The Vignellis are perhaps the most famous couple in design. The late Massimo and Lella Vignelli worked for several decades on numerous projects ranging from architectural feats to dinnerware sets, and most notably, the New York subway system wayfinding signage. Their Italian heritage and culture informs their passionate and lighthearted approach to life.
I recently watched Design is One, a documentary on the Vignelli’s work. It was full of insight and humor, an intriguing look into the life of two prolific, innovative designers.
Upon viewing Kathy Brew and Roberto Guerra’s documentary on the late Vignellis, I was delighted to see the work of Lella and Massimo Vignelli documented and explained so eloquently–a metaphor for their design work which is simultaneously simple and gorgeous. The 2012 film highlights a few key works of art made by the dynamic duo over the past 50-plus years in a way that is powerful yet humorous at times. What really struck me was the intimate humanity prevalent in the film–the interviews with Lella and Massimo themselves and testimonials by well-known architects, designers, and friends (Glaser, Bierut, Meier to name a few) highlighted their beautiful partnership, full of play, honesty, and of course, bickering.
With decades of marriage and work shared between them, the film emphasized Lella’s important and equal role in their collaboration. Despite Massimo usually holding most of the spotlight, I enjoyed the credit attributed to Lella in their creative process. Massimo is described as “the dreamer” and Lella “the reality.” To even stay together for that long is a feat in and of itself, but to curate a professional relationship in addition to marriage is truly admirable.
What I enjoyed most about the film is the overall theme of design as an inherently utilitarian tool. Through objects such as the Heller plastic dinnerware set or the redesign of the New York City subway system, the Vignellis demonstrate their dedication for design as a way to improve people’s everyday lives. With countless projects and collaborations under their wings, Lella and Massimo have definitely achieved their dream of being immortal.