Lessons from a Master: My Meeting with Massimo Vignelli

As part of Second Story’s contribution to AIGA’s 100 Years of Design, creative director David Waingarten and I flew to New York to film and interview design legends. The goal was to gather reflections and insights from industry giants in honor of the organization’s centennial and to leave a record for posterity.

While in New York, we had the great privilege to meet and speak with icons such as Paul Davis, Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast, and Massimo Vignelli.


When I knocked on the door to Massimo Vignelli’s apartment, it was with great trepidation. I was going to interview a living legend. And I was no designer.

He was dressed impeccably in black and spoke with gracious passion, eloquence, and witty charm.

Yet it was clear during our conversation that Vignelli didn’t simply speak his ideals, he lived them. Design was an extension of his life–his ethics, values, and sense of social responsibility.

And though I cannot pinpoint the exact moment of transition, with a magic all his own, our conversation morphed into a philosophical discussion about life, the nature of design, and how one’s values and ethics ultimately fuel creative work.

I feel deeply humbled to have had the opportunity to meet and speak with Massimo Vignelli. The ideals and insights he shared with me have left a profound impact on my memory.


The video we created for 100 Years of Design offers a glimpse of the tenor of our conversation and Vignelli’s elegant mind.

I would like to share a few additional excerpts from our interview. The following quotes are left intact from the original transcripts to preserve their authenticity and that trace of his enchantingly mingled Italian-English.

“When I said that the life of a designer is a life of fight against ugliness – that is, exactly – a commitment that shows responsibility, social responsibility. It’s not the means to do what people want, it’s the means to give people what people need, and that is important…you have to find out the need.”

“Not everybody has been touched by the grace of creativity and vision and the determination to make better things for the world. But the people, they won’t make things better for themselves. Greed is the worst enemy, you know, of good design.”

“If there is an intellectual value, chances are there is an intellectual elegance in it or beauty, you know. […] I don’t think any person that is intellectually sophisticated can do a bad thing, an ugly thing. They will always have a drop of intelligence and that is enough to make it beautiful, because the only thing which is beautiful is intelligence, really, at the end.”


— Vanessa Patchett, A/V Producer


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