New York subway map designer Massimo Vignelli dies aged 83


Modernist designer Massimo Vignelli, who created New York’s subway map, has died at the age of 83.

Vignelli trained as an architect in Milan and Venice and then went into business alongside his wife Lella who he married in 1957.

He first visited America in the 1950s on a fellowship and thenas a teacher, before returning to Milan to start his first design and architecture business.


In the mid-1960s the couple moved to New York and Massimo Vignelli became a founding member of Unimark International in 1966, which became one of the world’s biggest design companies.

He was responsible for some of the company’s most recognisable work including the corporate identity for American Airlines. He also worked with IBM and Bloomingdales.

Alongside Unimark partner Bob Noorda, Vignelli designed the signage for the New York subway which is still in use today and has become one of the most recognisable images of the city.

Vignelli set up Vignelli Associates in 1971 with Lella, followed by Vignelli Designs in 1978.

In 1982 the couple were awarded the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) gold medal.

“Not only do the Vignellis design exceedingly well, they also think about design,” said the AIGA citation. “It is not enough that something — a chair, an exhibition, a book, a magazine — looks good and is well designed. The ‘why’ and the ‘how’, the very process of design itself, must be equally evident and quite beyond the tyranny of individual taste.”

Other awards have included the American Institute of Architects’ industrial design medal (1973), and the first US Presidential Design Award, presented by Ronald Reagan in 1985 for Vignelli’s work on the American National Park Service Publications Program.

In 2003, he was given the National Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Museum of Design at Cooper-Hewitt, New York and his work has been displayed at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

His friend and fellow designer Richard Meier said: “I miss the friendship. I miss the closeness, whether we were working together or here in the building together or going out to dinner together. Massimo just had an uplifting personality that affected you. He was always smiling and upbeat.”

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