Skip to Content
Design is One: Lella and Massimo Vignelli  cover photo

Design is One: Lella and Massimo Vignelli 2012

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Distributed by First Run Features, 630 Ninth Avenue, Suite 1213, New York, NY 10036; 212-243-0600
Produced by Produced by Roberto Guerra and Kathy Brew
Directed by Directed by Roberto Guerra and Kathy Brew
DVD, color, 88 min.

Jr. High - General Adult
Japan, Popular Culture, Music Trade, Singers

Date Entered: 05/21/2014

ALA Notable:
Reviewed by: Reviewed by Christopher Lewis, American University Library, American University

Though his name may not be as well-known as Charles Eames or Milton Glaser, Massimo Vignelli’s work is universally recognized and as indelible as the best graphic design work of the modern age. Lella Vignelli, Massimo’s wife of fifty years, has complemented his talents with her background in architecture. This film celebrates their careers and also the magic that their unique collaboration has yielded. Though Lella’s talents and work have been overshadowed by her husband’s splashier successes, it’s evident in the film that their creative visions and energy are intertwined and there doesn’t seem to be a medium in which they haven’t succeeded in creating striking and timeless works. Vignelli Associates have designed signage, furniture, glassware, silverware, clothing, books, plasticware, exhibits, and buildings.

Best known among Massimo’s work are the signage for the New York City subway and the Washington Metro, a major redesign of the NYC subway map, and the American Airlines and Bloomingdale’s logos. He also designed the brochures for the National Park Service - the ones with big black banners and Helvetica font. Massimo is a font snob. For him the only choices are Garamond, Bodoni, Times Roman, Akzidenz Grotesk, Univers, Futura, and the most perfect of all, Helvetica. Color-wise he favors what his firm calls Vignelli red. The keys to the Vignellis’ work are discipline and rules, including a strict adherence to a grid system. The result is an aesthetic style that is so clean and resonant that their designs still look fresh decades after their introduction.

For the Vignellis there is little separation between living and creating and it seems obvious in the sparkle of their eyes that even at 80 years old they are as inspired now as they have ever been. The Vignellis story is similar to that of Charles and Ray Eames but while the Eames’ lives have been heavily documented, learning about the Vignellis will be a delightful surprise for most viewers. Given the broad popularity of modern design, from shelter magazines to websites, fashion, and Ikea, this documentary should be of interest to a general audience. It segues neatly with Helvetica, the 2007 documentary on the font. It’s highly recommended for collections with strengths in advertising, marketing, product design, communication design, collaborative workgroups, and even gerontology.