Massimo Vignelli Dies at 83

Designer Created Iconic AA Logo, Bloomingdale’s Big Brown Bag

By Daniel Berg on 2 June 2014
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Massimo designed this iconic logo, among others

Massimo designed American Airlines’ iconic logo

Massimo Vignelli, one of the most influential designers of the twentieth century, died in New York on Tuesday.  He was 83.

The Italian-born Modernist designer earned many accolades during his nearly 50-year career, highlights of which include work for IBM, American Airlines, Knoll, and Bloomingdale’s, as well as signage and maps for the New York subway system.

Born in Milan on January 10, 1931, Vignelli initially studied architecture. He emigrated to the United States in 1966 to head up the New York office of Unimark International, a design firm that he was a founding partner of. It was at Unimark that Vignelli did some of his early work, including the American Airlines corporate identity.

Mr. Vignelli used the Helvetica typeface for the logo, a novel concept at the time, and was against the inclusion of the eagle in the logo, but the threat of a pilot strike drove the airline to add the eagle to the final design. The logo was in use for forty-six years, from 1967 until 2013, when American Airlines introduced its new logo.

Vignelli resigned from Unimark in 1971, founding Vignelli Associates with his wife soon afterwards. The New York subway map design was completed during this period, as well as the design for the brochures of the National Park Service and the iconic brown bag design still in use by Bloomingdale’s today.

In 2007, Vignelli was featured prominently in the documentary Helvetica, in which he summarized his design philosophy by saying that “the life of a designer is a life of fight: fight against the ugliness.”

Vignelli and his wife received the National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in 2003.

Mr. Vignelli was hospitalized for a heart condition on May 14, and passed away in his home on the Upper East Side on May 27. He is survived by his wife, Lella Vignelli, their son and daughter, Luca Vignelli and Valentina Vignelli Zimmer, and three grandchildren.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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