.  In terms of the National Park [sic], the raw material would be the park.  And we would have a meeting, let’s say, with the photographers, the writers, the designers, the--

MS. RIEDEL:  Rangers.

MR. VIGNELLI:  The rangers and so on, you know.  So the rangers would bring up their issues, and we’d listen, then the historian would bring up his own; the writer would write and so forth.  So all that--when you hear all that, you begin to hold the components and you begin to structure the information [inaudible] and that is how it works.

MS. RIEDEL:  The flora, the fauna, the geology, all--


MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.  Yes.  So collaboration has been--

MR. VIGNELLI:  Very important.

MS. RIEDEL:  An inherent way of how you work.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Yes.  It’s very important because it’s, again, collaboration like between the conductor and the orchestra.  Really, you should never forget that you are the conductor, you know.  And if you forget that role, neither have the others [laughs] forget that you are the conductor, you know, and therefore there should be that trust.  And usually, there has always been, you know, never had any problem, never had any problem, not because they had to, it’s just because they recognize, you know, the role and the importance of their role to get best results.

MS. RIEDEL:  How did you select clients?

MR. VIGNELLI:  I don’t--well, yes.  But first, lucky--the client came by themselves.  There are two kind of clients that came to our office:  those that knew where they were going, and those were fishing around, not knowing.  The second category, they were lost at the beginning.  They came in, they find that this is not their place and [short whistling sound] and they go.  And if they decide to stay, then they--then they become good clients.  From day one in my life – and I always tell to the young people, from day one, I made a decision of never working – never to work for a bad client because from a bad client, you get a worse client.

MS. RIEDEL:  And by bad client, you mean?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Bad client is a client that tells you what he wants.  That’s a bad client.  A good client, he tells you what he needs, you know.  And your task is to find out the needs of the clients and just sift out all the ones, you know, because [inaudible].

MS. RIEDEL:  – they are extraneous.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  So, and I tell it to the client from the beginning; I say, “You’re the patient, I’m the doctor.”  [They laugh.]  So you don’t have to like the pills.  I’m not selling candies.  I’m selling the prescription that is going to be good for you, you see [inaudible].  You have to use any kind of device that come to your mind to make the position very clear.  And usually, after that, clients, they just adore you.  They see--look, this has been given to me by a client.  This is given to me by a client.  This has been--these are all clients’ presents.  Can you imagine how much love and passion?  And they’ve already paid their fees on top of it.  [Laughs.]  It’s not that--it’s not that this is a substitute of the fee, you see.  The--so just to say [inaudible] I mean, all of our clients that love us, they never really and the one that don’t, don’t exist, really, but the one that don’t, they just go away.  That’s why we lose them.  We don’t miss them.  [Laughs.]  You know, get lost.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]  Move along.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And the--we’ve never been expensive.  We might have the aura of being expensive because we always have beautiful offices in a sort of a, you know, style.  But we’re not more expensive than the bad designer.  And I tell it to the clients, you know.  One of the most incredible thing about designs, a good design, a bad design cost the same, you know.  It’s amazing.  It’s not that good design cost more than a bad design.  Yes, because--yes, but you had to get--if you do good design, you had to get gear for that, too.  You cannot sell a good design through bad distribution channels, you know.  You have to have the proper distribution.  Everything should be at the proper level.  Otherwise, it’s not balanced, you know.  You can’t go around with a flat tire and blame it on the engine, you know.  [They laugh.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.  You’ve talked about having a consistent design canon from the beginning and really refining it over time and not changing it, but just refining it.  But it’s been a consistent canon through multiple decades.  I wanted to touch on the--some of the things that happened in the ’80s--a few things, but certainly the Parsons exhibition, but also I’m thinking in particular of the evolution of light in your work and some of the –

MR. VIGNELLI:  Evolution of the?

MS. RIEDEL:  Of light.  And some of the collaborations with Dan Flavin, yes, at the --was it the Hauserman?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, showroom.

MS. RIEDEL:  Offices or showroom, right, in Los Angeles, correct?

MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible] really good job.

MS. RIEDEL:  How did that come about?  And how did that differ from what you’d done before?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, I--it’s an interesting story because we had to do a showroom for Hauserman, you know.  And the showroom was this kind of shape, you know, basically something like that, you know.  That was the space.  And what everybody was doing, had always been doing, they always fill up the space with furnitures and [inaudible] and things like that, like the whole place was--that was the same, you know.  Instead, it just so happened that, you know, maybe a week before of having this kind of assignment, I had seen an exhibition of Dan Flavin at Leo Castelli Gallery.  And he had some corridors with the lights, you know, here and there.  And then – and then he had the usual corner with the lights, you know, like that.  And he came to – well, Hauserman is a company that makes walls, movable walls.  So I had this crazy idea of making a lot of corridors here, which using the different kind of walls that Hauserman was doing.  So there is the product, you see.

MS. RIEDEL:  And there is the grid.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And there is the grid, here is the product.  [Inaudible] then all I had to do is to call Dan Flavin, and Dan Flavin did different kind of installations here and there.  Here was the entrance, you know and then we put a mirror all along there, so all thing was becoming double, and from every point of view, making incredible games, you know?  And then here there was a little room with a lot of chairs and a screen.  So the products were shown down here; it was a painting, basically something like that.  So you enter here and you don’t see anything, you know, and it was magic.  And it was a beautiful floor.  And all you see is this corridor with the Dan Flavin installations.  And what is the product?  You’re looking at it.  [Laughs.]  No, and the product was just all these things, you know.  So it was a sensational thing.    Then here they also had some system offices--there’s only two or three pieces, the components; put all the colors into a slot there, and there it was, basically a showroom, you know.  And Dan Flavin was excited and he had--he never did an installation on this scale before.  So after that he got a space in Bridgehampton, and he made an installation that was similar to that one, you know, and to that space.

MS. RIEDEL:  Really?  So that preceded the Bridgehampton--

MR. VIGNELLI:  So, yes, but this was the idea.  Dan Flavin did the lighting installation, but of course that--well, it was generated by what I’ve seen before done by him.  And--but we did the plan, we did the lighting, you know.  And then an interesting thing is that the following year we changed all the neon lights and the whole thing changed colors.  So it became completely different.  It was fantastic.  It’s just, of course, one of the most beautiful jobs we had done and I never--I mean, mindboggling, really.

MS. RIEDEL:  Absolutely.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Nobody’s ever seen anything like that, you know, so that was fine.  I was very happy with that. 

MS. RIEDEL:  That seems to have been some kind of turning point in the work too.  It just seems very revolutionary, not that the other work wasn’t conceptual--very negative space.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well we always wanted – we always liked to work with artists, by the way.  The table which is Lella’s office, you know, the one with the four legs like this, in a [inaudible] you know?  And the legs are by--we asked [Arnaldo] Pomodoro to do these legs.  Pomodoro is that one, you know.  That sphere is by Pomodoro, but I will show you [inaudible].  And that is another example of collaboration between Pomodoro the artist and us.  Arnaldo Pomodoro--there are two Pomodoro.  This was Arnaldo.  And then, you know, many years before we worked with another artist, Castellani; that’s the one who makes very beautiful--Enrico Castellani who makes the full abstract canvases with just nail sticking--I mean, pushing the fabric up, and beautiful things, but, and again, I had remembered that we worked with him, this beautiful stuff, you know, and it was a white painting.  And I needed, and I needed-- and I’ve seen some great canvases by him.  And I said, “Jesus, I like that.  It’s perfect, but I need it right--give me my--I do it [laughs].”  So this is collaboration again in a sense, you know.  And [laughs] but a lot of these things happened. 

MS. RIEDEL:  Was there collaboration with artists from the very beginning and throughout?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, this was--this was the beginning.  This was back in Milano in 1964 probably.  This was in Los Angeles already--

MS. RIEDEL:  The Flavin, yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  In the ’80s – ’82 I guess, you know.  These were also in the ’70s – late ’70s or the ’80s or something like that.

MS. RIEDEL:  The table?  And the furniture has been designed – it seems like furniture has been designed throughout your career too.

MR. VIGNELLI:  All the time, continuously.  You know, I mean, we start with that, you know, with that line--

MS. RIEDEL:  The [inaudible] the Saratoga?

MR. VIGNELLI:  The Saratoga--yes.  In the Saratoga we have a sofa, we have a chair, we have a – you know, a cube with drawers and a light inside there--a cabinet basically.  Then we have tables.  They were like this and the square tables.

MS. RIEDEL:  This was all lacquer, wasn’t it?

MR. VIGNELLI:  It was all lacquer.  [Inaudible.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Early ’60s?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Then, there was no lacquer--yes, there was no lacquer furniture around.

MS. RIEDEL:  At the time. 

MR. VIGNELLI:  Again, the only lacquer furniture existing before was done in the ‘30s by Eileen Gray .  But between the ’30s and the ’60s, there were--it was like the only thing that was produced in lacquer were kitchen cabinets by Boffi; he was making kitchen cabinets, and eventually we said, “let’s use the same technique, you know.”  And that’s what happens.  We are still--I mean, when you think that this is from ’64 to today is, what, is about 50 years or something.  [Inaudible] still around.


MR. VIGNELLI:  So that bring[s] us right away to the notion of timelessness, which is my favorite subject.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Please go on.

MR. VIGNELLI:  No, no, exactly.  You know, this is, again, one of the things that – you know, from the very beginning of our life we – in a sense we have been very much concerned, all of us, about timelessness, but in relation to that, I would say that they’re all--Lella’s been extremely important, you know, throughout my life, and there’s always been a very critical role.  She’s not a person-person; I’m the one with the person [inaudible] as you can see.  She’s the one that will come and say, “this is no good” or “this is good” or “this is almost good, but I would do this and that” you know, things like that.  So it’s a critical role.  And once you trust that--and that is fundamental in a--art [inaudible] you know, because that’s what, you know, collaboration is all about.  It’s not to handle the pencil with two hands, you know.  Collaboration is having--sharing the same cultural platform, you know, and that is really a key role.

So Lella has always been very, very much against any form of trendiness.  Now, I maybe have been more sensitive to whatever was going up in the air and be a little more trendy somehow, and therefore, Lella’s help was always to say, “hey, that is too trendy.”  So I would just throw it away and start over and try to solve the problem, and stay away from those traps, you know,  and so that was the greatest, you know, advantage of working together there.

The reason I like timelessness is because it is the projection of a sense of responsibility.  You know, I can’t stand the idea of designing something that’s obsolete next year.  You know, I find it very irresponsible for a designer to design something, a chair or something, that next year is old stuff, you know.  Look at the Breuer chairs.  They have been designed a hundred years ago, and we’re still buying them now, and they’re still--yes, almost--and they’re still very, very, very good.  Look at the Mies chairs that have been designed, you know, more than 80 years ago.  Still the best chair in the world, you know.  And look at the Toro [ph] chair.  They’ve been designed 200 years ago and was – you know, and they’re still very good.  So this chair you’re sitting on has been designed back in the ’80s, and so that makes it a much--well, it’s still pretty good.  There’s nothing that really says, oh, it’s an old chair.

MS. RIEDEL:  And this was the chair that was designed for Italian television – the Tg2?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh, yes.  Yes.  It’s called Intervista Chair.

MS. RIEDEL:  Intervista – interview, right?  Perfect!

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  And it’s beautifully made, and I built [inaudible] beautiful leather, perfect craftsmanship, and so on, and so that’s--that helps a lot.  You know, you see how nice is this detail, or I have a sharp piece on this side and soft on the other.  So that’s great.

MS. RIEDEL:  It’s very sculptural but it’s very comfortable.  It’s--you know.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, terrific.  And it was, you know, we had to--it was done for this TV.  And I was designing all the settings, you know.  So they asked to have a chair that would look like a--that would look like an easy chair, but it would be sitting like a chair.  So that’s why we designed this one, which is really like a chair height, but it’s comfortable like an easy chair.

MS. RIEDEL:  That’s true.

MR. VIGNELLI:  So--and I sent the drawing to Italy, you know [makes whooshing noise] you know, like this.  And that--I mean, you know, full sized.  Not much, probably about the size of this--I sent it by fax because we had to speed it up.  And I said, “Make a model.  I’ll be coming, you know, next week” or whatever it is.  So they made a model.  I got there, sit in the chair--

MS. RIEDEL:  This is late ’80s, ’88 or so, yes?

MR. VIGNELLI:  --and I sit in the chair, and it was not just right the way I wanted.  So I said, “Okay, let’s correct this.”  So in the afternoon we correct the whole chair and then they made it.  It was perfect.  Two weeks later it was on TV every night.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Production was that fast?


MS. RIEDEL:  Extraordinary.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And it was a--see, in the month of August everything is closed in Italy, and so this was middle of July, and then September 1st, the new program was going to be launched.  So that’s why they did it, “boom,” everything was there in time.  [Laughs.]  Yes, it’s funny.

MS. RIEDEL:  I wanted to talk about another chair too that you designed that with Knoll, that Handkerchief Chair, yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, the Handkerchief?  Let me say okay, this is interesting, by the way.  It brings in another issue as well.  They introduced the chair design really in two weeks, you know, done.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And then it was perfected thereafter when it got into production.  The fact that the chair was on TV, you know, every day of course was a fabulous promotion.

MS. RIEDEL:  Sure.

MR. VIGNELLI:  You can imagine, sSo people started asking for that chair.  So eventually [inaudible] you know, made the mold perfectly.  It wasn’t done by hand anymore like the first ones.  You know, it was done perfectly.  And I sold hundreds, hundreds and thousands of them, you know, thereafter, but it was done very quickly as I say.  The Handkerchief Chair is that we started to design that for a company in London, Healy [ph] of London. Healy [ph] of London was the company that was manufacturing some of the Knoll products in England.  And they tried to do it; they couldn’t do it.  They couldn’t do it properly, and maybe, I don’t know, they were not equipped to do it.  So a long time went by, and then finally Knoll started getting the idea of doing it.  They tried.  Eventually they did it.  It took seven years to do.  That shows you the difference.  From seven days to seven years, you know, so--

MS. RIEDEL:  Why so long?

MR. VIGNELLI:  That’s the American way, you know?  [They laugh.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, dear.

MR. VIGNELLI:  You see, the Italians are fast.  What they don’t have is the distribution knowledge.  You know, here they’re slow, but they have the distribution knowledge.  So when they make it, they make it forever, you know?  Over there is that, you know, there’s picking, I mean, now that’s getting better, but generally speaking, they would make it and then you can’t find it anymore.  You know, the production company will go out of business, or what, here and there, you know, all kinds of things.  Flimsy, you know, the whole country--

MS. RIEDEL:  And did you approach Knoll or did they approach you?  I’m just curious to how the furniture design works.  Do the clients come--

MR. VIGNELLI:  No, we designed this chair, you know.  And eventually, you know, we show it, you know, while Knoll, you know, knew it.  And so--and I was like [inaudible] you know? 

MS. RIEDEL:  Sure, I remember it well. 

MR. VIGNELLI:  And then eventually Jeff Osborne became director of design.  So he put the chair – and liked the chair and he put it in production.  It took a long time to get done, but eventually it was done, and that was fine, but still it’s made, you know, somehow.  They could make it better now.  They can make it lighter than it is, you know, but again, they’re more interested in doing a new one than refining this one.  So the culture, this is not a culture of refinement, it’s a culture of change.


MR. VIGNELLI:  And that’s why I keep changing.  And--but look, look at that chair there,  it’s been there for 80 years.  No one that--and that--they don’t need to change anything from that chair, just making them.  So it’s a different approach, you see.  That’s the modernist approach.  You know, that’s when Florence Knoll was the head of the company.  Now they’re all different people there, you know. 

MS. RIEDEL:  The furniture--


MS. RIEDEL:  Sorry.

MR. VIGNELLI:  As I said before, vision, courage, and determination are very important components.  Today, companies are not run by this triumvirate of things.  They are--because managers have a fear of failure; therefore they introduce marketing, and marketing research, and market research, and so and so forth.  They want to protect their lives, their salaries, and so on. We live in the country that did--where the middle class became huge. The entrepreneur leading classes is vanishing out, as a matter of fact, and the working class is almost vanishing out too, because everything is manufactured abroad.  So we’re finding ourselves into a huge middle class, which is only afraid of losing their standards, you know?  When you don’t have billions, you’re afraid of losing millions [laughs] or even thousands, you know, but if you have billions, you know, or more or less, there’s still a lot, you know.  And there are still very few of those, you know.  There are some great entrepreneurs today.  There are very few.  I mean, Bill Gates, you know, Steve Jobs and so on and so forth, you know, the greatest guys of our times.  I mean, particularly Steve Jobs.  Yes, there’s nobody better than Steve Jobs in the whole world.  You know, he’s--he epitomizes really what should be the attitude of the entrepreneur today.

MS. RIEDEL:  And how would--what should you--

MR. VIGNELLI:  It’s the best company.  Look at their product, the best design in the world.  There’s nothing that comes even close to this--to their qualities.  And the designer, he is a guy from England, the designer’s from England, not from Texas. 

MS. RIEDEL:  Really?  The designer behind Mac?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, yes.   He’s a great designer that Steve Jobs found in his company, he was there working in his company.  And he, Steve Jobs, saw the work and he started saying, do this and do that.  And this guy was coming up with beautiful things.  [Inaudible] on the line, now he’s the design director of the company.  Of course, and there you are, because you need a great entrepreneur, a person with vision, courage and determination like Steve Jobs, and a person who has talent to cook with it without fear.  It’s sort of an obvious thing.  It’s terrific, and the new one is even better looking.

MS. RIEDEL:  The new iTablets [sic]?  Yes. 

MR. VIGNELLI:  And particularly in the cover, you know, it’s sensational.  It’s--

MS. RIEDEL:  I wanted to talk a little bit about the collaboration between you and Lella, and because you tended to focus more on the 2-D and she on the 3-D, yes?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Well, it’s not true in that, because I’m really behind every project that has been done here, with some exceptions, you know.  Some exceptions are the--a lot of the showrooms that Lella has done for Poltrona Frau, showrooms and some of the trade shows for Poltrona Frau, some objects here and there, some silver objects, you know, some--

MS. RIEDEL:  Jewelry and--

MR. VIGNELLI:  --and jewelry and things like that, that she has designed, but otherwise, a lot of the three-dimensional work and ideas is against my design, you know.  Now, the role of Lella to these kind of things has been to say that it would be done --follow up, and womens [sic] are very good at that.

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]  I see.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Women are very good to follow up and men get really easily distracted by new things and so on, so forth.  And women are really good to follow up, and Lella is very good at that.  So she was not only follow up in every three-dimensional project and graphics--three dimensional--and then the--and then was also in top of all the administration things – so that also another important role that she had during that time.  She was not involved in teaching so much.  And she was not involved in writing.  She was not involved in lecturing.  She was not--she was not the voice of the office from that point of view, you know.  But she was--women are always together, even there.  So I was very much interested also, since we work together in establishing this [inaudible] this brand, they would say today “brand;” I would say “identity,” you know, of the office, you know, the two of us.  Not--never really in a sense saying who was doing what, you know, keeping it vague because, I mean, it wasn’t, you know.  Yes, I was the guy with the pencil, but she was the guy, and she would say that is not good, as I mentioned before, and I would just throw it away.  I would not even discuss it.

But she’d work, I mean, the project that she has done, she has done many.  I mean, she has done, you know, more than 30 showrooms for Poltrona Frau.  Then, when we did the GNER [Great North Eastern Railway] that is the railway, she did all the interiors of all the trains.  That means first, second and third class, you know, whatever, actually two classes, first and tourist class.  And I did, well, again, she did a lot of the follow-up on that and decided the livery of the train, the graphics and the whole thing.  And--but she worked a lot in choosing the fabrics and the material, you see, things like that.  So--interior part, you know.

Then she worked on all the silvered pieces, the jewelry for San Lorenzo.  She worked on glass bakeware for Heller.  She worked, of course, on all the interior jobs, major interior jobs like St. Peter’s church and the Minneapolis Museum of Art, the whole thing there, but you can--you begin to see that it was quite, you know, it spans all the years, this kind of furniture of course.  Oh, she worked on a lot of furniture for Poltrona Frau: office furniture, executive furniture, different levels, you know, the CEO line for instance of Poltrona Frau was done a lot with Lella.

MS. RIEDEL:  Which line was that, sorry?


MS. RIEDEL:  Okay. 

MR. VIGNELLI:  And, you know, I mean we worked together on that, but again she worked a lot on the implementation of that.  Then, again, I was the guy with the pencil, but she was the one running there and seeing that things got done properly and so on.

MS. RIEDEL:  With the furniture projects that you worked on over the years, the seating, the modular seating, tables were those projects that clients would come to you with a request that you would design tables?


MS. RIEDEL:  Or would you design tables and then go speak with various clients?

MR. VIGNELLI:  No, I’m usually--both ways, but usually is the--I’ll set up a talk up with the client coming to--asking for designing a sofa.  It just so happened that we were thinking of a sofa for our house and therefore I knew what I wanted, and I wanted to have a sofa that would not be against the wall but would be in the space like this.  And so we designed that thing that it is front and back where there is no front and back.  I mean, it’s an object in the round.  Again, from that point of view, another innovation at the time, you know.  Also sofas at the time had, you know, the--it would be like that, you know [inaudible] these would be the arms.  You know, when we did the Saratoga this was--went from this to this kind of a thickness you know, see?

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.  It’s very dimensional.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Again this was unheard at the time to have this kind of thickness.  Today you have it even like that, so it changed [inaudible] and so on, but the first breakthrough from tradition--

MS. RIEDEL:  Narrower arms, sure.

MR. VIGNELLI:  --contemporary revision I did, and the old one, you know.  But a modern one like Knoll, certainly [inaudible].  Then the Minneapolis Museum one again, we did the entire museum, so all the display cases, the different rooms and the different needs.  That’s all Lella’s work, you know, again, together, but a lot of Lella’s work, so tremendous amount of work that she has done throughout the ages. 

MS. RIEDEL:  How much of an impact did technology and new materials have on your design?  I think of your new office space as an opportunity to experiment with all sorts of new materials.  Would you talk a little bit about how that affected the work?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, the--well, we’ve always been very much interested in materials and of course, like you said, our office, new office, we call it, was a perfect opportunity for trying everything else, even from corrugated steel to particle board, high density particle board, to lead, not very ecological kind of materials today [laughs] you know?

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.  This was in the early ’80s you moved to the new space?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, ’85.

MS. RIEDEL:  And what was the address?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Tenth Avenue and 26th.

MS. RIEDEL:  Tenth Avenue, okay.  So you were experimenting with interior construction materials, interior furniture materials, yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Also what we--what we were experimenting basically was using poor materials in a sense, you know, so that there will be very little, like this, very little work.  I mean, this table, which is from that time.  In fact, it’s the only thing left right here of that office, this table is a slab of steel, incredibly heavy, you know.  This is a quarter of an inch thick, so you can--and it’s five feet by five feet.  So it’s really heavy, but it’s just resting on those cylinders.  There is no fastening or anything you see.

MS. RIEDEL:  Really?

MR. VIGNELLI:  And the--and you cannot even lift that, there’s no way, it takes a huge man to do that.  But you see the edges here?

MS. RIEDEL:  Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  Okay.  Now, again, my concept at the time was called--was what I was calling the zero labor.  Zero labor because materials were not expensive, and labor was really what was making everything very expensive, so this is an example of zero labor.  When the steel comes out from the steel mill, you know, it has sort of a coating on top.  And when you cut the steel it breaks the coating there.  Now, what you do when--usually you buff it off and so--but if you buff off you’ve taken away.  So what do you do?  You have more labor to apply a protector and so on and so forth; it’s an endless kind of operation, you know, and there’s still  [inaudible].  This is [inaudible] it’s just a saw-cut, you know, throughout as it comes, and you accept it.  For me, these are just like a wood veneers or marble veneers or things like that, you know.  So you just--it’s just part of the life of the piece itself.  And it was all this theory, and we--that we use in building up the office.  So for instance, also on the--on the lead panels, we had the--we had the first panels made, you know, with chipboard-- and I mean, particle board, and then we just laminated that with lead.  It was a fabulous finish on top of--then we covered the lead with beeswax.  And the beeswax was filtering the air so the lead would not oxidize, and whatever oxidation there was--was filtered back by the beeswax so it would not be poisoning.  So it was a fantastic [laughs] process.

MS. RIEDEL:  How did the beeswax hold up over time?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh yes.  Yes, no problem.

MS. RIEDEL:  No problem.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh, yes, it wasn’t thick.  It was just--

MS. RIEDEL:  Just a thin layer?

MR. VIGNELLI:   Just a thin layer.  That’s all that’s needed, you know.  And so particle board--that whole office was done with particle board just cut and put together, panels, “boom,” and then zero labor.  You know, very, very--just cut straight, as a matter of fact, by using ready-made modular sizes so to, you know, to reduce the number cut.  And then well, then there were some pieces which needed more work, like the shelves in the library because there were, you know, like boxes like these.  But otherwise, there was a long wall of corrugated steel applied to a metal frame.  And you didn’t have--didn’t need anything else, and so still, I mean, it wasn’t cheap.  But it wasn’t--it wasn’t as expensive as usual kind of carpentry and furniture. And--

MS. RIEDEL:  So was there an element of happenstance as the--into the materials?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Right, right.


MR. VIGNELLI:  Visibly in our space.  [Laughs.]  And then that is again another example of our interest in raw materials.  In a sense, it’s a very parallel position to, in the art field. In the arts, what you--

[End of Disc]

MR. VIGNELLI:  [In progress] Arte Povera, you know?

MS. RIEDEL:  Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, very similar.  And Arte Povera exponents are talents of my generation, more or less, you know, and again, they were using materials like [Michelangelo] Pistoletto, like [Mario] Merz, like [Giulio] Paolini and so on, the whole gang of Italian artists of that period.  And then, again, there’s parallels, you know.  Did I answer that question?  I forgot.

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes, well, you were talking about experimenting with new materials in that office.  Was that something that you did regularly throughout your work with different clients, was continually explore new materials as well?

MR. VIGNELLI:  It depends.  No, if we didn’t have the opportunity.  Of course we had the opportunity at our office to do that, but again, I’ll show you another example of the incredible maniac flexibility, you know.  Again, in our--in our office we had a conference table, you know, which was done like that, and each one of these two--these panels here was a panel like that, folded, so this one was one panel, this was the other panel, you see, but if I opened this up and I put this one up, either way, I get [inaudible].  I get a big table like that and, so that kind of flexibility, or I can take the table like this, folded, right, with another one here and another--like this.  And the base was, again, two panels like this underneath--you know, hinged over here, hinged over there, so [inaudible] you see?  Hinged over there, or here, you take the same and you go like that, you see?  Again, well, all of these are the bases--you know, the panels--and there’s other tops.  And you can do all different kinds of things with this.  So again, flexibility throughout, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And then we have done so many variations of this, for so many different uses, and it just works fantastically well.

MS. RIEDEL:  This reminds me of something else that you said.  I’m thinking about your working process now.  And it seems that you came up with a specific canon early on, and then, rather than varying that design canon, you’ve looked for a variety of materials through which to explore that canon.

MR. VIGNELLI:  It’s possible.

MS. RIEDEL:  Through glass, through metal, through 2-D, through 3-D, but a way of developing your design thought was through the materials rather than variation on the canon itself.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, and the other thing is because I’ve always been interested in materials, starting with glass, you know, the first, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  With Venini, way back, sure.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Part of my life, exactly.  Then silver, and then, you know, plastics, and then furniture, and then metal, and then the leather, you know, like in these things, so it keeps going on and on and on, and wood, et cetera.  So there’s always been this interest to work with materials, and how to work with them--well, marble, my god marble, dozens of marble pieces like that one, you know.  Again, and of all kinds, you know, like the--

MS. RIEDEL:  You just have a very--

MR. VIGNELLI:   [Inaudible] table, you know, or the sphere, the cube, the cylinder and pyramid.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right, four basic Euclidean forms.

 MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, again, but they always were these very basic--yes, I can [inaudible] basic shapes.  You know, one of the things that I’ve done from the beginning in my professional life is to build up my own vocabulary, also.  My approach to design is very much linked to linguistics so actually, part of semantics, you know, a general semantic approach, therefore right there, there’s a linguistic relationship.  But the--you know, from the beginning, I’ve always been interested in building up a vocabulary of elements so that I can use the moment I have to use it, I have it ready.  I don’t have to discover many things, and by putting it together, it becomes our stuff, you know.  So, for instance, well, we have the lacquer furniture, you know.  Then we have the grey carpeting, the grey industrial carpet at the time.  White walls, glass panels floor to ceiling, partitions [inaudible] and Breuer chairs, Mies chairs--yes, Breuer, Mies, and different kind of Mies, that Mies chair and the other MR  chair, you know, all the Mies chairs, you know.  Then, coming to other materials--tablets of colors.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  So primary, very vibrant, very lively kind of colors.  Then, once I found those, I stabilized them.  I don’t need to look for any other ones.  You know, for me, color, to begin with, is not color in the usual sense.  Only color is a concept.  You know, I use color from the concept – [inaudible].  If I use red, it’s red.  If I use yellow, it’s yellow, right?  It says, whatever the color is, it’s not that particular PMS color--all the PMSs of red are red, all the PMSs of yellows are yellow, you see.  And that is, again, a very different, unique approach about color, because I’m not a painter, so I’m not interested in that particular--well, I am, at the end, interested in a particular shade, of course--

MS. RIEDEL:  Of course.

MR. VIGNELLI:  --in a particular color, when I want to get to that particular one, you know.  But beyond that, for me, red is red.  Of course there is a Vignelli red, so-called, which is borderline between orange and red.  Of course there is a preferred Vignelli yellow, which is the school-bus yellow.  The reason is that it takes very well, both white and black, you know.  For lemon yellow, you can’t put white--it would disappear.  But the school-bus yellow takes white or the reverse, you know, in other terms, very well.  There is a reason for that too, you know.  And then I like the rainbow colors, you know, the way the one merges into the other, and that is my range.  I don’t have more than that, you know?  I’m not esoteric about coming in with pastel colors here and there.  Maybe once in a lifetime, but I’ve done--once in a lifetime I’ve done it, when I did the IBM personal computers.

MS. RIEDEL:  The folders for the books, right?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Manuals, manuals.


MR. VIGNELLI:  But for a very specific reason, too, because color, for me, has a meaning, you see.  And that’s--again, I just don’t choose a color because I like it.  It’s not a matter of taste only.  It might be at one point, sooner or later, perhaps, but it’s not my primary concern.  My primary concern is to establish a certain message through color, and that is one of the reasons.  Isn’t that amazing?  [Laughs.]  It’s again, the same consistency we have throughout everything, the same--I choose color and therefore there are very few, maybe half a dozen--the same way that I use typefaces, just about a half a dozen.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  You see, for the same reasons.

MS. RIEDEL:  The elements of the language, the building blocks.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, exactly, building blocks of the language.  And that’s why, you know, throughout my life, I’ve been [inaudible] but that’s why I have it ready.  I don’t even have to think about it, you know.  I will never--you’d never catch me dead using a color like that one on the cover of that book, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right, that sort of pink.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, kind of, you know, sick pink.

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  But a Vignelli red is right on the top there.  [Laughs.]  So that’s better, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  Something you were saying earlier on made me think of something you discussed as a very early experience, I have my note about that.  Your experience early on about merging the craft experience with industrial design, would you say more about that?  You had that Venini background.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, that’s why.


MR. VIGNELLI:  That’s really when it started.  You know, the Venini experience was for me the first exposure to the beauty of crafts and craftsmanship, because, you know, when you design something in glass--let’s say you design something like that, just to make it a quick example.

MS. RIEDEL:  A simple vase.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And you go to the master blower, and in order to get to this final shape, he goes through endless numbers of shapes where he maybe [inaudible].

MS. RIEDEL:  Right, because this is very full-bellied, yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Maybe it’s all over there, you know, and so on and so forth.  Or maybe then, if you want this opened like that, you put it on the oven and it opens up, whatever it is.  So what is interesting is that all the transitional shape between your design and the final object, sometimes, are much more interesting than the final [inaudible].  Why?  Because those are really what the thing wants to be, you see, and you don’t know that if you don’t have that kind of experience, even that kind of exposure, more than experience.  You don’t know it, because you just draw because you’re used to the pencil, even worse with a computer, you know.  The great importance of being exposed to crafts is that you begin to understand the nature of materials:  Wood is one thing, steel is another, glass is another, plastic is another.  What you can do with plastic, you cannot do with glass, and vice versa.  You know, things like that.  And why?  Because of tolerances, because of the way it’s manufactured, and so on and so forth.  So the more you get involved into that, the more awareness you begin to acquire about the properties of materials, and you stay--and you try to stay within, or, on purpose, stretch that, you know.  [Inaudible] – but, you know, it could be--I mean, why not, if you--if you so desire, you know.  [Laughs.]

However, I’m not for stretching materials, or stretching possibilities, as much as I am for using what is proper and appropriate, you know, because of my strong notion of appropriateness.  Therefore, I like to use the most appropriate way for that material, you know, whatever it is.  Whenever you can, you can do different things.  And what you can do, for instance, with that object there, you know, that box there, you can only do with that material, to a great extent.  You cannot do it in glass.  You cannot, it would be stupid to do it in silver, you know, or in metal, which would require a lot of process, when instead you do a mold and then blow that material into the mold, then bingo, that object comes out.  So you have to know all these processes.

Oh, the other thing which is interesting about design--again, when I say, if you can design one thing, you can design everything, you know, now, what do I mean?  Do I know how to design that box?  No, I don’t.  You know, but I know how to design many other things.  So I might know that more or less, and then I will get in touch with the manufacturer for these things, and he will tell me you cannot do this, you can do that, you know, so on and so forth.  Because, you know [inaudible] you listen to that, and you modify it and say, how about doing this?  Can you do this?  Yes, I can do that.  Or you might say, no, I cannot do that.  Why?  Because I can’t get the object out.  Okay, fine, that’s a good excuse.  Or if he says, I cannot do that.  Why?  Because it’s never been done before, then that’s not good enough, you know.  [Laughs.]  So, you know, it’s that kind of a relationship. 

So it’s very important to work together with the people that are going to do whatever you design.  And unless you learn, unless you know from the beginning certain techniques and you need to, but otherwise, it always helps--it’s always very helpful.  And then even with the Poltrona Frau, you know, it becomes really useful to work together.  And they will say, we can do this – we can do this, maybe, better.  We can do this, maybe, in a more inexpensive way.  And you can find a better solution that is more affordable, and that is always something to look for.  See, this is, again, why we are designers and not artists.  An artist is not concerned, neither should he be, you know, nothing should be between him and the final work, in a sense.  But in design, there are a lot of considerations that are pertinent to the quality of the object.  And to design something in the wrong way just by--I mean, i.e., in the most expensive way rather than the most economical way, it brings down--bad design.  Good design is what you achieve with economy of means.  That is good design.  Bad design is just the opposite:  what you achieve without any economy of means.  That’s why it’s not design.  It might be art, you see.

MS. RIEDEL:  Two questions, kind of on what you just said--the way you’re describing your experience with Venini in the glass, and then I think of the fellowship that you had to work with Towle in silver. It sounds as if your early experience with craft and with material gave you another group of building blocks, or another kind of language that you incorporated into your overall vocabulary.


MS. RIEDEL:  And that was a real understanding of material, from a craft perspective, that you might not have had otherwise.  Is that accurate?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Plus also a less rigid approach in the design of objects, too, depends, you know, objects that, how can I say it, a more sensual approach rather than a rational approach, to a certain extent, you know, for a certain category.  Or, kind of, this glass, a perfect example, you know.  I mean, cylindrical glass, one would think that a Vignelli glass would be a cylindrical glass, very geometric, and so on and so forth, and you would say, that’s not a Vignelli glass, but that it is, indeed, typical of exactly what I’m talking about.  I’m interested in the properties of glass, which are enhanced by the light.  You know, what light does is coming through this and making all those reflections, and that makes glass sing.  When this is a cylinder, the glass – the light goes through, comes out the other way with very little disturbance, in a sense, or very little intercourse with the glass, you know.  And I don’t want to be--to make this association between disturbance and intercourse, I mean [they laughs] well, very little intercourse with the glass, and instead, when this--when the light comes through this, look what happens.  See, the object starts to take life.  And this is because of this corrugation and so on and so forth, the water, et cetera.  And it makes it much more interesting, you see. So as much as we like, you know, purity of shapes, when it’s appropriate we like also to investigate the play of light.  Why?  Because light is important for us, and then we come back to the point.  Light is – it’s not--I’m not interested in the shape by itself, by themselves.  I’m interested to see how that light could interact with that, whatever shape it is.

MS. RIEDEL:  In the particular material as well, yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, and that is really what we--

MS. RIEDEL:  What is reflected, refracted?

MR. VIGNELLI:  --what interests me.  And I think that that is what is important and every good designer does that.  You know, ever major designer does that.  Tapio Wirkkala, you know, has a very good design for, you know, this Finnish designer that designed beautiful glass and so on.

MS. RIEDEL:  What’s the name?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Tapio Wirkkala.

MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Or Kaj Franck, you know, the Swedish one.  I mean, the--and then there is also the other side – the beauty of the industrial aspiration, like in the glasses designed by Wagenfeld.  There--where it’s really like a chemical glass, pure, very German, the nobility of the absence of personalism or the nobility of objectivity in a sense, and that is really what German design is about.  And this is what has been always for me a great source of inspiration.  And a --you know, I mean, I have a tremendous respect for German culture and German design, you know, and German culture in general, music, literature.  Look at that guy, Goethe is right there.

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  And so the purity of the German design, the beautiful work of Dieter Rams, you know, which I consider really the best, by far the best designer of the century, by far. 

MS. RIEDEL:  Really?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh yes.  Better than Eames, and anybody, you know.  But Eames is really, really high [laughs] [inaudible] you know.  But I’m--but I think that purity of form, the language, the precision that Dieter Rams has achieved, his work is best, you know, I think he is the greatest by all means.  And okay, the second greatest is Eames [laughs] or at least they’re the same level.  And the good--it is--really what makes Eames better than, to a certain extent sometimes, better than Dieter Rams is that Eames was much more rounded person.  He made beautiful films, he made beautiful toys, he did beautiful furniture, you know, everything he did was beautiful, playful and so on, and that’s why I think he’s great.  And has epitomized really the best of the American spirit, you know.  He’s just like same book.  You know, and so on.  So--and a great, great, great contribution given to mankind from him as well, you know.  And you should not forget them.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Who would you say is, as your major influences over time?


MS. RIEDEL:  Number one?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Number one, foremost.  Yes, Mies, by all means.  More than anything else.  It’s the Mies attitude, the sparseness, of sifting, of cleanliness, intelligence and that, you know, that--I can’t stand superficial design, you know.  And Mies is forever, you know, and it’s just the Beethoven of architecture and design, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  More so even than Le Corbusier?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh yes, by far.  Yes, by far.  He’s the great, you know, at the end of the day, Le Corbusier was a great artist, you know, and a great architect and a great innovator of the language of architecture [inaudible].  But this is [laughs] you know, you take the personal with the feeling, and take somebody other, you know, that the towers he had made, you know, you take the furniture.  You take the smaller houses which we never done, they’re just done in the [inaudible].  You take the tour in that house, you know, Mies’ work is--still no one, no one has come yet--has yet, over the past that, you know, no one, I mean the poetry, the Palladic  quality of the space, the statue, you know, the [inaudible] dimension of his contribution.  Just the greatest, by all means.

MS. RIEDEL:  Louis Kahn, was he of interest to you?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh yes.  Louis Kahn was great too, you know.  I mean, those were the great guys: Corbu [Le Corbusier], Mies, and Kahn.  That’s about it, you know.  And before there was Wright, you know, of course.  No doubts about that.  The--but, you know, what Mies has done is unbelievable. Taking industrial products and transforming them into the most sublime architecture ever, you know, where the proportion is the whole thing, you know, and where--I mean, look at the Seagram Building, you know?  The Seagram Building in that square, the relationship with all the details, oh, it’s incredible, and the nobility of the material.  You know that you cannot--you have only two positions for the venetian blinds: either down or half--well, or high, all the way.  You know, but not any kind of position that will--see, you know, a little detail like that.  He knows how that could destroy an entire façade of the building, all that mass [inaudible].  God is in the details.

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.  Yes. 

MR. VIGNELLI:  And so that’s why--I mean Louis Kahn was an incredible architect: strong, beautiful, simple, but--but very, very good.  And Corbu was a--was a great artist.  [Laughs.]  He had such a flair in everything he did.  It was just so perfect.  But again, proportion, proportion, proportion was what he would--the golden means of the world, you know, the end--that’s where we all learn, in that sense, you know.  Yes, I mean, it was absolutely incredible, but personally, there again, personally:  Mies, Mies, Mies. 

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]  That’s definitive. 

MR. VIGNELLI:  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  You’ve talked about economy of means and you’ve talked about poetry.  Do you--poetry of Mies’ work.  Do you think of your work as having any sort of spiritual quality to it, any sort of spiritual context?

MR. VIGNELLI:  I don’t know.  It’s not that I try to put it in anything.  If it comes out by itself, that’s terrific.  [Laughs.]  But of course what we try is almost--very sensitive to proportions, you know.  There are many issues that, of course, are important for us in proportions, sequence, scale; all the values like that are very, very important to us, you know.  You know, scale, for instance, is so important.  Most of the people still do not know really what scale is about.  They still confuse scale with size.  Size is measurable, scale is not.  You know, scale is intangible.  And you will say, oh that thing has a fabulous scale, and it might be a little thing like that, or it could be a huge thing, you know.  And the sense of scale is an intangible quality that is either there or it isn’t, you know?  And it has to do with proportion, it has to do with appropriateness, it has to do with materials, it has to do with sight, it has to do with so many different things.  It has to do with what it is; you know, a book could have a sense of scale or not, you know?

MS. RIEDEL:  Strikes me as what you’ve referred to as the inherent meaning of the object itself is related to the scale, yes?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, exactly.  Yes.  And the--and of course, you know, when we design, we come – we’re very aware of that, you know?

MS. RIEDEL:  I think the Stendig Calendar immediately when I think of scale, right?



MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, because it’s not the size is where the scale there, you know, it’s the scale of--it is the size and the scale and what you do with that in a sense, but it is the scale of the object. 

MS. RIEDEL:  Can you think of a particular--

MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, as a matter of fact--


MR. VIGNELLI:  It’s interesting that it doesn’t lose--it’s not the size.  You take that calendar and you reduce it to this size. I have a page there it used to—this, and it’s like the same scale.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right, exactly.

MR. VIGNELLI:  I wanted to do it that small [inaudible] because really it makes the point so well about the difference between size and scale.

MS. RIEDEL:  I think so.



MR. VIGNELLI:  That’s a perfect example. 

MS. RIEDEL:  Do you think of the work, your work over time, as having any sort of social or political commentary?



MR. VIGNELLI:  I think it has a social concern.  I think it’s the--because of the sense of responsibility and now a dedication to make design, spread design as much as possible, national parks or things of that kind, you know.  I don’t think design is a tool for changing--for political means or something like that.  On--I don’t think it has any--

MS. RIEDEL:  Did it not feel that there’s some sort of indirect social commentary in that commitment to economy of means and appropriateness, indirect?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, in a--well, indirectly when we fight vulgarity, yes, it is a social commentary in a sense, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  I mean, it is a reaction against the society in which we live and the waste, you know, when we design things to be kept around and then to be thrown away and then, you know.  When we design something that fights obsolescence, it is a social commentary in a sense, but it’s also because we believe in all those values, you know.  And it just so happens.  It’s not politicall, it’s not designed for really political, or I would say, controversial issues.

MS. RIEDEL:  No, I didn’t--yes, I would think not.

MR. VIGNELLI:  So it’s not so controversial.  I mean, not using design, from that point of view, as a tool or a--there are some other design--French firms that do that, you know.   I’m not [inaudible] to do that. 

MS. RIEDEL:  Have your sources of inspiration changed over time?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Not really.  I mean--I mean, the source of inspiration has always been that economy of means and, you know, to sift, sift, sift until there’s nothing left to throw away.  You know, it’s that kind of--and that has always been the inspiration.  It’s not something else coming from outside; on the contrary, of course, I try not to, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  I try to find inspiration right inside whatever we are to do, you know, and then proceed from that point, and as we say all the time, the solution is in the problem,  it’s not outside of the problem.  So we like to investigate within the thing, and because it’s within it then the solution is there.  And we can, and that’s where the excitement is also, to find that out in a sense.  But the--you know, there are so many issues, I mean, this happens that this baggage of  this accumulation of things that we have, you know.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, you met Beatriz [Cifuentes] , right?

MS. RIEDEL:  No, I don’t think--I think we’ve only spoken on the phone.  Hi, nice to meet you.

MR. VIGNELLI:  That’s precious [inaudible.]

[Off mic.]

MS. RIEDEL:  We’re almost done for today.

MS.     :  You see, we went by home too.

MR. VIGNELLI:  I cannot believe it.  Do you want that one or do you want this one?

MS.     :  No, these ones--aren’t these--

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, yes.  These are the [inaudible].

MS.     :  Can we use them?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes. [Laughs].

MS.     :  You see how we did this [inaudible]

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  I can’t believe it.  I’m getting-- becoming manual, oh my god.  You’re reversing.  [Laughs.]  And in--yes, we have this baggage, I was saying, of things that, and we never--whenever we design maybe a book, maybe a whatever, let’s say it’s a book, so the sequence is important.  We look into whatever we have--we have a whole bunch of photographs, so we have to select one and look which one for that and for that reason, and so on and so forth, and then we begin to build up the sequence and the--and then you blow up, so therefore you’re inflating the scale.  Again, you begin to play with the scale of the images, you know, to bring emotions up, you know, to control the pacing of emotions and things.  I know that’s what you do. 

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, I say, here’s all the tricks.  You have it, so to speak, you know.



MS. RIEDEL:  A rhythm.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  I don’t know; is that art?  Maybe that’s what artists do, I have no idea,  but I don’t know, maybe it is, I have no idea [laughs] because I don’t perceive that, as I said, my work being a work of art.  I just consider that design.  And design has a destination.  Design is utilitarian.  You see, art is not utilitarian.  Art is useful, you know.  And--but not utilitarian. 

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And design is utilitarian and not always useful.  [They laugh.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Shall we stop there for today?

MR. VIGNELLI:  [Laughs.] That’s a good point there. 

[End of Disc]

            MS. RIEDEL:  This is Mija Riedel with Massimo Vignelli in his New York City office on June 7th, 2011 for the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.  This is card number three.  When we left off yesterday, we were just finishing the work that you completed in the '80s, but we hadn't touched on the work for the United States Postal System.  That involved designing a number of interiors, is that correct?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, that was an interesting and an unusual kind of project.  We had received a visit one day from an architectural firm from Memphis, Tennessee, I guess, saying that they were doing a project for the post office.  They were designing, you know, new post office factories  [inaudible] offices, factories, basically, and the factory side was very well-established, in a sense.  And what they couldn't really get [inaudible] was what kind of a look should have the front part of the post office, the one the people see, and--

            MS. RIEDEL:  So these were regular post office buildings where people would come buy stamps and mail packages.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  So I merely said while I think the issue of identity is very important, but the – by the same token, however, we're not talking about gas stations.  We're talking of a post office that, in a sense that is a kind of--has a monumental role in every community, you know.  There’s always been a tradition of being an important building, a town hall, post office, you know, so it is part of the American tradition.  It goes back to the beginning of the American cities, in a sense, the post office shack, so to speak [they laugh] in the Wild West, you know?  It had a front, you know, a false front.  I mean, it was already established as an important thing, you know, it wasn't just a casual office building, anonymous.  So the--this architectural firm said, “We can't make up our mind.  We cannot make up our mind on what it should look like, you know, and we were wondering, you know, maybe Vignelli has some ideas.”  So I immediately said, “Yes, I think,” just as I mentioned, “that the building is more than a gas station.”  Not only that, but I think also that in a country as big as a--as a continent and the land diversity between California and Maine, you know, and Midwest, and I think somehow this should be reflected.  So anyhow, as I said, the back part, which is the factory, it was already established.  And the front part is the one, which is in contact with the public.  That means the counters and the, you know, the boxes, you know, P.O. boxes.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Mailboxes, uh-huh [Affirmative]. Okay.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, things like that, and other transactions that happen usually in the post with the public is the front part, and that is the part we had to take care of.  So what we decided to do is to make a gallery in the front of the building.  When we took [inaudible] the buildings, the factory building, you know [inaudible] post offices, they had many different sizes.  Some were very small, some were larger, some were even larger, you know.  So we said, “There has to be a kind of architecture that is extendable, that is not, you know, finished by itself.”  And so we took this approach, we call it a salami approach [they laugh] where you can slice it  [they laugh, inaudible] and we made this gallery with a, you know, open square porch in front, and a--and a--and a square entrance, an arch, to signify the entrance.  We made these all in brick, so we had a big wall above and this floor openings on the bottom.  It was like a porch in the type of the glass.  It was made of glass.  And in the front, in the center of this, or usually in the center there was the--this arch, “square arch,” if I can put it that way, white, as opposed to the brick color – for instance, or the different material for the background, signifying the entrance.  And of course, over the top part, it would say United States Post Office, et cetera, so--and the gallery had a glass roof, you know, so it was full of air, it was cheerful, and so on.  And you know, and the counters and all that.  It was quite nice as a matter of fact.  So it really--what it was, it was an architectural intervention from all points of view, because the concept was an architectural concept, was not just a design, interior design or furniture design or product design.

      MS. RIEDEL:  Right.
      MR. VIGNELLI:  It was architectural.  And the--I mean, that, you know, I mean, the architectural firm went along with it.  They were happy with it and that is what it became.  Now, the other thing, which was very unique, as I say, probably of identity and diversity, and the identity part was this; the architecture of shape, form, you know.  But the diversity part was the one by the different materials according to the regions.  In other terms, in the Midwest, it would be limestone, for instance.  In the, you know, in the East, it would be brick, you know.  In California or in Florida, it would be stucco, you know.  So that the [inaudible] architecture is the same, basically, and the cladding, you know was related to the environment and the vernacular and so on of each region, you know, so quite interesting because again, identity was strong, you know, portrayed in a very strong way but in a very dignified way, not gas-station style, in a sense, but in industrial-design style, so to speak, but architecture with the dignity of architecture in every place, you know, and – but at the same time, the diversity was provided by [inaudible] materials.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Do you know how many buildings [inaudible]?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  I don't know how many they did.  The funny thing is, I went one time and I had completely forgotten where, somewhere--I don't know if it was in Virginia or some state around there to give a talk to a university, and then the student says, “We have a good surprise for you.  Maybe you have never seen it.”  They said, “We're taking you to see the new post office.”  [Laughs.]  So finally, I managed to see the real thing.  And I took some pictures and--

            MS. RIEDEL:  Interesting.  That was the first time?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, exactly.  And I know that they have done more than one, but I don't know where they have done it, because also when I visited, the architect of that firm died, and so I lost, you know, touch with the firm [inaudible]  and I don't know what happens, but I'm very, very proud of that project, really because of that approach, of identity, diversity, and context, which are three very important issues for us, particularly when it comes to architecture of environment, you know.  Context for us is a--and I wrote several times about--it is a very important issue.  It's an issue, which very often is not considered, or overlooked, you know, and this is why a lot of things do not belong, you know.  I mean, it's incredible.  I mean, I just came back from Atlanta.  Atlanta has a whole new big business center, you know, with fabulous buildings here and there, very luxurious, very rich buildings, but no context, you see.  Everyone is stand-alone kind of a thing, you know?

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And there is no connection, no connectivity.  It's amazing when you--when you look at any European town or village, you know, you'll find--look at Barcelona.  Look at Paris.  Look, you know, Berlin.  Look, you name it [inaudible] Berlin history [inaudible].  You know, you look at the city of Florence; they do have a tremendous connection.  Context is very, very, very strong.  Of course, over here, it's that--the notion of context has never really been an issue, because it was always a building-and-a-parking-lot [laughs] you know, kind of a situation, and there was no context one way or the other, you know.  Even in the city of New York, you know, there's very little context, you know?  Some places have it.  West End has it, and 5th Avenue might have it to a certain extent, you know.

            MS. RIEDEL:  What about Chicago?  Do you think it has more context?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Not even Chicago.  No, not even Chicago.  I mean, what it turns out, again, is a collection of fine buildings in there, you know, but without any connection.  So the spirit of the cities over here comes out from the energy of the buildings, rather than from the energy of the environment.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Interesting.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, it's very different, you know.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And that, of course, is a reflection of the history of the country, but also it reflects the nature of the people, you know, compared to other places, you know.  Here, the individuals are very strong.  The cult of individual freedom is above anything else.  They couldn't care less about the others, you know?  It's “me-me-me” kind of culture, you know, as opposed to [inaudible] that has been [inaudible] for centuries over in around the world.  [Inaudible.]

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right, right.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  So it's funny, because when you go in Africa, for instance, and you see some villages in India or, you know, or China whatever places, you know, and you see these round buildings, you know, that are isolated, but the vocabulary of the building is the same.  So there's a strong identity, you know, routine things even.  And that identity makes a context, you see?

      MS. RIEDEL:  Right.
      MS. VIGNELLI:  They don't have to be attached, but the fact that the language, the architectural language is the same, you know, that gives a good feeling, like you might have in a campus over here, you know?

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  A campus would be something that has that kind of a—usually--RIT [Rochester Institute of Technology], for instance, or [inaudible] or many other, you know, many other campuses around the country.  It is an interesting issue, but that is why we really like [inaudible] that’s why we like that particular project of the post office.  And really it brings up the issues what we really like projects that gives us the opportunity for demonstrating our beliefs and assert our theories.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Uh-huh [Affirmative.]

            MR. VIGNELLI:  We have this, I guess, strongly or strong theoretical approach, you know, to whatever we do, you know, and strong beliefs and stubbornness [they laugh] in achieving it, too, you know, not compromising and so forth, we’d rather give up the whole thing rather than compromise the concept, because otherwise, it's nothing, you know, waste of time.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right, right.  It goes back to the details.  Yes.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, exactly.

            MS. RIEDEL:  The details, all of that matters, the connections.
            MR. VIGNELLI:  So it's an attitude.

            MS. RIEDEL:  It's interesting, because that project reminds me very much of the way you were describing the National Park Service brochure yesterday, the continuity and the diversity in this structure that is--

            MR. VIGNELLI:  You see how in this [inaudible] throughout our life, you know?

            MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And this is, it started, this is why I was teaching corporate identity, when people were not even knowing what corporate identity is.  It, to me, was this desire of having identity and diversity together and consistency throughout and linking different problems, different things, to a common denominator, you know.  And that has always been, you know, interesting, and extending whatever we were doing to embrace the whole context, you know, not just designing a logo and doing a logo, a stationery, and a catalog book, to exhibit [inaudible] extending it to give power to the statement.

            MS. RIEDEL:  To the whole.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  To the whole and to the statement.

            MS. RIEDEL:  So any single element reflects the larger whole.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Right, and it was a double.  I mean, double intention, you know.  One was the desire of achieving that, but also the desire of extending yourself to do all these different things and [inaudible].  [Laughs.]

            MS. RIEDEL:  That's a perfect entre to--I wanted to discuss your clothing.  You have a line of clothing.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, okay, so good.  I brought these two booklets [inaudible].  And I'm going to show it to you.  Unfortunately, the tape cannot see them, but you know, what happens is the following.  How did I get to it?

            MS. RIEDEL:  It’s early '90s, yes?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  And I went to my closet one morning, and I didn't know what to put on at all.

            MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]

            MR. VIGNELLI:  A lot of regular suits there and some--I couldn't put that jacket because the lapels were too narrow.  I couldn't put the other one because the lapels were too big.  I couldn't put the other one because the shoulders were too tight.  The other one was too big in spots.  And I said, “My God, look.  These suits are new and am I fashion victim?”  [They laugh.]  So I could not--I could not stand that notion, you know, and so I said, “I've got to look around for something that transcends this fashion.”  And I look around, couldn't find it, and since we have this motto “if you can't find it, design it,” I went to the office and took some paper like this, and my pencil, and I start to draw, you know, the clothing that I thought that I was looking for.  Since I couldn't find it, I knew what I was looking for, and I couldn't find it.  So I could design it very easily.  You can design--you can design when you know what you're looking for.

      MS. RIEDEL:  Right.
      MR. VIGNELLI:  You cannot design if you don't know what you're looking for.  Then you’re just vague and you, you know, meander in the nothingness, and that is what a lot of people do because they don't know.  You know, that is they might hit something by happenstance, you know [inaudible, laughs] so--

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  But by having those two yardsticks, you know, of course, it helps a lot.  So I started to--could I blow my nose?  So I started to draw, and then while I was drawing, I said, “Well, let's see what happened throughout history, you know.”  And so I just did this thing and I started to say, you know, at the beginning, clothing was very unisex.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Mm-hmm [Affirmative.]  A little fig leaf, right?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  There was no distinction.  The fig leaf--

      MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.
      MR. VIGNELLI:  --was the same for Adam.  Then, you know, we got into the Roman times.  It was very easy.  They would just say, you know, they had a big problem with fashion and tailors.  They would just say, “Go and buy me 10 yards of fabric.”  And then it comes back, and then you wrap it around the body, and there was the suit [laughs] more or less.
      MS. RIEDEL:  [Inaudible.]

     MR. VIGNELLI:  Then it came to Dark Age, which were really dark, you know, you know, like Monty Python [they laugh] and search for the holy grail.  You know, that's a perfect rendition of what Middle Ages must have been, you know, really.  And it was nothing very heavy – wool, boiled wool, you know, fabrics, you know.  When it was raining, it was like tons of concrete that was on your shoulders, you know?  It must have been terrible.  And then of course came the Renaissance, incredible fantasy with beautiful jackets and beautiful tops, you know, great, you know, aura and different colors.  And stockings--I mean, leggings for men; one leg one color, one--the other leg another color.  That takes a lot of guts to do, you know.  [They laugh.]  And then, you know, things move along and during the, you know, the 1600s, and men had this incredible.  What do you call these things?

            MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, ruffles?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Ruffles around the neck, you know, and britches this way, and still have leggings--

      MS. RIEDELS:  Like pantaloons?
      MR. VIGNELLI:  And jewels and [inaudible] beautiful velvet brocades and so on, so that the textile becomes extremely refined, you know.  And of course, there is the counter, what I call the counter-reform or counterrevolution, the reform, actually, and you have the pilgrims coming to the states, a very sober kind of line, you know [inaudible] were all like the great-great-great-great-grandfather Brooks Brothers [they laugh] you know, were really nice clothing, and using a big five-gallon hat, you know, which became then the cowboy hat eventually down the line.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Interesting.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And a lot of buttons, like that.  Why a lot of buttons, you know?  You know why?

            MS. RIEDEL:  No.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Is to make undressing more difficult.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, interesting.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Here is this.  That is, again, Protestant--

            MS. RIEDEL:  Yes, values.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, value, Protestant values, you know, prudery [laughs] not like today. 

            MS. RIEDEL:  I didn't know [laughs] not like the Romans.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]  [They laugh.]  And then when you get the 18th century – [inaudible] – extreme elegance, you know, in--on every detail.  And the jacket becomes longer,   it becomes like an overcoat.  The breeches become like this–the stock--the leggings are shortened.  The britches, they come to under below the knee.  And that's basically, you know, the kind of--and a cravat begins to be around, you know, a scarf.   And then you have Napoleon times, and again, all the buttons.  And you know why all the buttons on the sleeves?  To prevent the soldiers from cleaning their noses on the--on the--everything always had a function, by the way.  This is amazing.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Really?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  They were either practical or religious, like we have seen before, you know?  Or the button always had reason for it, you know.  In this case, the button, the military button, they had a lot of buttons because they were [inaudible] buttons, you know, and that was like a decoration.  It was--it was like medals, you know.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Sure.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And then of course, when they were at ease, they were opening.  And when they open them, they give birth to the lapel, because there was never a lapel before. 

            MS. RIEDEL:  Interesting.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  You see, the lapel comes from this notion of opening [inaudible].

            MS. RIEDEL:  Interesting.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  The britches still below the knees, but the boots, they got up to the knees, and so on.  And then you get [inaudible] you know, in time, and the lapel is now established, the jacket is there, the pants are long, you know, the boots are like riding boot, you know [inaudible] and because this is the century of the horse.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Uh-huh [Affirmative.]

            MR. VIGNELLI:  So men are riding horses, you know [inaudible].  Before horses were--only rich people would have riding horses, and the military would have riding horses.  Now the bourgeoisie that is coming up ride the horses, too, you know?  So the clothing reflects that kind of [inaudible] in a sense.  The horse and have--so the boots, that's why we have, you know, that kind of thing.  And then we get into the Victorian era.  It becomes a little more, you know, more bourgeois.  So people begin to go to a tailor, and the tailor has, is beginning to become a person, a tailor or designer that design things, you know, so gives shapes to what was shapeless before.  Now it becomes very shapely, and so the pants go all the way down the floor now, and then, you know, it’s that kind of thing.  Then you have, you know, after, you know, the 1860s, turn of the century, you have – it became, you know, the Brooks Brothers suit, basically the jacket, and pants, just like we know it today.  And for the last 200 years, nothing has changed [inaudible]

            MS. RIEDEL:  Interesting.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  A hundred years--nothing has changed.  It I unbelievable, I can't believe it.  Look at all the fashion today--still the same basically as a hundred years ago, but we live in a completely different way.

            MS. RIEDEL:  The women's clothing has changed, though, quite a bit.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Women, women clothing is completely different usually.  That's fashion.  It is not clothing.  That's fashion.  This is clothing.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Uh-huh [Affirmative].

            MR. VIGNELLI:  The difference between clothing and fashion is that fashion is obsolescence-building.  You know, clothing [inaudible] is covering body with something that lasts longer.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Uh-huh, uh-huh [Affirmative.]
            MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]  So it's a concept of lasting, and it's different.  One is ephemeral, and the other one is long-lasting.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Very interesting.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Then we--then we get into where it was in time.  And once again, very much like, you know, it’s been for a long time.  Double-breasted jackets, you know, very shaped.  And then this incredible nonsense about the crease, you know, iron that way, you know, the pants side in that way, which is so much more complicated to iron.  But there were people ironing, they had servants and [inaudible].  Then we get--however, those things, you know, in the '30s stayed there, but in the '30s, the man is much more sporty.  He is an athlete, he has big muscles and big shoulders and so on and so forth.  And you know, and the jacket becomes sporting jacket, tweed, and the pants become [inaudible] twill so something that is rugged but elegant, you know, at the same time.  And the shoes become two color tones and things like that  [inaudible]. And then we get to the '60s, you know, with the Brooks Brothers basic suit, you know, with the--it's the sack, you know, much like 100 years before.  You know, no shoulders, no padding in the shoulders.  [Inaudible] in the '30s, padding, you know, was enormous on the man's shoulders, like you've seen in the old movies, you know, these incredible shoulders.  And a lot of silly details, but nevertheless that's the basic suit.  And the pants were very short, that's strange.  I remember that when pants were, you know, short.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Really?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  They were not down to the ground.  They were always above [inaudible] raised in the '60s, '50s and '60s.  And then, of course, there is in the '80s, you know, the Armani, that means the unconstructed suit, you know, with the shoulder, you know, that are wide but they’re about, because the man underneath is  [inaudible] and [inaudible] padding whatsoever, you know.  And the unconstructed and no more crease in, on the pants, you know.   So now, let's examine [inaudible] all-traditional men's suit.  You have a belt, once it's fixed, it’s not--you eat, you're done.  I mean, you have to unbelt.  This is not elegant.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right.  [Laughs.]

            MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, you have these creases, which are so difficult to iron.  And you have a fly.  You know, you know why there’s a fly?  It's not for what you think.  A fly has been turning around the body of a man for centuries, you know.  Sailors and, you know, opening not a front fly, but on the side opening.

            MS. RIEDEL:  On the side?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]  [They laugh.]

            MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.  All right, the flap.  Yes, yes.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  In the Renaissance, they had it on the back, you know.  Men were [inaudible] paintings when you see those--

            MS. RIEDEL:  Lacings, uh-huh. [Affirmative.]

            MR. VIGNELLI: -- those, I'd say, strings on the back.  So the only reason that finally they decided to have it in front is because you can put the pants on in an easier way.  And so while you are there, you can just [laughs] so it took a lot of time, however, and not to mention when first they were bottoms, and then men always forgot to button them.  I remember when I was a child, I had buttons and I always had that problem, you know, but I was always an [inaudible] of button [inaudible] friends, they were always unbuttoned and sort of [inaudible].  And old people, we have always unbuttoned pants, you know.  And then they invented that incredible torture machine, which is the zipper.  So zip, you know, and you caught all the time [inaudible] so that doesn't make much sense.  The crease doesn't make any sense because where – just where you fold your legs, you know, always there is a bag there.  So why there should be a crease?  Nobody understand].  And then there is this--

            MS. RIEDEL:  Cuffs.
            MR. VIGNELLI:  Cuffs, which are a great thing for holding dust and ashes and pushpins and whatever.  [Laughs.]  Anything that falls down, and again, the origin of that is that we are making pants without, and people were rolling them down.  So instead of finishing them, only rich people can have tailor cut, the other people, they were just rolling them up, you know, like they do now with the jeans.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  They still--for that reason.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]  So I say that this is the pants.  Let’s examine the jacket.  The jacket has lapels, which change all the time [inaudible] and no one [inaudible] over time.  This pocket--

            MS. RIEDEL:  The breast pocket, uh-huh. [Affirmative.]

            MR. VIGNELLI:  What is it there for? They don't know what to do.  They put a handkerchief just to justify the presence of it.  So if you put the glasses there every time you bend, they fall off.  So it's the most stupid thing.  And it's always open.  It doesn't have a flap or something to close or a zipper or, you know.  It just doesn't make any sense.  And then they have the side pockets.  And they have a roof. Why are they afraid it may rain inside, or?

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]  The flap.

MR. VIGNELLI:  So even seen a pocket a pocket with a roof?  You know, it’s nonsense.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.  Yes, it's odd.  It is odd.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And then the bottoms, you know, and there are two bottons.  One is needed, but why the other one?  And if your botton this is and not this, you look like a jerk, you know, and then they have these buttons on the side.  [Inaudible] all these buttons.  Most of the times, they are fake.  And if spend a thousand [dollars], over a thousand dollars, you can unbutton them,, it's just a snob thing.  And so the entire thing is nothing but a collection of nonsense, not to mention the shoulders, you know?  So I said, “Well, there must be a better way of approaching the design of clothing.”  So let's go back to self-design.  And so this is the first one I designed:  a jacket that has no button on the side [inaudible].

            MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, like a placket.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Placket, yes.

            MS. RIEDEL:  They're under a placket.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Another placket, like at an angle.  That's perfect, you know?  So the same--the same reason, no shoulders, no nothing, totally unconstructed so it’s much easier to make them, like a Japanese thing.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And no crease, and the pants have a--yes, have an elastic band, you know, and no flies.  That's it--much easier, much faster for any event.  [They laugh.]  And that's design, you see.  It's not fashion.  I mean, those things, I told them, I mean, you know, God forbid, you know, you're in a rush in these, you know, and you have to unbelt, unbuckle.  It might be too late.  [Laughs.]  With this, zoom!

            MS. RIEDEL:  And it's back to unisex, is it?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And it's back to unisex, like with Adam and Eve, so then you have a shirt, which is also a sweater, you know?  It's like this [inaudible] and pants like that.  And then variation of a jacket, you know.  If somebody wants to have a tie, that's perfect, because men sometimes want to have a tie.  And if you're naked otherwise, and so you know, design a tie, and then the jacket is like that.  And [inaudible] with a scarf, and you know, that's about it.  And leggings, let's get back to leggings, so I tried the leggings, but my legs were so bad, I had to give it up.  [They laugh.]  My knees were cantilever of the body.  [They laugh.]  So I gave it up, but it's great.  Good-looking stuff, and then for the formal wear, you know, a tuxedo, you know, made a beautiful fabric and, you know.

            MS. RIEDEL:  You have a tie and your cummerbund.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, exactly, all the details, which are--when they say black tie, you come in a black tie.

            MS. RIEDEL:  There you go.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  That's it, you know, you don’t come with a red tie, try to be smart.  You can be smart by coming with a [inaudible] intelligent suits than penguin suits that they wear.  And then fancy, you know, for at-home kind of formal.  So you have a beautiful--
            MS. RIEDEL:  Pleats.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Pleats, like one would have [inaudible] fabric, and velvet, black velvet pants, and black velvet slippers [inaudible].

            MS. RIEDEL:  Beautiful, absolutely.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, you look like a million dollars, you know, and you've got nothing.  You've just got the shirt and pants.  And then we started to design shirts and shirts with a button there and shirts with a collar [inaudible].

            MS. RIEDEL:  Very architectural.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And then the scarves, you know.  And then we design the overcoat, you know, and the coat with a very, very high--

            MS. RIEDEL:  I love that overcoat.  Collar?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Collar, so in the winter you're covered [inaudible]

            MS. RIEDEL:  Very elegant.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And it's long, you know, so it covers the – [inaudible] –

            MS. RIEDEL:  And a long seam down the back?  Is that what I'm seeing here?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Now, this is still in front.

            MS. RIEDEL:  No, that's the front as well, okay.  With the collar up, I see.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  These are different – this is a raincoat, this is a coat, you know.  And then the – you know, for summer again, there’s short-sleeved, crushed fabric or pleated fabric or whatever.  Linen pants. 

            MS. RIEDEL:  Uh-huh. [Affirmative.]  [Laughs.]

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And boots, you know, and shoes, you know, with this quilting [inaudible] and slippers.  That's it, you know, in terms of shoes [inaudible] that's in a velvet.

            MS. RIEDEL:  That's it.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, and then we start to do, you know, of course, we did this little booklet to introduce the concept, you know.  And again, we went through the history [inaudible].

            MS. RIEDEL:  Such a lovely little book.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, the Renaissance is terrific, and the different ages of history.  And then [inaudible] collection created with the--

            MS. RIEDEL:  “Rigorous Discipline of Industrial Design, which aims at solving problems in the implest, most rational way, manufacturing processes efficient, with fewer components, fewer phases and fewer materials.”

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes?  Perfect.

MR. VIGNELLI:  That is the correct, that's the entire concept in one page, one paragraph.  And here are the different models and here is the reality.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Uh-huh. [Affirmative.]

            MR. VIGNELLI:  This is the jacket.  These are the sweaters.  This is a silk and wool suits, and this--and I see they are easy ways to wear.

            MS. RIEDEL:  And people who are listening to this interview and want to see this can find it in your book.  I think there's a--

            [Cross talk.]

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Sometimes, some of these illustrations are in the--

            MS. RIEDEL:  Is it A to Z?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  – I think in the A to Z.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Yes, I think so, too.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, I think, and some of these things--actually, this is a Russian designer, very famous today.  And there are other designers, which were in our office. This is a famous German designer who was visiting us [laughs] one day.  [Inaudible.]

            MS. RIEDEL:  And you had him model.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  –-used as a model.  This was a designer in the office.  This was a Russian designer that was in the office, and now he's back to Russia and is one of the big protagonists of Russian design.  And here is the [inaudible] you know, and again, you say [inaudible].  And then this is the--

            MS. RIEDEL:  A little bit of color.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible] color.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Uh-huh. [Affirmative.]  Red, and very simple colors.  The raincoat.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.] the raincoat and you know, every coat.

            MS. RIEDEL:  So beautiful [inaudible] uh-huh [affirmative.] 

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And--

            MS. RIEDEL:  Fifty-four pieces?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, but this is what the-- to make a jacket.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, 54 pieces.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  It takes 44 pieces, you know, a regular jacket.  It takes 10 pieces in our--so you can see right there, that is design.  [Inaudible.] have to multiply.  And again, two versions--and then one.

            [Off mic.]


            MR.     :  No, it’s just me.

            Mr. VIGNELLI:  Oh.  Are you all right?

            MR.     :  I’m fine.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Okay, good, good, and this is another one.  This is another one.  This is nice.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Uh-huh [Affirmative.]

            MR. VIGNELLI:  I think Lella had this on yesterday.  [Inaudible.]  And this is another one.  So you can see, Lella was doing the woman's side, and I was doing the men's side.  Here's another one.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Here we see some of the pleated fabric. Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.

            MS. RIEDEL:  And some more color.  Purple there.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And actually, I think, yes [inaudible] and this is the crushed velvet.  More evening stuff.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Now, were these sold?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And then, yes, here's another [inaudible] they are pleated.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Excellent, uh-huh [Affirmative.]  Very elegant.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  The other kind of fabric, and this is business.  Yes, we were selling,  making it and selling it in our office as well as at Barney's.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, was it Barney's?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, for a--for a--for a short time.  [Laughs.]  And then it was too difficult.  The problem is that we are designer, we're not manufacturer.  We're not entrepreneurs.  We are designers.  So we had--when we were making these things, we also had to keep going with all--everything else.  And we didn't have the right kind of people to follow up the business side neither really, the time to look for it, or the investment to make.  And so when we closed the office, we closed that activity and that was it, for the last 10 years, we haven't been making them.  We still wear them [laughs] and people still asking us all the time.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Are they?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh, yes, but it's too complicated.

            MS. RIEDEL:  So you produced them for five years, 10 years?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  We produced for five years, and it was fun.  It was fun.  We had a--we had a little showroom in the office.  We had a production room.  We were making them.  It was a room about this size.  And so it was a large room where we were making them.

            MS. RIEDEL:  All the clothing was actually produced in the office?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, in the office, yes.  We had a seamstress and cutters and so on, yes.  And then we had a little showroom in the office with one room and mirrors, et cetera, and you know – and you know, the racks with all the different styles and different fabrics.  And one could choose the fabric and say, “I'd like to have this with that fabric [inaudible].”  So we were making them.  It was fun.  [Laughs.]

            MS. RIEDEL:  Absolutely and completely.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  It was a lot of fun, really, and but as I said, it was time-consuming, and we didn't have the time to dedicate only to that thing.  So you know, you can succeed in everything if you dedicate time to it, but I was happy enough to have proven once again that if you can design one thing, you can design another thing.  [Laughs.]

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right, right, and you had gone from the Post Office to the clothing within a few years.  Uh-huh. [Affirmative.]

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Same time, as a matter of fact.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Really close, uh-huh. [Affirmative.]

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And then--and indeed, a discipline between--I mean, behind those things was the same.

            MS. RIEDEL:  And it's interesting to me that when you started to design clothing, you didn't look at what was being produced currently?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  No.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Or what even had happened in the past hundred years.  You went back and looked at the entire historical context.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And that's just pretty much what we do with everything when we design it.  If we have to design a chair, we're not interested in seeing so much what the competition is doing, you know.  We're interested to understand what is [inaudible] if we have to design a folding chair, what has been the development of folding chairs, historically?  You know, think of it even today, of course, you know, these different directions are, but we don't take inspiration support from another existing design.  I mean, that's not what we are--what we are supposed to do is to come up with something that has its own personality, so to speak, you know, its own solution.  So it's an answer to a problem.  [Inaudible.]  And so it was with the clothing, same thing, you know.  It was fun, but particularly, it was fun also to show the relationship between the clothing and the rest of our designs.  You know, again, you know, for all of our life, we have been preaching that design is one, you know.  And there was a perfect example, because people might understand things, but when it comes to clothing, they really didn't understand, you know?  [Laughs.]  And there's no doubt about [inaudible] everybody has points to that.  And because of--it was a very good example of what our--of the meaning of our theories.  [Laughs.]

            MS. RIEDEL:  So a little bit after the clothing, or maybe right about the same time, you began doing a lot of graphic work for the Guggenheim, is that right?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, yes.

            MS. RIEDEL:  And also in Milan?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  The clothing was in the '90s and so parallel to that was a lot of other work going on in every area: furniture, graphics, books, and so on.  I don't remember exactly here now, which project was going on at the time.  All of them [laughs] [inaudible] was going on at the time, too.

            MS. RIEDEL:  There was some work you did in Milan that won an award.  Do you --for the Salon?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh, yes, the Salone del Mobile.  Yes, we did a whole corporate identity there, the [inaudible] the graphics, the promotional material.  We designed all the promotional material, invented many of them.  And then we designed signage for all of the compound and the exhibits—the big one.  And we designed exhibits also, some exhibitions.  So we were designing everything; books, catalogs, everything.  It was a very complex, no, not complex, I would say comprehensive program.  And then we got the Golden Compass Award, which I was quite happy about.  [Laughs.]  We already had one with the melamine dishes.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, Okay.  And those were early on, right?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, '64.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right.  Those were with Heller?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Right, before I let him buy the business and--

            [Cross talk.]

            Yes.  So in '64, and this was--what year?  '97?

            MS. RIEDEL:  Is it that, sometime in the early '90s I have--it might have been ‘97.  And then there was the project with the U.K. railway system.  And then it was with the interior and the exterior?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  We did the--all the graphic--the identification, all the graphics, the logo, delivery of the train, and the timetables and posters and magazines and printed matter of all kinds, you know.  And then Lella worked on all the interiors of the trains.  So she would--and the first class and tourist-class interiors.  And that was a lot of work, going to England all the time, you know.  [Inaudible.]  She was, she still remembers very well from that period, and it was a tough one.  That was a good client also, it was interesting.

            MS. RIEDEL:  And there was--and also there was signage went from the Guggenheim to the Guggenheim Bilbao.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Uh-huh [affirmative], yes.

            MS. RIEDEL:  And the Houston museum?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, we did--first thing, we did the graphics and the signage for the Guggenheim over here in New York, and a magazine, which was quite nice, Guggenheim Magazine.  And then we did--when Frank Gehry did—when he did Bilbao, we did the signage for that one, too.  That was a glamorous job you know, we were lucky always to get a glamorous job [inaudible] [laughs] you know.

            MS. RIEDEL:  And were you finding in these later projects that there were many similarities to what you had done from the start?  Did you see that things have changed in your thinking?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  I never--no, there was continuity, similarities, definite continuity, but somebody said, a friend of mine said, “Massimo has been doing the same thing for the last 50 years but always different.”  [Laughs.]

            MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And that is true, I think it's the best compliment I ever got, you know.  [Inaudible.]

            MS. RIEDEL:  Sorry?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]

            MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, yes.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, you must [have] known him, he's from San Francisco.  He said that, and a nice fellow.

            MS. RIEDEL:  What made me think of what, something you said yesterday that stuck in my mind was inserting the uncommon into the common.  It sounds very much along those lines.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, right.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Yes, and if you can find a way to do that consistently.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, but also, you know, the discipline is the same throughout, you know.  It's just what changes is also the application, but the hand, the handwriting is the same.  I guess it's the same in every profession.  I mean, writers--I mean, you take Tolstoy is Tolstoy, no matter where he writes.  You take Hemingway, and he's Hemingway, no matter where he writes, you know.  It's his language, it's his form, it's his grammar, it's his syntaxes, it's his language, basically. And his handwriting is the same basically, and the same is for us.  And then the same, you see, there is not a--I understand that an artist has the desire of change because paintings always painting, and he – and he has no clients to bring in different issues.  So he has to build up his own different issues to respond to it, you know, and these issues are provided by the society, the events and the politics [inaudible] you know, the environment and a dozen things.  We don't have that problem because every problem is different, you know, to begin with, you know, in itself.  And the solution stems from the problem itself.  So what you do, you apply your discipline to whatever happenstance.  Again, happenstance, you know, and whatever context, and you just apply it, you just do it, you know.  So that is what establishes your continuity, but it's not the same.  It's a--you can say it's an identifiable hand, but it's not the same throughout for every project.  It might be some time there are some sameness between projects, but projects are in such different fields it maybe doesn't matter, you know [inaudible].

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible] the similarities might be there but the same is with a--when we design a stationery, we have two or three basic patterns, you know, and some basic grids, so it depends on the grid you use, and the destination and the character of that particular company means one or the other or the other that is the most important for that use.  But see, see how many concepts already [inaudible] you know [inaudible] here are all kind of [inaudible]  you know.  And  [inaudible]

            MS. RIEDEL:  Could a--

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Writing one sentence you'll get our summary of what [inaudible] always in a sense.  And then one could say, “Yes, but this stationery looks like the other one.”  You say, “No, basically because with there the context of that company is different from the other context.”  The typeface might be the handling of details and [inaudible] position where it might be different or something.  So there are similarities, which are recognizable, but so is Mozart?  So what?  Do you trash it because it's--it was recognizable?  You don’t trash Mozart for that reason.

            MS. RIEDEL:  You've been, it seems, committed to modernism from the very start, through many decades, through the whole arrival and arguable departure of postmodernism and [laughs].

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Postmodernism was an aberration.  It was really, you know, it came out of a moment of weakness of modernism, you know.  And it was--it was the bandwagon for all the people that were frustrated because they couldn't do anything good before.  And all of a sudden, they found that the permissiveness was giving them their chance.  The point is, they had no wings to fly, you know, and like Icarus, you know, they just melted, baking in the sun of times, you know.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Anything – is there anything that you feel anything strong or worthwhile that came out of that, postmodernism?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  The only thing that came out was the, I think, is an attention to history, you know, it was an understanding that wasn't there before, you know, but by the same token, the damages are much bigger.  Because of attention to history, without a cultural support to [inaudible] it produces all those mongrels that you see – pastiche, pastiche, pastiche, you know, that you’ve seen a lot of you know, and it is beyond belief.  [Inaudible] have some interesting personalities, of course, like Michael Graves, you know, which I think of that period certainly was the most brilliant voice, too.  And along with that, you had legions of pastiche people mixing cultural metaphors, and you know, that is [inaudible] that time is when architects discovered the issues of metaphors, allegories and you know, all those elements and cultural appropriations and so on, you know, all those typical issues brought in by postmodernist approaches, and the issue of appropriation, for instance, you know.  And so hey [inaudible] providing that you supply enough, you know, creativity, then you could do it.  But you see, one of the problems with postmodernism is that they lack the discipline to understand the limit of things.  For instance, you know, what is appropriate?  What is, how can I say, I just had a flash for a second in my mind.  [Laughs.]  But they just don't [inaudible] come back, they will come back to my memory to say that, what I wanted to say.  But postmodernism, there is one great thing about postmodernism.  It's the fact that it's gone.  [Laughs.]  But that was, to me, is predicament, you know.  It had no wings, as I said, could not fly for a long time.  It was a very short flight.  And confused on top of it by, you know, French influences, or deconstructivism, like [Jacques] Derrida and the desire of a lot of people of interpreting Derridas in a--in an architectural-design way.  There's no way.  There’s no way, when it has no relationship with a form of this kind, form that usually are generated by contents and necessities.  And he was--his talk is abstract, and he--and he--and is intriguing, you know, because he mainly relates to words and language in linguistics, you know and where the games are interesting, you know, but – oh, it comes to my mind, what I was saying.  The problem with postmodern is that they never had enough discipline to manage the notion of arbitrariness.  And that is really where they fall flat on their nose.  You know, they became just arbitrary, therefore shallow.  And to paraphrase a friend, postmodernism, how can you say, down deep was very shallow.  [They laugh.]

            MS. RIEDEL:  Before we completely finish with your work, I wanted to address the New York City subway map and signage, because this is something that has been ongoing and something that's repeated in your career over decades.  So in 2008, you--

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, the first meeting was in 1970.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right, the first map.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  When we did--we started to work on the first map, it was published in '72, and it was published until '79, among great controversies by people [inaudible].  People thought it was a map.  It's not a map.  It's not a city map.  It is a diagram.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  But people wanted to find out what was up and upstairs, and upstairs has no relationship with what happens downstairs: Downstairs, the subway; upstairs, the city.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And two different things.  For the upstairs, we had maps, city maps, neighborhood maps; and for downstairs, we had diagrams, you know.  That is the function.  It wasn't implemented correctly, and so that of course [inaudible] was feeding the controversy [inaudible].  So in '79, they discontinued that also because they changed their whole system by – [inaudible] –the same color.  Previously, every line had a color, you know, with my map.  And in

            [End of Disc]

MR. VIGNELLI:  [In progress].  In '79 they made trunk lines, sort of, so to speak, so four, five, and six became green, et cetera – you know, other lines became the same color.  So what happens is that it was no longer usable, and so it was a good pretext for changing it, and that’s what I did, and I did a very ugly one, which has been going on ever since.  Because it was so ugly, people continually ask us to--why don’t you do an alternative, and so on and so forth, you know.  So in 2008, we receive a call from Men’s WorldMagazine, and they ask, they say that every year, they do a limited edition of something, and they would love to – they had this idea, “how about a Vignelli map?”  And I said, “Well, when we did it the first time, it was very, very labor-intensive, because it was all done by hand.”  And so I was saying, “Well, it’s too much work.”  But Beatrice said, “we know now we can do it with a computer, and it’s much easier, you know, and much more accurate than ever it’s been done before.  Why don’t we do this?”  So I said, “Okay, fine.”  So we did it the 2008 version of it, you know.  And it was done for a limited edition only, and they did 500 and in three hours, they sold all of them.

MS. RIEDEL:  Wow, and how was the 2008 version similar and different from the earlier one?

MR. VIGNELLI:  It was completely different.

MS. RIEDEL:  Completely different?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, completely different, because of the trunk lines and the colors.  So as I said, while in our map, the ’72 map, four, five, and six, for instance, were three different colors, now four, five, and six were all green.

MS. RIEDEL:  So all the East Side, Upper East Side--

MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, just to--just to give an example.

MS. RIEDEL:  Sure.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And so the 2008 map was reflecting that new situation, so we did a completely new map reflecting the present situation, you know, of the map.  And that’s what we did.  And so the--and I was sitting there until transit authority came back, and then [inaudible] say the assignment of designing a website for them, which has to use the diagram.  So they say, “we want to use your diagram for 2008.”  And so we update that.  And that’s what [inaudible] you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  It’s fantastic that this has come back, full circle, from 40 years before.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And what we hope that now, you know, they’ll keep it all in, you know, and rather than – rather than stop it right there, we hope that we’ll--

MS. RIEDEL:  Continue to develop.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Continue, we’ll see.

MS. RIEDEL:  That must be extremely gratifying.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, it is. [Laughs.]  It’s the best revenge.

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]  That’s right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  But it’s not--I don’t see it as revenge, as really, actually, what it turns out is that the new commissioner, I mean, the new head of the transit authority, he’s a very brilliant guy who has spent several years in London, working at the subway there, at the Underground there, you know, London Underground, and therefore, he learned a lot of things, and the advantage of having clear, you know, communication instead of a confusion of overlapping things.  And so--

MS. RIEDEL:  What’s his name?  Do you happen to recall?

MR. VIGNELLI:  He is--

MS. RIEDEL:  We can add it later.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Just a second.

MS. RIEDEL:  It’ll come.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh, it will come in a second.

MS. RIEDEL:  What else--

MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible] when any name is--

MS. RIEDEL:  What other projects are you working on currently?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Let’s see if I can get--his name is Jay Walder.

MS. RIEDEL:  Walter?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Walder, with a “D” – like Walter, but with a “D.”  Terrific guy, and he loves our design.

MS. RIEDEL:  Perfect.

MR. VIGNELLI:  He put it up in his office.  [Laughs.]  So that is a pretty good.

MS. RIEDEL:  Any other projects that are as exciting?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, that is--that and the branching from that will certainly be the most exciting line of projects for this year, and next year.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And then we have the usual kind of books, you know, and just the usual, books of all types, you know.  I’m planning to do a book on, you know, years ago we did a series of books where--they were called Splendors of Italy, France, and Spain, you know – and now I want to add other countries.  And the next one I want to do is the Splendor of Germany, because Germany has fabulous buildings, chateaux, and libraries.  [Inaudible.]  My gosh, I want to show you this [inaudible].  I can show you one or two, if I find it.  If I find it, all right, that should be--when I have to look for a name, I panic.

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]  No rush.

MR. VIGNELLI:  What’s the name?  [Pause.]  I’d just like to show you--you can turn that off if you want.  I mean, you don’t--I’m doing books.

MS. RIEDEL:  We’re talking about--yes, that the sequence is being--

MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, people think when you do a book – they think you do a cover.  I couldn’t be less interested in a cover to a certain--I’m interested in the inside, you know, from the beginning to the end--from when you open the book to when you close it.  You know, that is really what interests me, not the cover [inaudible].

MS. RIEDEL:  It makes me think of--I want to think of the way you were just talking about sequence and rhythm, and it makes me think of what you were talking about music yesterday, composing as well as conducting.  It feels very rhythmic, that--the creation of a book.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And again, it’s in--these are the parameters of my interest in it.

MS. RIEDEL:  How has your working process changed over time?  We were talking about the subway and how the first one was drawn, and then how there’s the computer and it’s much--

MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh, the working process.  Well, as I said yesterday, you know, we divide the world and everything we’ve done since we were--we existed, from BC to DC, before computer, I mean, BC to AC, before the computer and after the computer.  So before the computer, everything was manual.  And because it was manual, you had to be as much--as precise as you could in giving the instructions and this is why I was drawing things in such a way that the copying was perfect, I mean, in size, the dimensions, everything was already on a grid, so that that would, you know, it would decrease the amount of mistakes they were going to make.  You know, if you have just a blank situation like this, and you put a picture here, you don’t know how much is this, is this, and that and that.  But if you have, let’s say, you know, a grid, and you place a picture here, and you have a grid, you know exactly where that goes.  You know, it doesn’t go here.  It doesn’t go there.  It doesn’t go here; it doesn’t go any other place.  And so here is--when I pass this to somebody, it’s very difficult to get it right.  That means you increase the possibility of mistakes tremendously.  The more discipline you have into the drawing itself, the more you stick to it, and the more everything else that follows thereafter is going to be more accurate.  Then, when I would, you know, draw a picture, they will look – and that is the cropping, and is not this the cropping?  You know, and so on and so forth.  So that is why it was so important to draw, and at that time, drawing was absolutely essential.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, and my drawings were so accurate that people were taking them, putting them in the stat machine and blowing them up, you know, and followed that.  I also always had the habit of drawing the scale.  That also helps, because people could measure things somehow and get an indication, you know, pretty accurately.  And that was a very, very good habit.  Now, none of those things exist anymore with the computer, because the computer is completely different.  The other thing is that at that time, everything was time-consuming.  You had to place the type down.  So you had to be very precise when you were specifying the type, because it was very--setting type was very expensive, very expensive, always.  So you had to say what typeface it is, what type size it is, what is the leading, what is the composition of [inaudible] and if it’s uppercase, lowercase, if it’s underlined, whatever it is.  You know, all these things.  Then it was coming back:  You look and you will like it, or if, then, you want a change, you have to make all the changes, send them out, come back again.  That’s all costing even more, revision costs, you know.  So the process was very expensive, time-consuming, as well as expensive.  And it involved a lot of people, therefore increased the possibility of mistakes tremendously.  Now, when the computer came about, all these kind of operations, you know, were done directly by a designer over the computer.  And he had complete control, through the keyboard, of all these things.  You know, so it was much easier to do it, to a certain extent, and much more accurate and precise.  Not only that, but if he was--if he was a good typesetter, you could get, maybe, good [inaudible] perhaps, in the print-up for sure.  But if he’s a good type designer, I mean, a good graphic designer.  It will give you good typography, so the curling, you know, between letters, the space between words, the space between lines will be accurate from the beginning.  You see, and that is all there is in typography.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Those little things.  It’s not made of major things; it’s made of little things.  And so the difference between before and after the computer is tremendous, tremendous in terms of the process, and also in creative terms as well, you know.  What the computer gave to a lot of people – a license to kill, because it provides the possibility of doing all these manipulations, and if you don’t have the culture, the education, the discipline to use it properly, chances are that you will use it improperly, you know.  And by using it improperly, you just increase the visual pollution that is around, big enough.  You know, and you keep increasing that.  Now, the good thing about that is, however, is that today, school of graphic--there’s a lot of schools of graphic design in this country, there are literally thousands, thousands of graphic designers coming out from school every year.  So they’re not all going to become superstars, you know, things like that, but they might because decent workers, if you’re lucky, because the jobs that were taken by the typesetters doesn’t exist anymore.  So some of them would go into this, designers that have a little more education than a typesetter ever had, you know, in terms of design.  We hope, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And so that is how the world has been evolving and is going to evolve.  And it’s going to become, perhaps, better from that point of view, just like how the previous stage was better from the even previous stage, when everything was done by hand.  You know, and mostly people were illiterate, sign-painters, things like that.  This is why when--this is why when you see pictures of New York in 1800, you see visual pollution all the way, you know, bad signs everywhere.  You know, you go out today, it’s a paradise by comparison.  Every store has beautiful signs, you know, because there has been tremendous progress from the old times.  And so generally speaking, before the computer, the process of graphic design was very cumbersome, time-consuming, and not accurate enough.  The biggest revolution that came with the computer was that it just transformed all this into a very accurate, very precise, and, if you’re lucky, never in the history of type you could have--you could do better typography than today,  but also it’s true of the opposite, that never more than today you can do bad stuff.  You know, it’s like a gun.  It depends where you aim it.  If you aim it in front, you’re safe.  If you aim it toward you, you die.

[They laugh.]

MS. RIEDEL:  So it sounds as if the main--

MR. VIGNELLI:  And most of the people, they do it this way, you know, with a computer.

MS. RIEDEL:  It sounds as if the main change that you’ve experienced, then, is the ability to do more, more quickly, and more accurately.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, the good thing about it is I’ve always been an extremely fast designer.  I was probably the fastest designer in the world [inaudible] but that’s why we have done so much.  You know, I was very fast, going directly  “boom” to the solution, not monkeying around too much, not having too many doubts, always having, you know, very determined and quick reactions to what it should be [inaudible].  It was a gift.  Thank god, you know.  Now, that, along with the process that I was describing the precision, the methodology of it helped to achieve a lot of good things.  Today, with the computer, that could be done even faster, to a certain extent.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  But part of--yes, it just eliminates too many steps.  Let’s take a book, for instance, you know.  In the past, I would design every spread, you know.  Let’s say this is a full page; this is a picture here, just to say, and then the next one is a big spread, you know, and the next one, maybe, is a picture here and a picture there [inaudible].  Now, let’s say I will design something like this.  Then I have--and then there will be captions too.  So the caption has to be sent--sent out for typesetting.  The picture has to be Photostat, you know, and scaled Photostat in dimensions to be pasted up in here, on the layout, for position, for position only.  In the meantime, you will have a transparency, which you’re going to put the dimensions, you know, on the side so that the engravers can take that, and whatever the cropping, whatever it is, they can do that.   You know, and there are no changes thereafter.  You get it?  It is done.  That’s it.  And the same--so you had to do these, all these parts here.  When you get all these pictures, Photostats and so on and so forth, you pasted them--you pasted them, and you get--you get a picture of what it looks like, but it was in black and white.  You couldn’t afford to have it in color, like you have seen here.  Now, here today, what I just showed to you before--

MS. RIEDEL:  For the Splendors of Germany book?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  We just had the pictures, and the pictures, we got it on--well, really on the--not even on a disc, directly on the computer.  But we got it on the disc and from the disc it went to my computer, obviously.  And then we had that on the computer; we’re just selecting them and dropping them.  I’ve done the layout; nevertheless, I did this before.  And but then assistant dropped the pictures in position, you know, designer will put those things into position properly and adjust the cropping or whatever I do to the proportion of the book, you know, so on and so forth, and there it is.  And you’re seeing it in living color, as they say, and you can show it to the client as a finished thing, instead of a--you know, just sketches.  So it’s much faster.  And the end result is perfect compared to what it was before – that it needed a lot of interpretation from the client point of view to understand what we were doing.  Just [inaudible] understand, that’s fine because the client, you know, had to do a good homework of interpretation.  But by the same token, if we really see the whole thing, it was not what he interpreted or he didn’t like – he had to do it all over, and it was a lot of work and very expensive, and you could lose money on that for instance, you know.  And then, so it was risky,  so now today there is no risk.  What they see is what they get.  And that is, you know, a great advantage for that part of it.  So--

MS. RIEDEL:  Have you found any difference in your own working process or thought process--a computer versus a pencil --more happenstance or--

MR. VIGNELLI:  No, because I was the pencil is still trained to the place where you--


MS. RIEDEL:  Let’s wait maybe one minute. 


MR. VIGNELLI:  For me, my computer is the pencil.  I still draw everything, you know, whatever.  Three dimension or two dimension, I can show you sketches, that kind of things, you know.  And that is the way it works, but you’re taking a younger generations, like [inaudible] she is an excellent designer.  And she works directly with the computer.  She is – keeps completely at base phase.  She will have--I say to do this, she will have a grid, you know, with a [makes knocking sound] and then she will have the material, the photographs.  And she will decide to--let’s say she decides to put this picture right here.  So just [makes whooshing noise] drop it there.  She decides to put this other picture right here just over right there automatically. But at least she doesn’t have to go through this phase and then, you know, she got--and then if she doesn’t like it, she can change it.  You know, she can blow it up and down and so on, so forth.  So she can [inaudible] she can change the type, put the type, doesn’t like that type, try another one, it’s fine.  You know, and instead in the past you had to be sure about what typeface.  Now, do I like the new situation better than the old one?  I’m not so sure.  I like the old one because it forces me to make decisions, let’s say, for instance, about type--a decision that you’ll not be able to change because it would be too expensive.  Now today instead you make a decision, then you don’t like it, you change it.  Yes, there is an advantage when you do that.  But you think less.  You’re less committed in a sense.  There is a--it’s not the same intensity, in a sense, not the same--I mean, it’s like – is, because you know that you can change it, you know, how can I make an example? 

MS. RIEDEL:  That’s fairly clear.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, yes.

MS. RIEDEL:  You don’t have to perhaps mull it over to the same extent that you would have earlier.  Really--

MR. VIGNELLI:  Right. 

MS. RIEDEL:  --focus on it because you can try it, let it--walk away, come back half an hour see what you think--or the next day.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  And that’s how it goes today.  So there are advantages.  Some of these advantages – but on the overall, it’s the new way of working, and therefore it’s what it is.  And if you master that, if you have the discipline nevertheless, you know, if you’re less casual about it and if you have the discipline that we had before, in a sense, and you apply it to the new situation, then you’re far ahead--

MS. RIEDEL:  I see.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Because, again, you don’t waste time.  You’re doing and redoing and trying alternatives you can use to [makes whoosing noise] bull’s-eye every time, train yourself.  Yes, exactly.  You know, in the old times, you would [laughs] you know, train yourself to--you know, to do that all the time.  And what is happening today instead, you aim there and then if you don’t like it, you try to change it, but this is, you know, it’s not the same kind of discipline; it’s not the same kind of concentration.  When you train yourself to bull’s-eye on everything you do, you try--you reach control of the happenstance, you know, instead of being--flying around with it.

MS. RIEDEL:  You reach control of the happenstance.  Mm-hmm [Affirmative.] Then you hit that bull’s eye the first time.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Which I think, yes.  It all goes back really to that, you know, discipline and happenstance – rigorousness and rigor. 

MS. RIEDEL:  Do you think of yourself and your work as part of a particular tradition, an international tradition, an Italian tradition, an American tradition?  Do you--

MR. VIGNELLI:  I would say just international, not Italian, not American, not any other place.   It’s just the--I learn from--as I said many times, from everywhere.  I learn from the Swiss, I learn from the English, I learn from the Americans.  And so that really I’m in debt to everyone.  [Coughs.]  Wow, I don’t understand this--

MS. RIEDEL:  We can pause for a moment if you’d like. 

MR. VIGNELLI:  I don’t know, maybe, I’m running voice – running out of voice.  Yes, I think that, you know, I learn about white space from Americans.  And I learn about witty solutions from the English.  Then I learn about typographic discipline from Swiss, then Germans.

MS. RIEDEL:  Sorry, what from the English?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Witty, wit, being the wit.

MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, the wit.  Humor, got you.




MS. RIEDEL:  And by white space you mean negative space?



MR. VIGNELLI:  Then from the Swiss about typography, from the Germans about strength, and depth and timelessness.  And from the Americans I learned how to stay away from trendiness.  [They laugh.]  And so on, you know.  So really from everywhere; I learn less from the Japanese because I don’t understand Oriental cultures.  It’s just too far – too remote for me, although I do like their sense of spareness that they have.

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.  I would think.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Tremendously, I like the work of Tadao Ando.  I like the work of, you know, and that--I have a book on Tadao Ando.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right, exactly.


MS. RIEDEL:  That sense of materiality too that the Japanese have, I would think you would appreciate.

MR. VIGNELLI:  But, you know, I can hardly, you know, get excited about the glazing drippings over a teacup.  [Laughs.]  You really have to be Japanese to understand that, and you know, drool about it.

MS. RIEDEL:  I think it’s the happenstance. 

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, it’s one of these,  it’s a language--a language.  It’s not that I don’t recognize that it’s there, but I’m--I can probably get along with a small percentage of their appreciation from things like that.  And then I got 100 percent appreciation of the architectural solution of Tadao Ando; however, I find it extremely difficult to justify, according to our culture, you know, but the end result is terrific.  So, wow, you say.  This is great stuff.  But these, god, what he does is--would never be accepted by Western standards.

MS. RIEDEL:  How so?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh, he’s just a typical Japanese, they’re just of--how can I say this—stretching, or, I don’t know.  I don’t know how to, you know, it’s so different that I cannot even define it.  [Laughs.]  It’s just I’m different, and to me, it’s extremely difficult to justify or to find the logic behind, you know, a lot of the Japanese design solutions, both in architecture or products, you know. 

MS. RIEDEL:  It’s interesting because there’s such a spareness and an elegance that I would think it would be--

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, in the classical-- yes.


MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, in the classical architecture, yes.  You know, I love it.  It’s the Japanese cream, I mean, just to say--just to prove the contrary [inaudible].

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.  [They laugh.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  But I love it  tremendously--have to have that thing repainted down there; somebody will kick it. 

MS. RIEDEL:  Oh dear. 

MR. VIGNELLI:  And there’s a beautiful one, it’s 400 years old, by [inaudible] you know, a real precious screen.  And they--but Japanese.  [Laughs.]  But otherwise, I certainly define--would define myself an international modernist, and international because the influences in my education and because the lack of belongingness to any specific one, you know.  Definitely there is an influence from the Italian Renaissance, you know, in terms of enrichment of my sensibility.  But there’s just zero interest on the Italian design of today.  For instance, you know, to a great – or Italian architecture today, with a few exceptions like Renzo Piano, who I think is a great one, you know--great architect--but you have only one.  Well, maybe this country’s big, that’s why it has so many more.  Many--there are many good architects here. 

MS. RIEDEL:  Any that are--you would cite as influences?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Pardon me?

MS. RIEDEL:  Any that you would cite as influences?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Over here in particular?  Well, again--well, Frank Lloyd Wright to a certain extent, but not as a direct influence either.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  I would say no, just a--it’s just a panorama of interesting personalities throughout, you know.  And then there are many.  You take Steven Holl today; he’s a very good one.  Tom Phifer is good.  Richard Meier, for heaven sake, my favorite.  [Laughs.]  You know.  And to think of people like that, I mean, these are giants.  You know, Richard Meier certainly,  he’s a giant, you know? 

MS. RIEDEL:  I’ve done some work with him [inaudible]

MR. VIGNELLI:  Louis Kahn, Louis Kahn.  Look at Louis Kahn.

MS. RIEDEL:  You mentioned him, that’s right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Great thing from [inaudible] in a sense, too.  It has been a great century for American architecture. 

MS. RIEDEL:  Is there a community that’s been important to your development as a designer, other than the people we’ve already mentioned?

MR. VIGNELLI:  A community in a sense of--what sense of community?  A [inaudible] group?

MS. RIEDEL:  Well, it seems to me we’ve almost addressed this in a roundabout way a few different times.  I think about the people you’ve collaborated with might be one community; I think about very early on the people you studied with as another community; maybe the design community in New York, in Italy?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh, well, I was being very much involved in the diffusion, propaganda and defense of design, you know.  So that’s why I’ve been presidents of organizations, and this is why – you know, AIGA when I – when I became president of AIGA, it was just a local club in New York.  But today, and I--when I--and I said, we have to change AIGA.  We need to make AIGA our national professional organization, like AIA [American Institute of Architects] to a certain extent.  I took that as a model, and so I start during my presidency we started to go around to, you know, cities: Cleveland and New York, I mean Chicago, down to San Francisco, Los Angles, you know, just campaigning to open local chapters, and which they did every time.  So we expanded AIGA from a little New York thing, you know, into a national organization with, you know, chapters here and there – Boston, et cetera.  And so by the time I left my mandate, the next president took it and enlarged it even more, and then more and more, and everyone that followed made it even more.  And so--

MS. RIEDEL:  You were the president in the late ’70s, is that right?

MR. VIGNELLI:  ’80s – early ’80s, I think.  And that’s what I did, you know.  Again, it’s a very typical, I’d say a typical demonstration of my interest in a sense, you know, to expand.  Maybe I already said this--maniacal grandeur, you know, probably, but that is, you know, what I thought it was very important at the time to do.  And I was so happy that it happens, even too much today.  It’s a huge organization.  It’s a really huge organization beyond even imagination at that time, but for a hundred years before it had been just a small club, maybe less than a hundred, but--is that thing getting--

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.  I think that’s about it.

[End of Disc]

MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Now, in parallel to--it’s going?


MR. VIGNELLI:  In parallel to the IGA, AIG, or just following that presidency, I became president of the AGI, the Alliance Graphique Internationale, which is a super-club of superstars, as they say in [inaudible] in the graphic design.

MS. RIEDEL:  And what year was that last one?

MR. VIGNELLI:  I’ve forgotten.  It must have been around the ’80s, again.

MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

MR. VIGNELLI:  It was after ’85, so it must have been, maybe, ’86, ’87 or ’88.  Something like that, ’88, probably, I don’t know.  I forgot.  Anyhow, even there we--what I did there, for instance, I gave an enlarged the scope of the annual conferences by having a day dedicated to the students, which was not there before--by start moving the interest about setting up national archives, you know, things like that, for design.  You know, and these are the kind of things that I was interested in doing.  Again, the promotion of our profession, in a sense, and giving depth to it – making it more professional and less clubbish, in a sense, you know, and giving the perception of being not artists, but professionals, you know, in a sense like doctors.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right, right.  That design was really a serious discipline, yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  That is, and also to--again, or to [inaudible] that AIG was mostly graphic design.  It didn’t have to be a fixed boundary, you know.  Again, I always say, if you can design graphic, you can design everything, you know, to a certain extent, but it’s--which is not completely true, because it’s true in terms of discipline, but one has to keep in consideration, also, the personal attitudes that one individual has.  Someone has an intuition for the third dimension, four dimensions, and some have only intuition for two dimensions, and they’re strictly, strictly graphics.  There is nothing wrong with that, you know.  They don’t have to design clothing, cars, or furniture, interiors, or whatever.  You know, by the way, I designed also a car, one time.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.  The car itself?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Yes, but it’s really difficult.  It’s very difficult.

MS. RIEDEL:  Ah, I didn’t know that.  Who was that for?

MR. VIGNELLI:  That was for Gier[ph], a longtime--was it Gier[ph]?  Yes, I think it was Gier[ph].  A lot of--I’m talking 60 years ago, 50 years ago,  but, you know, again, there are things which are very specific and require specific knowledge.  You know, there are things instead that could be approached with a general knowledge about design, and that’s fine.  And again, if someone has a particular talent, they can develop better details than other ones, you know, so that is throughout.  So design is an interesting profession because you could extend from a generalist to a specialist, in a sense.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Like everything else.  However, the specialist could become very entropic, as I say, and the generalist, instead, could become very superficial.  But with the proper attitude, the generalist can cover much more ground than the specialist, you know, in a good way, too, so that’s what we have tried to do in our life.  [Laughs.]  And, you know, when we’ve been lucky, we succeed.  So, there was something else that I wanted to talk about.  Do you have any questions?

MS. RIEDEL:  AIG, AIGA?  Yes, I have a couple more questions, but I think I’ll change the disc before we move on to those, because--

MR. VIGNELLI:  Okay, because also, I think, maybe it was something to talk about the early years.  I don’t remember if we talked about--enough about the early years.

MS. RIEDEL:  We can take a look and see if there’s something we should revisit.


MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

[End of disc]

MIJA RIEDEL:  This is Mija Riedel with Mossimo Vignelli in his New York City office on June 7th, 2011 for the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, card number four.  We're going to go back and just discuss again briefly your very early years in Italy that were so formative from, say, 16 to 20, which you said you were not just a sponge but a double sponge.

            MOSSIMO VIGNELLI:  [Laughs.]  Yes.

            MS. RIEDEL:  And at that time [inaudible] quote-unquote, “apprenticeships” were almost more significantly university for you.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, as I was saying, the school thing [inaudible] much, I gave much more to the school than the school gave to me to a certain extent.  And the reason is that I was already so prepared when I got to the first year of architecture, because I had all these years between 16 and 20 where I had been working s a draftsman on offices of the leading architects in Milan.  And I just recalled some--we already talk about the Castiglione .  Then I worked in the office of [Giulio] Minoletti.  Minoletti at that time was designing the Andrea Doria interiors.  So I had, as an assignment, to design the interiors of the third class and a swimming pool for the third class.  And I invented that thing, which then became a staple in every trans-Atlantic boat that was to have that board that went across the pool.  It's just like a pole, very harrow, so that people can hardly walk, and you know, and it’s a very playful thing, which I probably see in a movie, you know, or something like that. And as I hope on, like a pole, you know, something that you can hardly stand up.  And it became just a stupid little thing [laughs] but you know, it became a very successful, you know, device.

            MS. RIEDEL:  And so it went across the pool, and people had to walk across it and they'd fall in.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, yes,  yes, they'd fall in.  But then I also designed, you know, the third-class furniture, you know, and things like that. Then as was the office of Minoletti--Minoletti was one of the first architects working on industrial design.  He worked also on trains and boats and things like that.  Anyhow, that's his work. Then I worked in the office of [Giovanni] Pagani I’m sorry Pagani with the “I” at the end.”  And he was working on the [inaudible] department store.  So I'm drafting, just drafting there, but with spirit.  And I worked in the office of another architect, which was called [Mario] Tevarotto.  And again, anyone that is starting what's happening in Milan between the '50s, you know, early on in '50, between '45 and '60, will come across these names.  They were, you know, rather well-known names at the time, then they disappeared, because after all, they're not major stars. Then I work on--in the office of [Giancarlo] De Carlo very influential, very, very influential mind, you know.  He was basically an anarchist, you know, and in a good sense, not a bomb thrower, in a [laughs] but in a sense of free thinker.  And a very passionate kind of an architect, and very engaged, socially engaged person, you know, and again, with him, I worked with several projects.  One was a boat again, a passenger ship, you know.  And again, there I worked on drafting, you know, cabins and so on and so forth.  And then also he was involved in other projects, housing and so on, and I worked on that as well, you know, and that was very useful.  I was also working on an exhibition of the Triennale, Milan that was dedicated to the vernacular architecture.  First time that anybody was [inaudible] it was actually called Spontaneous Architecture.  Then--

            MS. RIEDEL:  And when was the exhibition again?  Sorry.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  ’48 or ’49, something like that.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And that was an extremely seminal exhibit, because for the first time, modern architects [inaudible] was looking to vernacular architecture rather than just [inaudible] you know what I mean by that?  And so that was amazing.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Where was the exhibition?   I'm sorry.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  At the Triennale in Milan.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And you know, that was, again, very important.  It had a lot of impact on my formation.  So I've always been very much interested in the vernacular, I mean, in spontaneous architecture, modern vernacular.  I mean, here it’s called vernacular, but [Robert] Venturi completely tainted that name, you know [laughs] but not Venturi, but Denise Scott Brown more than anything else.  [Laughs.]  But the spontaneous architecture, I prefer to call it that way, architecture without architects, you know.  And architects, architecture--spontaneous, you know, like as it came up through the center [inaudible] you know, basically villages and so on and so forth, but with a precise morphology, you know, from area to area, just like languages change and like dialects, and the relationship between architecture and dialects, even architecture and languages.  And all that was extremely formative, you can imagine.  I was also very much interested in ethnography at the time, you know.  And really I still have that there.  [Laughs.]  But on ethnography, classical books on ethnography, and just because of that interest of architecture and the natural context and the natural culture. And because of that also, extending that also beyond architecture to crafts and, you know, textiles.  Again, you see?  Expanding before--beyond architecture [inaudible].

            MS. RIEDEL:  Sure.  So Venini—that--the work with Venini made immediate sense.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, that--well, yes, and that came later.  And that is not spontaneous.  That’s more, you know, design kind of thing.

            MS. RIEDEL:  But craft, very much particular to that place.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  [inaudible] more design related.  Instead, the spontaneous architecture was really without –arch--without knowledge, in a sense, you know, just by tradition, by culture local cultures. And then I worked with--of course, I told you, a lot with [Ignazio] Gardella.  And then I worked some time with [Franco] Albini.  And then I worked some time with Roger office, you know, and you see, these were all the best.

            MS. RIEDEL:  You worked with all of these architects?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh, yes.

            MS. RIEDEL:  How is it possible for such a young man at 16, 17, 18 to work with all these different architects?  So you must have drawn--

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Rumor spread around.  Of course, I was very alive, very--you know, as I said, a groupie is a groupie.  [They laugh.]  So I was very alive, and I knew how to think, and I had done work and was around.  I read all the magazines for 20 years before and would spend time in the library recovering all the things I missed, so I knew every name, every architect, what they were doing, why they were doing it [inaudible].  So when I was working on this [inaudible] I wasn't just drafting.  Then I would engage in conversation with the architect and maybe say, “What do you--why are you doing this, you know?”  And then, you know, you know this reminds of—with the detail that I've seen down by [inaudible] market [inaudible].  [Laughs.]  And I would tell the [inaudible] you know [inaudible] just making an example, making it up.  But that is still--

            MS. RIEDEL:  [Inaudible] engagement, yes.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  So I was extremely passionate and extremely informed, you know.  I wouldn't pretend to say knowledgeable, you know, but I learned more than form, however, because I read everything that was available to read on at that time, and so this is why the rumors spreading around the architects' offices.  When they need something, somebody to move, you know, a [inaudible] or finish a competition or a project to finish, they were asking, you know, any--like we do now.  “You know anybody?  I need someone to help, do you know any good guy?”  And they would always say, “Call Mossimo.” And so [inaudible] rumor spread.  And of course, then they met me and started talking about [inaudible] and not only in Italy.  I was going also to Switzerland to work for a good architect named [inaudible].

            MS. RIEDEL:  Really?  I didn't know that.  Who was that?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]

            MS. RIEDEL:  Okay. 

            MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]  He was one of the masters of modernism [inaudible] teaching it.  And he ‒ it's amazing when I tell these to Swiss architects.  They open their eyes, “I can't believe it, you worked with [inaudible].” But again and again, you know, more and more, and always rejected any offer from the bad architects' office, I wasn't interested.  And I knew the [inaudible].  If your bad office would call me, you know, I just say, “I can't come.”  [Inaudible.]  They'd say [inaudible] never work for bad people.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Even as a young man, you had such strong [inaudible].

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Ambitions.  That's what it is.  I mean, I was extremely ambitious, as it was.  I've been out on the top [laughs] and I'm not going to stop.  That's what it taught me.  [Laughs.]

            MS. RIEDEL:  That's true.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  If we want to put it that way, and really, I mean, I'm still ambitious; and therefore, very selective, you know, on how I use my time and who I was working with.  [Inaudible] such an awareness.  But yes [inaudible].  And then when, as I was mentioning before, when I went to Bergamo to the CIM conference, and I met all the best architects from Europe, I was in heaven, I couldn't believe it, you know.  And just all of them you know, the Swiss, the Germans, the Dutch, the English, you know, the French.  That was such an exposure, and of course, who were my pals.  Now, that's a new part.  [Inaudible] other students of architecture, I had a few, much ahead of me--three, four, five years ahead of me had all became the best Italian architects.  Now, people like Vittorio Gregotti, you know, for his [inaudible] like, you know, many others, you know.  But like [inaudible] you know, and we were always all together, you know.  And I was the youngest in the group, not like now when we're the oldest always.  [Laughs.]  For many years, I was the youngest and then as a groupie, you know, of course, I was one of those kids, obnoxious as well, you know.  If there was a dinner among architects, I would sneak in, you know.  No money, naturally, but when it was the moment to pay, it was embarrassing because maybe I didn't have any money, so somebody was paying for me.  And I remember one time I had a red tie and [inaudible] the architect, you know, says, “Okay, I'll care of it.  But you know what?  I like that red tie.  Give it to me.”  [They laugh.] 

            MS. RIEDEL:  That's great.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And you know, but [laughs] that was the guy.  I was the, you know, I was the kid, you know.  You know, this is why I'm so tolerant, open and amused by young people that have talent and do that.  They are always--this is a constant, you know, it's a constant.  You always find some young students that aren't all, you know [inaudible] and they want to be wherever you go.  And they tell you they know everything about you, and they mention that, that, that, that.  Oh, yes, and, you know, like the thing you did for--whoever, whatever.  They know everything about you.  And I say [inaudible] kids, they're great.  The kids that have passion and they understand that is the way to come to the forefront, you know, and the ship, you know, come [inaudible] and that's the way it goes.

            MS. RIEDEL:  When you look back on all of the different experiences, would you point to those early years as the most rewarding in your educational experiences?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Absolutely, absolutely.  Very formative, and of course, like at that time, like always, they had, you know, architectural lectures there all the time, and I wasn't missing any one of them, you know.  I was always there [inaudible].  [They laugh.]  And trying to make a point with a voice shaking, you know, like those things are--typical of, you know, as it happens all the time, you know.  Hold your--until the whole thing is over, and then you go to this and, “I have a question.”  [They laugh.]  And they always say, “Why didn't you ask before?”  I say, “I didn't have the guts.”  [Laughs.]  You know, that's it. Then you have courage to overcome the crowd, you know, but it's funny, it takes a long time before you master that.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  But it was great, and then in Venice, when I moved to Venice again, again, I got elected on the students body and they had a newspaper, you know, and I took the newspaper, transform it completely.  I have some copies that are over here.  Some Xeroxes actually, because I don't have the originals, but someone made copies, someone that had the original and beautiful.  And you know who was writing for my was De Carlo, Rogers, [inaudible].  These were the guys, the contributors to my journal.   And get me another kid today that can match this kind of a scenario.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, and I tell you, it seems easy, it seems granted then, you know, we are where we are, but it takes that kind of drive from the beginning.  It takes that kind of a commitment and passion, you know.  And who cares if I was bad in mathematics, I don't need it.  I didn't need the degree, you know.  I was much more of an architect than anyone that was starting and getting degrees.  Finally, I got my degree at [inaudible] from the same school.

            MS. RIEDEL:  From which one?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  From Venice, from the--

            MS. RIEDEL:  School of--University of Architecture, yes.  Do you--what do you think is the place of universities for designers today?  Do you think it's--

            MR. VIGNELLI:  I think university is important.  I mean, there are--you know, the way I see it, really there are three levels.  One level is the vocational level, and that's for someone, assistant for the work, soft design. And there is tremendous need, the draftsmen, the people, the assistants and so on, you know, that help us, incredibly important, it's very difficult to find.  And the second level is a level of specific knowledge, but limited to the field. And the third one is a luministic background, which colors everything.  So that is the role of the university.  This is the role of the school of design, and this is the role of vocational school.  You know, right now there is a lot of confusion about all this.  [Inaudible.]

            MS. RIEDEL:  Let's talk about teaching that you've done.  Yes.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  They keep training everybody to be a superstar and that's a big mistake, because this is a superstar culture.  I think that a good worker is 1,000 times better than a lousy superstar.  And this is what we--instead today, people are trained to be largely superstars [inaudible].

            MS. RIEDEL:  Interesting.  You taught for 10 years or so, a summer course at Harvard Business?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible] that was one of the episodes of my teaching life.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Okay, let's--

            MR. VIGNELLI:  I was teaching in Italy before coming here.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Okay, uh-huh [Affirmative].

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And I was teaching [inaudible].  First I was teaching at an occupational school for graphic designers, and out of that came the best graphic designers in Italy still.  The best graphic designers in Italy were my students at a vocational school, not the university.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Was that in Venice or Milan?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  In Milan.
            MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  It was called the Humanitarian School, and then I went to teach in Venice at the university, it was a design--school of design, a university level there, and I only got one credible student out of that.  Unfortunately, he died, but he was extremely good.  Two--one is alive, and one died, but the others, it was just nothing.  Then--

            MS. RIEDEL:  Quick question, were you teaching while you had your office there?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, yes.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Okay, uh-huh [affirmative].

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Then when I was in Chicago--

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  --that was before going back to Milan.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And in Chicago I was teaching at the Institute of Design and I was teaching corporate identity for two years.

            MS. RIEDEL:  This was at IIT?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  In '69 and '70.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  No, '59 and '60.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right, okay.  All right, after the silversmith.  Yes.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  After the silversmith.  It was after.  Then when I came back here, I was teaching--I taught for a year at Columbia when I was at—with Unimark from '67--

            MS. RIEDEL:  Was that graduate, undergraduate, design, architecture?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  It was architecture.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  School of architecture [inaudible].  But it was extremely difficult because of the kind of life I was living, you know, traveling and all the Unimark engagement and worldwide, you know, it was extremely difficult [inaudible].  But nevertheless, for a year I did it, and I helped my students.  I am very happy.  Then I taught for another year in Philadelphia in the art college in Philadelphia, nothing particularly interesting there.

            MS. RIEDEL:  You were commuting down there from New York?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, yes.  I was coming back a couple of times a week or something like that.

            MS. RIEDEL:  And which school was it?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Art College of Philadelphia.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And then what did I do?  Then I lectured, of course, every university you can imagine, every one, all the good ones around the United States, lecture, lecture, lecture all of those years [inaudible].

            MS. RIEDEL:  Was there particular content that was--I imagine knowing you there was that was continuous through time, design is one, right.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Design is one.  Yes, basically showing that and explaining that the discipline of design was one, talking about the discipline of design, talking about, you know, the [inaudible].

            MS. RIEDEL:  Your experiences and--

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, and also the experiments.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, experiments.  Okay.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]

            MS. RIEDEL:  Yes, yes.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And sifting, sifting, and sifting, as I say.  You know, keep sifting--

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  --until there is nothing left.  [Laughs.]  And you know, things like that, and then eventually, I started to do the summer course in Harvard for 10 years, and then I've done, you know, one or two years of [inaudible] you know, here and there [inaudible].  That kind of stuff.

            MS. RIEDEL:  And was the Harvard--the Harvard course has been over a period of 10 years or so, right?  It was a summer course?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, it was a summer course.

            MS. RIEDEL:  And it was the same course year after year?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, basically.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Okay and was--

            MR. VIGNELLI:  It wasn't too much of a thing.  I mean, it was one-week long and it was a series of lectures.  So I will have hundreds and hundreds of slides, divided by subjects, and I would be talking about the subjects, basically, but with no direction of what--I mean, no workshop with the students.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  But then we started workshops, and we had two workshops in France, you know, along with that, one in Milan, the Italians.  And then--

            MS. RIEDEL:  In France or [inaudible]?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.

            MS. RIEDEL:  In Paris?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  No, in Provence.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Okay and what years were those?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  The last two years.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, the last two years, very recent.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And then this year, I had these three-weeks workshop in Atlanta.  And then next July, I have a workshop I do at [inaudible].

            MS. RIEDEL:  Yes, at [inaudible].

            MR. VIGNELLI:  So--and it is--it's always been what I want to do and how [inaudible].  What I would like to do, I think, is to have this little school, as I was mentioning.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Let's talk about that.  How do envision that?  What would you like to cover?  What would the curriculum be?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, the curriculum would probably be the project of corporate identity because that covers everything.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  So that's one, again from the spoon to the city covers just about every aspect, starting and giving a little workshop like that.  And I have a little more time so that we can talk specifics about different elements, first going to all the elements and then do a workshop.  First talk about, you know logos and grids and type and sequence, all the elements in that.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And then give an assignment, and have this one to work on then and correct that, you know [inaudible].  But really working to an assignment, not just more or less.  You know, really very strict to get it until it's right, so that really is an experience, and then that's it, and maybe all together, four weeks or something like that, you know, not much more than that.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Four weeks.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Maybe four, five, six weeks or something like that.

            MS. RIEDEL:  One of the books, I can't remember, it's from A to Z or Design is One, one of them is the collection of essays that's a lot of what you've taught at the Harvard summer course.  Is that right?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  That might be A to Z.

            MS. RIEDEL:  A to Z, okay, and so would the content for this school you're envisioning, the curriculum be similar to that?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Similar between that, also the [Vignelli] Canon that has a lot of things.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  The Canon is divided in two parts intangible and tangible.  So in the tangible, there are all kinds of issues not tangible in that context, so to speak [inaudible].

            MS. RIEDEL:  And people can find that online, right?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, well--

            MS. RIEDEL:  There's another printed one.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  The first edition is online.  The printed edition is a little different.  It's more correct, less mistakes, and more editors, so the printed has a [inaudible].  The printed [inaudible] more entries. 

            MS. RIEDEL:  Uh-huh [affirmative].

            MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]  And I cannot put it on, for copyright reason I cannot add it to the online, one online through the publisher, has to defend himself.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Sure.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  So you know, there is this activity.  On one side, learning when I was a young kid, and on the other side, almost teaching, or at least making propaganda.  [They laugh.]  [Inaudible.]  Yes, but taking and giving, okay.  Taking is the learning and giving is the--and what we were doing to all those things like the publications.  And of course, in the meantime, you know, I was extending the international connections, you know.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  So I knew all the best young architects, future architects or young architects in different countries, you know.  And I knew all the best designers, graphic designers in every country, you know, and so on and so forth.  And that was always very important connection.  You know, the other thing is funny is that, well, of course, we were not that bad, and so while I was very happy of meeting people from other countries, people from other countries, they are equally happy to meet me, you know.  And because of that exchange—both ways, you know.  And so I was thinking that that guy was one of the best in his country, and they were thinking I was one of the best.  This is how reputation comes about, is by hearsay, by exposure, by [inaudible] from your peers.  That's [inaudible] which is amazing.  I've always been really amazed by the fact that success in our profession comes from the people that really should kill you.  [They laugh.]  But instead, it is your competitors and your colleagues that give you awards and they spread the rumor around how good you are and things like that.  It's not really-- [they laugh]

            MS. RIEDEL:  So it sounds as if the school that you are envisioning that might happen here would be a combination of the lectures that you've given over time and then hands-on workshop.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.

            MS. RIEDEL:  So there would be the back-and-forth, again, the tension between the practical and the theoretical.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible] very important, yes.  And direct, not so abstract, you know.  And any recommendation with this, with that, are you familiar with the work of this, are you familiar, you know, really, if they are not already--if they haven't gone through the age of curiosity, to stimulate that and suggest look at this, look at.  Now, I want you to read 10 years of that magazine, you know, or 20 years of that magazine. I want you to tell me who you like, you know, and why, you know, who are they?  Who comes on as your favorite?  What are the constants?  Or how something developed?  [Inaudible.]  Or just give an assignment like--like just give a report on newspaper design.  Because this is what I go through when I have to do something, that's the way to do it, and we look for the others, we analyze until we find what has been missing, you know.  As I say it all the time, you know, if you can't find it, design it, you know. So look--and if you can't find, then you know what is missing.  Then you can design whatever it is [inaudible].

            MS. RIEDEL:  And would that be true when clients came to you as well?  I mean, certainly, when I look at your clothing design, I think, okay, that makes sense, but if the client comes with a particular need, is the research and the process similar?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, oh, yes, very much.  You will--well, first, we will get as much information from the client about what the situation needs and what is the competition who he's facing, what is it position in the market place, and so on and so forth, and so we try to find out all these things directly from the client, rather than spending time and looking by yourself, which is just [inaudible].  You want to know exactly who is on his way, on the client's way to achieving his goals.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And analyze why and then you get an idea and then you finally come up with a concept of how [inaudible] that company in the market place in a certain way, you know, by design, and usually by more advanced design than the competition plans and [inaudible] around.  And build up the promotional apparatus or the propaganda machine [they laugh] that can support that position.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Uh-huh, uh-huh [affirmative].

            MR. VIGNELLI:  It's funny.  There is a little devil in all of us.  [Laughs.]

            MS. RIEDEL:  Sorry, a little what?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Devils.  [They laugh.]  You know, a propaganda machine, when you think of it, but it's important, you know.  It is [inaudible].  You know, it is a--of course, it--you know, there are several ways.  One way is the phony way, it's what the brand agencies usually use, and then there is the one which is more brilliant and relevant, which is related to design or more serious issues.  We didn't do it for commercial purposes.  We really do it to give leadership and dignity to our clients.  And we help them to recreate those values, which have [inaudible].  They have it, and so the only problem is that [inaudible].  We help them to grab that and that is fun.

            MS. RIEDEL:  I can imagine.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, it's a lot of fun.  Oh, it's a lot of fun.  This is why our clients, they love us [inaudible].  This is why they listen to us.

            MS. RIEDEL:  And you've always, as you've said very clearly, been very specific about only choosing clients that you truly want to work with.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, don't waste time.  A waste of time.  [Inaudible.]

            MS. RIEDEL:  We haven't discussed Benetton.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh, yes.

            MS. RIEDEL:  And your work with Benetton in the '90s.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, Benetton is a--it's a very interesting story, because have you ever heard of Oliviero Toscani?

            MS. RIEDEL:  No.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Oliviero Toscani is an advertising man, and a terrific photographer, you know, a fashion photographer and I knew him since he was born basically, you know, since he was 3-years old.  And he was a very good friend of my sister, and I designed a logo for his father's company that was a photo [inaudible] news reporters, photo reporters.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Okay, photojournalists. 

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Photojournalists.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, and it was a very nice kind of logo.  So many years went by, da, da, da, da, da, and I knew he was [inaudible].  Then he started to do a campaign for Benetton that was very, very controversial, to a certain extent.  But you know, it had some good aspects here and there. And then he was in charge of, at that time, of Benetton communication.  So they decided that they needed a new corporate identity, so he--I asked to do it.  So Benetton, he convinced Benetton to hire us, basically.  So I got hired by Benetton, and started to work on them.  It was great.  And I became very, very good friends with Luciano Benetton, you know, the owner.  Eventually, he would come every day to there when I was [inaudible] so almost working together in discussing it.  It was great fun, you know, because [inaudible] that in a few years had [inaudible] so you can imagine he was a very interesting kind of person.  As I say, we became very good friends.  Now, it turns out that Toscani campaigns all of a sudden got a very controversial kind of a twist in a sense, you know.  And I thought they were disturbing [inaudible] everybody was disturbing.  I mean, he was a very aggressive kind of person, too.  I mean, very obnoxious [inaudible].  But the [inaudible].  His photography was sensational, you know, but his advertising was sick, mentally sick, really twisted, you know, but appealing to a lot of people that are attracted by twisted things, but at the same time, rejected by normal people, they are offended by, you know, those issues.  And so I start to be critical with that, you know.  And so we--we had a difficult time.  In the meantime--

            MS. RIEDEL:  Was it racial?  Was it pornographic?  What was the problem?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Very hard to define. It was really playing against the collective sensitivity or the collective standards of morals, you know, and so on and so forth.  Having a priest kissing a nun, you know.  I mean, no one would do things like that.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  It's stupid to do that.  Or everything was priest and nun, I don't even remember now.  But it did [inaudible] the advertising, you know, but it was really going overboard at one point, you know, but Benetton had an incredible propaganda machine supporting that think as well.  So you know, you look even more--if anybody was saying good thing, of course, it could be blown up.  If everybody was saying it's a wrong thing, a bad thing, you know, kept silent you know, so on and so forth, the propaganda machine was there to support Benetton [inaudible]. But I became critical about it, this kind of operation.  And I told Benetton they were totally wrong to do that, period.  It had nothing to do with what we were doing.  We were doing corporate identity, we were doing identity projects [inaudible] for the companies.  And these are, so I'm able to do propaganda.  So we were detached from that, but nevertheless, I was saying to—you know, and I told them, you know, it was a bad move for the company to go in that direction, and of course, we had a confrontation about that.  Then when I finished my project and I came back to New York in a sense, you know, it went on for a while until Benetton finally realized that what I said it was the right thing and fired him, you know, that agency.  And that was a [inaudible].  Now, everybody was telling me, because Toscani was also closed to Benetton [inaudible] verybody was saying, because I was open with my criticism, they said, “Mossimo, you will lose this battle, you will never win this battle.”  And I said, “I'm not here to win a battle.  I'm doing my job, and that's it, you know, and I go by my standards.” And of course, I was very happy when it turned out that I was right and I won that battle, you know, and Benetton fired him and kept me, you know.  So that was significant they didn’t fire me and kept Toscani, the other way around.  So at the end, of course, people already had a great feeling of our work and my position, of course, of the work, you know. 

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And so on, you know.  And Toscani just was--vanished out of, went on his own.  But instead, we continued our [inaudible] that's it.  And Toscani is a very creative person, there's no doubt.  But he is sick.  In his mind he is sick.  I think something is not right in his mind.  And nevertheless, he has an incredible amount of talent.  If he will just photograph fashion, and that is what he is good about, he'll be fine.  Probably a mistake that he thinks that he's also an advertising man, a designer, so on and so forth.  And instead, when he comes to that he just doesn't have the foundation [inaudible] but doesn't have the moral depth that is needed to be [inaudible].

            MS. RIEDEL:  So that is something that you would consider a clear example of vulgarity versus [inaudible].

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, yes.  The other thing is that this vulgarity is not vulgarity in a common sense.  It is averse in a sense it is almost like a social crime, in a sense, you know.  You know, it's like in something, you know, standard values of our society.  I mean, there are many ways of doing it probably, and I never liked when someone takes that position.  You know, I can't stand controversy for the sake of controversy and building up a reputation on that and I think that one should make a contribution to society, not just insulting it.  It doesn't move anything.  Yes, it's just insulting.  That's it.  That's what it does, you know, which is not my position, in a sense. 

            MS. RIEDEL:  It does sound as if you would--would you say that--we talked about this yesterday, but there is a social commentary that runs through your work, which is in support of beauty and intellectual elegance.  And that, to me, does feel like, in a quiet way, a kind of social commentary, or a social position, anyway.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Well, it gives me a sense of the opposite to the glorification of greed and the glorification of vulgarities, the glorification of entertainment, the glorification of trendiness [inaudible] the glorification of anything that is shallow in our culture, you know, but it might be, at the same time, the values of our--the shallowness might be glamorous and then pathetic, you see?

            MS. RIEDEL:  Uh-huh [affirmative], right.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And then to me, it's important, it's always been important to be able to make a difference by standing, to take a position.  And you know, designers always take a position, and with respect.  I mean, even the fact, refusing tredniness under any circumstance [inaudible].

MS. RIEDEL:  Well, I think we've done a very thorough job on quite a few things here.  I have some final questions, too.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  You were mentioning about the first modern tea set.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Yes, oh, yes, we haven't discussed that at all, and the silver work, because you just have done some new silver work.  Yes.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Well, the--well, I'll show you some of the silvers that we have done.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Now, the postmodern tea set, when was that done?  In the '70s, '80s?  Oh, '84.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  '84.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Okay, well, there was, there is still, an Italian manufacturer.  It's called Cleto Munari, and he commissioned at that time a whole group of postmodern architects, you know, like Henselmann [ph] from Vienna, Baxter [ph], and Michael Graves from here, you know, and so on, you know, to do silver pieces.  And he commissioned us as well to do a tea set, you know.  And so I took the, you know, I was violently against, as you can imagine, against postmodernism.  And I said, “Okay, you know, postmodernism is playing a lot with the notion of metaphors.  And okay, I will take that approach to condemn postmodernism.  And that's why--design, you know, that set, which has the Euclidian shapes, the sphere and the pyramid and the cube, you know, and I show these shapes destroyed by these [inaudible] postmodernism.

            [Off mic commentary.]

            MR. VIGNELLI:  [Responds in Italian.]  Sorry, just a second.

            MS. RIEDEL:  No problem.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And so that's what we did, and I designed that thing and that set showing this snake of postmodernism destroying the purity of the Euclidian geometry.  [They laugh.]  And I was, of course, very, very amused by, you know, having used a, you know, vocabulary of postmodernism, in a sense, to bring forward the issues of modernism.  [Laughs.]  So it was put in that kind of a, you know, tongue-in-cheek kind of game.

            MS. RIEDEL:  You have such an interest in literature and literary metaphors.  Is there--are there particular critics, design critics, architecture critics, writers, that you have found particularly significant over time?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, the--all the good ones, you know.  [Laughs.]  All the good ones.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Is there anybody in particular who's been--

            MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible] from Ernesto Rogers to Brunozetti at that time, and from, you know Rykwert, you know, Joseph Rykwert to--you name it, all of them.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Is it especially significant when the architects are the designers themselves, right?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, always from architecture, yes.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Yes, okay.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  You see, architecture is really the only area of design that has a critical tradition.  Design is so recent and so uncultured, in a sense, you know, and is beginning perhaps now to have some critical, I say, you know, historians, you know, like [inaudible] in terms of, you know, graphic design, like Roger Remington, you know, people like that, that are critics of graphic design, historians of graphic design, but it's a very young field in that area.  But architecture is [inaudible] has jillions of, you know, people like--I forget [inaudible] wait a second, architectural historian, went to [inaudible] as a matter of fact--Kenneth Frampton, Kenneth Frampton, very good friend.  Part of my brain is really bad with names.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Well, you've been pulling them out for two days straight.  [Laughs.]

            MR. VIGNELLI:  And you know, Kenneth is a tremendous architecture historian with great intuitions.  You know, and that is the kind of criticism that is missing yet in our field of design, in general. But if you read what they write about architecture, really you just learn as much that can be designed as well, can be transferred, you know [inaudible] understand and applied to other areas.  I mean, in Italy, again, another great writer was Argan, Giulio Carlo Argan, and he was really fundamental.  He wrote one great book about the Bauhaus back in the '50s, a book that was [inaudible] in the Bauhaus.  And then, very good essay about that time. And then, of course, you know, you have all kind of thing, like [Lewis] Mumford [inaudible] you know, people, all the great writers and modernists.  So I was saying, you know, Mumford, [Sigfried] Giedion, [Nikolas] Pevsner, you know, I mean, all writing about--Mumford writing about [inaudible] and Jane Jacobs writing about cities, and then Giedion writing about the process of industrialization. Taking Command, that's the title of the book, you know, as a matter of fact mechanization  takes command, and then Pevsner’s history of design.  Oh, my God, there's plenty, and of course, even before, you know, and in the '30s, a lot of great writers about architecture [inaudible] criticism.  See, the--it's funny.  [Laughs.]  Of course, there are no modernists.  The last living modernist, as they say, because all these reference are about books wrote, let's say, in the '30s and '40s and '50s, it means the first part of the last century, you know.  In the second part of this century, you have a different kind of thing.  You have like [Charles] Jencks you know.  And the great ability of Jencks is to--making catalogs, making categories and making  [inaudible] and putting really--dot, dot, dot--really diagram of how when things lead to the other.  He is a master of doing that.  He does it very, very well, what is coming up in a certain year [inaudible] et cetera, et cetera, and I always love his ability of doing that.  And of course, every time we met – [inaudible] [laughs] and [inaudible].  And you know Joseph Egret [ph] is one--is probably my oldest friend, you know.  I mean, for a long time, I mean, and since the '50s, since early '50s and we'll be friends all our life, and he's probably one of the most important art historians, architecture historians today. So again, you see, it's also the company you keep, you know, the friends that you spend the nights talking with, you know, when you're young and even when you're old, but that is so important.  And it all depends again, as I say, the most important fuel is passion.  And if one has passion, all things fall into places, in the right place, because everything is connected, you know, one way or another.  And so you just weave all those connections to build up your own fabric, you know.  [Laughs.]  And that is the way things work.

            MS. RIEDEL:  How do you think American design ranks on an international scale?  And do you see it moving in any particular direction?

            MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, when you look at this kind of American design, like Apple Macintosh or a lot of good products of that kind, you know, then it's fine.  Generally speaking, well, American design is tainted by commercialism and that is the label and this is the wraparound sometimes, you know, also, it's very valid.  Now, let's look instead from a more serious point of view.  If we look, for instance, let's look at furniture, you know.  Now, while the world was sleeping on Renaissance furniture Knoll was already producing fabulous--because of –fabulous furniture re-editing all the great classic of Mies and Corbu, et cetera, you know, and worked with [Isamu] Noguchi and worked with great designers and artists and architects.  The first one to work really with architects on that scale.  Then prior to Knoll you have Herman Miller working with George Nelson and Nelson brought in Eames and Girard, you know.  Oh Knoll had also [Harry] Bertoia, another great artist and genius, you know, and you see, first, we go back to the '50s.  There hasn't been anything that is comparable.  But because the times are different and the markets are, other countries picked up the leadership in that area, for instance, so, you know, they stole the interest in the design, but this country has always been able, not only to produce these designs, but also to make it available, you know, to make it, to organize the distribution worldwide, you know. And Knoll has never been a large company, but Steelcase has, and Steelcase has the Rolland chair that has been filling up the whole world, you know, and the cabinets, very decent cabinets, and so has KI [Krueger Metal Products, Inc.], another company that has been dedicated to good design for the office, and the office is the major American environment, you know, it's not residential. And as a matter of fact, you know, the American design in architecture is the office building, you know, the glass building, the glass tower, or whatever the piece.  It's not a residential house.  The residential houses have always been, yes, they have been there, and you've had examples, but it wasn't really any modern movement, you know.  Even before, you know, Wright was making the residential homes because he didn't like to make basically, you know, a large building [inaudible] more than just your wax building.

            MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

            MR. VIGNELLI:  But a modernism was office buildings, basically.  And along with office building came the need to put furniture together along with that.  And that is what America stood for, long before Europe.  They didn't have the office buildings [laughs] and therefore, the need was only residential, basically.  And most of them, the new furniture that came out of the war was residential because they had to rebuild homes, you know, new houses [inaudible].  Everything has an effect.  Over here, they didn't have destroyed homes, but also the people who had homes, they were not interested.  They want to cheapen their house.  They didn't want French decoration; they wanted colonial, you know, they wanted fake stuff.  You know, they wanted other kind of symbols because, again, the culture was weak from that point of view, you know. Now, only a few people, they were having Frank Lloyd Wright or modern buildings.  Of course, they were – [inaudible] – and they had people like that, too – [inaudible] – very few.  In Europe because of the new construction after the war, the industry dedicated themselves to residential, you know, much more than business, because business was not that great.  [Laughs.]  And because it is not a commercial country, anyone is a commercial is on a small scale, he doesn't have the grand view of the pie, you know.  But America and, of course, building up the empire.  The empire now it is falling apart, but at that time was at least ascendant among them, you know, flying on the wings of victory.  Of course, you know, thereby it became the most natural consequence. And therefore, business, and therefore, skyscraper, and therefore, commercial materials – and anything that is related to business, you know, rather than residential.  And the precedents of the mega corporation that had the fabulous offices design by SOM, and interiors by Florence Knoll  When they were going home, they were going back to Scarsdale colonial houses.  And you see, that is where the culture gap becomes visible.  You see?
 [End of Disc]

MS. RIEDEL:  And now?


MS. RIEDEL:  And now?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Now there is no more at that top, and there is no more of that bottom.  There is a huge middle class, you know.  And the middle class, it’s not aiming, it doesn’t have the leadership of the super-upper class, you know.  There are no more Astors and you name it, you know, mega-industries, robber barons.  [Inaudible] anymore, et cetera you know, of the turn of the other century.  Now there is a huge middle class, which has not enough culture, not enough in general.  Of course there are cultured people, thank god, but I mean, as a mass--is mediocre.  So what we have is a triumph of mediocrity, which, however, is slightly better than the nothingness that was there before the colonial, the French, and Spanish [inaudible] Mexican styles and so on and so forth.  All those imitations and nothingness that, you know, fill up all the suburbia houses, you know, the plastic, the Formica culture, in that sense.   Now people have been traveling, and they refine their palates, their eyes, and their ears, and their customs.  So they are much better, much, much, better than it’s ever been before, but by the same token, they’re content of that level.  And that is where I say that is the limits of the--that the bourgeoisie became larger and larger and larger; the bottom fringe of workers is gone, the top fringe of the billionaires is gone, and that huge faction is content, you know, of all the things they’re learned so far, you know, the standard of living, and they spend their life in enjoyment of entertainment.  [Laughs.]  Entertainment is becoming the cultural force of this country, and that’s what it is.  It’s probably a phase.

MS. RIEDEL:  How does that compare with other countries?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Oh, the entire world is following the American pattern.  The American pattern is the dream of the world, you know, when people live in houses, which have no facilities, and they see the American heaven, this beautiful picture of the beautiful boulevards of suburbia, with the front lawn and the nice houses, each one, each family has,everybody wants to have that.  The entire world is dreaming the American dream now.  Of course, the--and, you know, the whole thing.  They don’t know what they’re losing [inaudible].

MS. RIEDEL:  Do you see anything particularly interesting in the new environmental designs?  Some of the work going on in China, perhaps, or some of the things going on here?  William McDonough, I’m thinking, and Cradle to Cradle, that sort of thing.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Do you mean--you mean what is happening here?

MS. RIEDEL:  Mm-hmm.  [Affirmative.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, there’s a lot of [inaudible].  It’s incredible what’s happening in China, of course.  Because, you know, they’ve gone from nothing to their---it’s their moment; they’re becoming the next empire, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  You see some interesting environmental--some green buildings going on--the green roofs, the recycled water on a fairly large scale.  There are limited examples of it, but interesting.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  I mean, I think that gradually, the awareness that we are killing our planet is diffusing.  And my hope is that, well, thank god, it will happen after my death.  [Laughs.]  But I hope they will do it before it’s too late, but there are plenty of books about this.  It’s frightening.  I mean, I’ve read some, and it’s pretty frightening to see what global warming is going to bring, and the consequences of that.  It’s a tragedy.

MS. RIEDEL:  How has the market for design changed in your lifetime?  Have you seen any shift there?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, in the sense of diffusion, yes.  You know, when I was young, it was very little, nothing.  And the model was the American, as I said the Knoll and Miller, when I was in my early twenties, you know.  But, you know, well, the market has been extended tremendously in the last 50 years, just tremendously.  There was no market 50 years ago, basically.  It was just beginning.  And now it is --you know, look at the amount of stores that there are now.  You have the Crate & Barrels, you have the Design Within Reach, you have the, what do you call it, C2, you have the MUJI, you have--on and on and on.  A lot of stores which were not there before, chains and some are Japanese, some are American, and so on and so forth, and then there are all the major international brands now.  You know, all the Italians: Cassina, you name it [inaudible] – and all the brands, the Italian brands [inaudible].  Everybody’s here now--Poltrona Frau, you know, that one.  You see it in that everybody is here.  The Germans are here [inaudible] and you name it, you know.  Companies from all over the world are expanding in this market and bringing the offer, and everything is too expensive.  But go back to what I was saying before:  the market [inaudible] is much bigger.  The middle class is huge now.  So there are many degrees of, let’s say, possibilities--yes, I’ll say acquisition possibilities there--so, buying power.  There are many degrees of buying power within [inaudible].  And one has to just to aim to your niche.  And, you know, again, niche rather than mass market, you see, the socialist utopia of a mass market is gone.  You know, the idealism with which I grew up, you know, it’s gone.  Now, you have market niche--niches, you know.  And you have Vitra, you have, you know, this and that and that.  Little niches, you know, everywhere, and that is the way it is.  Is it bad?  Is it good?  It’s neither one nor the other.  It’s the answer to the issue.  It’s the answer to the demand, the demand of this large [inaudible] of the bourgeoisie, or the middle class, let’s say.  It’s not even bourgeoisie; it’s middle class.  You know, bourgeoisie already has a connotation of the last century.  But middle class is a very, very contemporary kind of thing.  And the only thing is that, you know, it’s amazing that, well, in the past you had the top, you had a very little middle class, and you had a huge proletariat, you know, let’s say, a huge working class.  Now the working class is like this and the middle class is that, and the top part is like that.  Now, the unfortunate thing is that this top part is governing the whole situation--commanding, you know.  I mean, and this is where the collapsing of the government comes into the picture, not collapsing, like, in corrupted, not like in banana republics, but corruption--cultural corruption, in a sense, that--

[Off-side conversation.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  And so the--I was saying, corruption in the sense that everything is handled by the big money powers and you know, they want to keep their positions.  And the money power is not necessarily only that little fissure here, but it’s also this area, you know, the top, in a sense.  I mean, we are here, in a sort of speaking.  And this is really the one, this is what the industry, the huge military industry is all about, you know.  This is what this conditioning the wars, the useless, totally useless wars, which are preventing the infrastructure from doing what they should do.  Why we don’t have railways?  I mean, it’s not--

MS. RIEDEL:  Why we don’t have, sorry?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Railways.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right, yes.  Exactly.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Can you imagine?  This would provide a lot of work to us here.

[They laugh.]

MS. RIEDEL:  How has your work been received--

MR. VIGNELLI:  I can see [inaudible] I’m working on doing railroads.

MS. RIEDEL:  I know.  I know, I’ve been on Amtrak a few times.  They’re working on some new cars.  How has your work been received over time, over the decades?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Always very well, yes.

MS. RIEDEL:  Was there a high point, or do you see it’s been fairly consistent throughout?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Consistent.  Yes, consistent.  I mean, there has been a peak, perhaps, in the ’80s – from the ’80s through the year [inaudible].  Definitely, I would say.  Well, but I can say, from the day I--from the day I landed in ’65 with Unimark, from ’65 to ’71--Unimark years boy, that was an incredible, those were the years that--I mean, if we are going to look from my professional point of view, that put us into the picture.  Then we started on’72 [makes rising sound effect] it went up to--up to the year 2000.  In the ’80s, we were there and we went up.  In the year 2000, when we closed the office, then, of course, you know, that [inaudible]

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, but--

MS. RIEDEL:  A conscious decision to scale down.

MR. VIGNELLI:  It was a--yes, it was a different thing, in a sense.  You can say even that, but it wasn’t really like this, because, of course maybe it was like that, I would say because a different scale of work, but we still had great, great projects and great clients, and very good-sized jobs, et cetera, et cetera, and fame--Jesus, it exploded in these years.

MS. RIEDEL:  Exactly.  I mean, just the resurfacing now of the whole New York City subway and projects, I mean, that’s--

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, that’s another thing [inaudible]

MS. RIEDEL:  Exactly, exactly.

MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, definitely, that is going to give another boost, but these are the years where we got all the recognition, all the, you know, of course, that’s when we entered into the life achievements award [laughs]. The world’s best, as I said, when you get that, you’re out.

MS. RIEDEL:  A couple closing questions.  Do you have any summary thoughts about the importance of design as a means of expression, what its strengths are, what its limitations are?  And what in particular about it is important to you?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Now, the--well, the first thing:  Design cannot change a society.  That’s the first limitation of design.

MS. RIEDEL:  [Laughs.]  Did you think differently when you were young?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, of course.  You know, but I learned that, really, the real thing that changes society is the economy, you know, politics and the economy--those things change the society, particularly economy, and the politics in the sense that they, you know, create the events, you know, wars and whatever.   No, so design doesn’t change society, but can make a fantastic contribution to our micro-environment, okay.  When you--what I mean by that?  I mean that everything that’s around us on this table, in this house, in this room, in this house, in this world okay, it has been designed by someone.  You know, most of the time badly, but more and more, nicely. You know, and to be surrounded by nice things is a very pleasant thing.  Your life gets better.  So I would say that what design can do, it can ameliorate, or increase the quality of life.  That it certainly can do.  It cannot change the society, but it can make the society feel better, [laughs] if I can put it that way.  [Inaudible.]  And it is important to feel better.

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes, that’s true.  It is.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And, as a matter of fact, it’s important because when you ask, how do you feel today, it’s much more important than “How are you today?”  You’ll never know how are you today.  You can only know how you feel today.  I feel good today.  That’s okay.  And that is much better than knowing or not knowing if you are really good or not, you know, you don’t know.  I mean, one has a [inaudible] disease and doesn’t know.  [Laughs.]  But feeling good is terrific; it’s very important.

MS. RIEDEL:  Do you see your career in terms of specific episodes distinct, or do you see, there’s certainly a thread of continuity, yes--

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  You know, definitely.  Yes, I would say my growing years, the years when I was growing up, from 16 to 25.  Let’s say, in those 10 years, more or less, then the American, first American period, from ’57 to ’60, then the Italian, the Milano period, ’60 to-- okay, let’s put the dates here.  That’s what I’m doing.  I’ll say from--I was 16.  It was ’45.  [Pause.]  Forty-five to ’57, when I got married.  This is ’57 to – 30, then the Milano period is 31 to 34.  Then the Unimark period, 34 to 41.

MS. RIEDEL:  This is your age?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, that goes to 41, and then, then up to ’85, when we got the larger office--that is from, well, I’ll just put the dates, it’s even better, let’s do it again, this is 1945 to 1957.  Then ’57 to ’60, ’60 to ’65, ’65 to ’71, ’71 to ’85, ’85 to 2000, and then now, 2001 to today.  So these are really the periods [inaudible].  So this is when I was growing up.  This is the--

MS. RIEDEL:  So ’45 to ’57.  Mm-hmm.  [Affirmative.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Yes, this is when I came to the States the first time.

MS. RIEDEL:  ’57 to ’60.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Then back to Milano.

MS. RIEDEL:  ’60 to ’65.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Then this is Unimark.

MS. RIEDEL:  ’65 to ’71.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  And this is already Vignelli Associates, but this is the first phase with the--what we call the old office, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  That’s ’71 to ’85.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Which is the big growth period.  And then--and this is the big period [inaudible].

MS. RIEDEL:  ’85 to 2000.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, and it is in the new office.  And this is no more office [laughs] and this is over here.  So, you know, I didn’t tell you that in 2001, I had a bout with cancer at the base of my tongue.

MS. RIEDEL:  I didn’t know that.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And so that was a--it wasn’t serious, but I had to go--I had to go through radiations, which have affected the rest of my life.  This is why I don’t have to drink all the time.  [Laughs.] And it was a--I think it was a psychosomatic reaction to the closing of my office, which, of course, I love so much, you know, at that time, you know.  And particularly to lose the office for the greed of the landlord made me furious.  I’d wake up all night [with horrible feelings and anti-Semitic feelings, you know [laughs] which I didn’t have anymore, you know, but all of a sudden, you know, 500 years of anti-Semitism, European anti-Semitism wake up [inaudible].

MS. RIEDEL:  Oh, dear.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Because I really hated that guy.  [Laughs.]  Well, it’s--that’s why anti-Semitism came about, you know, and that’s one of those reasons.

MS. RIEDEL:  Well, greed seems to know no limitations.  It seems to find it in all cultures to be true.

MR. VIGNELLI:  No, but [inaudible] they’ll last for a long time around.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MS. VIGNELLI:  But at that moment, it really, you know, well, of course, you’re taking one individual and categorize the whole thing, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  It’s always one guy that gives a bad image to the whole group, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And, you know, and of course, you know, history is full of--I was looking at Dickens last night, Oliver Twist, you know, and the greedy guy is, again, the Jewish guy, so--and it’s a--it’s an amazing--another example of anti-Semitism of the--in the 19th century England, you know.  That is, well, that was Europe.  Europe was anti-Semitic forever, you know, for centuries, you know.  But also, for some reasons [laughs] you know that the landlords were, most of the times.

MS. RIEDEL:  Yes.  I mean, greed and landlord seems to go hand in hand more often than, well, unfortunately more often then we’d like.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And then, of course, you know, what happens is, usually people--

MS. RIEDEL:  Well, it’s tragic to lose such an exquisite space simply because--

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Yes, exactly.  [Inaudible.]  And also seeing it destroyed.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  You know, that was really--so I got really sick.  I’m convinced I was psychosomatically sick, and I got very little case of cancer, but [inaudible]

MS. RIEDEL:  Mm-hmm.  [Affirmative.]  Interesting on your tongue, your voice.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes,  but anyhow, these are--this is the timeline.  Now, one question we were wondering about:  Now, this is, you said it’s going to be transcribed, corrected and put online.

MS. RIEDEL:  Right.  We’re talking about illustrations, perhaps, to accompany this oral history.  And yes, it would be, it would be--is your archive at RIT digitized at all?

MR. VIGNELLI:  No, I have it here.  That would be here.  No.

MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.  Okay.

MR. VIGNELLI:  It would be here.

MS. RIEDEL:  So I think we’ve covered pretty much everything we need to cover, and I know you need to leave fairly soon.

MR. VIGNELLI:  That’s okay.  I still have a few minutes.

MS. RIEDEL:  Okay.  But I--perhaps we’ve--

MR. VIGNELLI:  So yes--

MS. RIEDEL:  --can finish up with the Vignelli Center at RIT, which is founded in 2008?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Well, I tell you, yes.  I tell you why we decided to give our archive to RIT.  Now, the thing is that back in 1980, actually, 1979, Roger Remington came to my office along with the deans and asked, “What do you think should be the education over the next decade?”  And I say, “Enough with the Froebelian games of the Bauhaus.  Let’s dedicate ourselves to history, theory and criticism.  You know, this is the time now to really recover the lost time.”  And so he--they did it.  And a few months later, or a year later, Roger Remington organized the first international conference on history, theory and criticism, graphic design.  And, of course, I was the keynote speaker, obviously, you know, and so on.  Then they kept going more and more, and they start to collect the archives of people like Lester Beall, like many, you know, any other, like Vadislav Sutnar, Will Burtin and so on, Cipe Pineles, you name it--many of the pioneers of modern graphic design, you know.  So it became--and that was the only institution in the world that was doing that and already collected all these interesting collections, not great archive, but interesting collections.  So when it came the moment to decide where we were going to leave our archive, I said, “Well, RIT is the right place, you know, because of that approach.”  So we started to talk with them, and we did, you know, a lot of projects [inaudible].  And every project was too expensive, so we had to scale down, scale down, scale down until finally, they found a way to build this building, you know, that model you see over there, by attaching it to a construction that we were doing already.  So it wasn’t [inaudible] building anymore; it was an extension of a building, which is the School of Design.  So it became feasible, possible.  And that’s what they did.  And the--and so, when it was done, finally, you know, last year, we moved all our archives there and then stored it [inaudible].

MS. RIEDEL:  So what exactly is there?  Sketches, photographs, teaching notes?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Everything.  Everything [inaudible].  You’ve ever seen--

MS. RIEDEL:  Personal and professional correspondence?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Let me show you quickly. It won’t take more than a few minutes.

[Off-side conversation.]

MR. VIGNELLI:  Okay, here is the building.  And it says [inaudible].  That line is worth a lifetime.  [Laughs.]  It’s incredible.  So this is the archive building.  This is the exhibition building.  This is the beginning of an exhibit, you know, about our work, it’s just the tip of the iceberg, and there are several [inaudible] you know ,and one is about public work  and the other one is about publishing, you know, and the other one is about product design.

MS. RIEDEL:  Did you design this interior?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes.  Yes, designed everything here, and, you know, that is our cubes.  There is not enough room, really, to photograph this, but it’s also movable, flexible kind of exhibit, all modular and so on, and so everything is modular here.  So they--you have these cubes with samples.  These are early books, very early books-- Sansoni books I was mentioning yesterday, you know.  These are other books, et cetera,and this packaging, national parks, books, and the manuals for subways, and the products, you know, silver, class, china, plastic and so on and so forth [inaudible] watches, you name it.  And then floor got furniture.  So this is--

MS. RIEDEL:  Beautiful.

MR. VIGNELLI:  --pretty good.

MS. RIEDEL:  Is this a permanent installation?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, almost.  Yes.  [Inaudible]

MS. RIEDEL:  Poltrona [Frau] chairs--

MR. VIGNELLI:  --half a museum.

MS. RIEDEL:  Mm-hmm.  [Affirmative.]  Yes.

MR. VIGNELLI:  And, you know, things.  Then there is a screen with slides of interior projects there, and, you know, furniture, and then in the next floor is where we do the master for history, theory and criticism.  You know, there will be a master degree and in this room here.  And this is the office of the director, Roger Remington.  All the furniture are our furniture, naturally.  As you can see [inaudible].

MS. RIEDEL:  Beautiful space.

MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible.]  And then this is, look at the archive.  There are 640 boxes, and it is full of printed matter, books and things, you know, that how do you call it, brochures and corporate identities, projects, everything, you know.  And there are two floors of this stuff.  Look.  You see?  And there are furniture inside also [inaudible] storage.  There are, you name it, all kind of things, you know.  There is also--

MS. RIEDEL:  And can--does one need an appointment, I imagine, to visit?

MR. VIGNELLI:  [Inaudible] I suppose so.  And then there are flat files, you know, with posters and drawings and all kind of things, you know.

MS. RIEDEL:  Fantastic.  Fantastic.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Fantastic and then there’s [inaudible].  And that is the building. And this is the building--this is our building.  This is what it’s attached to.  And this is the School of Design.  This is also part of the School of Design.  [Inaudible.]  By virtue of attaching this to that, it made, that made it possible.  And I’m extremely lucky, but again, you know, where there’s a will, there’s a way.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  That’s right.  Passion.

MR. VIGNELLI:  You know and--so it is the first of its kind and we’re very happy to be the one.  Okay.  So now [inaudible] wrap it up.

MS. RIEDEL:  Final thought?  Final question?  Anything you’d love to do?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Anything I’d love to do?  Well, just the school is the next thing that is intriguing my mind right now.  And of course, otherwise, the usual kind of project that were done--more of the same is fine with me.  Of course, I’m very excited by the development with the subway possibilities.  We’ll see what happens there.

MS. RIEDEL:  New York transit, right.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, we’ll see what happens.  And then--that’s about it, I guess.  I have no idea, because I have no idea how long--how much life--ahead of me.  And I have no idea how Lella’s position, you know, how Lella’s disease is going to develop.  And I hope that that will not curtail all the rest of my life, but if that is the case, I have [inaudible] have to do.  So I lived a very exciting life and very rewarding and it’s fine.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  It’s fun?

MR. VIGNELLI:  Yes, it’s fine, and it’s fun.  And, you know, the show can stop any time certainly.  [Laughs.]

MS. RIEDEL:  Thank you.

MR. VIGNELLI:  Thank you.

[End of interview.]


Last updated...January 6, 2008


How to Use This Collection

Quotes and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Massimo Vignelli, 2011 June 6-7. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.