before i even know what graphic design was, i remember the first time i was really moved by it. it was my first trip to new york in the late seventies. my mom and i went to visit my aunt, who was living in a tiny manhattan apartment. she loved shopping around the city, and that meant taking the subway. she bought us some tokens (this was the pre-metrocard days), and as we headed into the station, the first thing i noticed was a diagram of stringy multicolor lines. i got one from the station agent, and poured over it for hours at home. i didn’t realize that many people thought it was a gross misrepresentation of their city, but in those lines, i saw something interesting. a city with so many people and so places to get to, a seemingly overwhelming place was rendered almost manageable in simple lines and dots. once i memorized the map (at least the parts i needed/wanted to know), i could get around the city like a native, which is always the goal for an out-of-towner.
flash forward to college, and i’m discovering this new-to-me field of graphic design, sitting in a classroom learning about modernist design and two of its biggest leaders, leila and massimo vignelli. designers of not only brand marks for american airlines, knoll, and bloomingdale’s and brochures for the national park service, but the designers of the map that started my love affair with graphic design.
a few weeks ago, i was reading gothamist and saw that luca vignelli was requesting that people send letters to his gravely ill father to let him know how he influenced them. i sent a postcard, telling the story i did above. i’m sure i’m not the only person who was inspired to become a designer based on his subway design, and i’m not even sure if luca ever read my postcard to him, but i thought he should know. his “spaghetti lines,” (as he called them) guided me to the path i’m on now.
vignelli passed away yesterday at the age of 83. pentagram partner michael beirut worked for vignelli associates for ten years and wrote a touching tribute on design observer.
p.s. another one of my influences, maya angelou, passed away today at the age of 86. my parents insisted that i read her memoirs as a child and i followed that by continuing to read her books into my adult life. she endured many highs and lows, but as she said in this famous quote, “i can be changed by what happens to me, but i refuse to be reduced by it.” read robin givhan’s tribute and the new york times obituary.
photos via nymag, vignelli associates, aiga, theverge.com