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Massimo Vignelli: a Curbed primer

The trailblazing Italian designer would have been 86 today

A sign for New York City’s subway that reads “Subway” and is written in white, sans-serif letters in the popular Helvetica typeface.
Helvetica seen in its natural habitat (one of many), in signage for the New York City subway designed by Massimo Vignelli.
Photo via Flickr

Remember Helvetica?

Massimo and Lella Vignelli in 2012
Massimo and Lella Vignelli in 2012
Photo via Design Milk/Flickr

We were (big) fans of the documentary film by director Gary Hustwit when it premiered in 2007 and opened our eyes to the prevalence of the titular typeface just about everywhere—on American Airline planes, Bloomingdale’s bags, National Park Service brochures, and perhaps most famously, New York City’s enduring subway signage.

The mastermind behind all of this? Late Italian designer (and Helvetica champion) Massimo Vignelli, who would have celebrated his 86th birthday today, January 10.

Vignelli died in 2014, but his extensive body of work—created in close collaboration with his wife, Lella, who passed away on December 22—continues to fuel a passion in designers and design enthusiasts. Intrigued? Check out this brief reader on Vignelli and his lasting influence, including a downloadable PDF written by the designer himself.

New insights from late subway sign maestro Massimo Vignelli

Vignelli’s 1972 NYC subway map
Image via

NYC subway poster designers talk Vignelli, standards and the fetish for physical design

Photo courtesy Hamish Smyth and Alex Daly

Original Transit Authority Graphics Manual to be auctioned

A peek inside the original New York Transit Authority Graphics Manual, a version of which is available for purchase here
Photo via

A legendary husband-and-wife design team fought to get her equal credit for 40 years

Massimo and Lella Vignelli, a design power couple, created the interiors of Saint Peter’s Church in New York, NY.

And last but not least...

The Vignelli Canon—Vignelli’s 96-page book on typography in graphic design

Vignelli talks the responsibility of design in his book on typography, available for free in PDF
Screenshot via Vignelli Associates