Happy Birthday, Massimo
For a young Swiss graphic designer seeking a job in New York in 1970, Massimo Vignelli was the person to see. A founder of Unimark International and head of its New York office, he was the foremost proponent of so called Swiss Design in America. Swiss Design in America? Coming from Switzerland, having experienced Swiss aesthetics first-hand, I was critical of his work.
As a design student in Zürich I had been exposed to original work by luminaries such as Max Bill, Richard Paul Lohse, Josef Müller-Brockmann, Hans Neuburg, Siegfried Odermatt and Carlo Vivarelli. Compared to their work, Massimo’s designs lacked a certain originality and therefore left me ambivalent. And there was the nagging question: If highly structured and analytical Swiss Design was appropriate in cultured Switzerland, how could the same approach be valid in America, an ideologically very different, much more diverse and exuberant country?
After living in New York for a while, my critical stance towards Massimo’s work waned. I realized that he does not design for the American culture but against it, and saw his efforts as creating an antidote to the graphic trash we are faced with daily. The more chaos in American graphic design increased, the more I valued and supported Massimo’s achievements. His unwavering belief in improving the world is truly remarkable.
Our professional trajectories never crossed, but over the years I secretly became curious about his opinion towards my quite different approach to design. Then in 1995, Massimo invited me to become a member of AGI. In his introductory letter to the admission committee he wrote: “I know of no other graphic designer in the world whose business letterhead reads: “Dedicated to the highest professional standards.” Willi Kunz can really say that, without exaggeration. He is one of the most seriously committed professionals who, with his work, brings honor to our profession.” In these kind words I realized a deep mutual respect.
Happy Birthday, Massimo. Continue leading the way.