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The Art of Design: Massimo Vignelli (Video)

Massimo Vignelli

It was a cool, crisp, New York afternoon. Amidst the quietness inside the taxicab, the air, the city, was full of excitement. An endless amount of cars stood between us and our destination. I checked my watch and read the time: 2:55pm. “Great,” I thought, “We’ll be late.”

I picked up my phone and dialed. Seconds later, a serene and sweet voice answers. “Hello?” “Mr. Vignelli , I mean, Massimo,” I said, as I remembered what he had insisted I should call him, “It’s Maria Elena. Just wanted to tell you I’m on my way. We’ve hit terrible traffic; huge jam on 4th avenue.”  To this, he calmly replies, “No worries, I’ll be here.” His voice was a soothing melody that juxtaposed with undeniable perfection the chaos that was the city.

Minutes - or what seemed as an eternity - later, we pulled up to his apartment. Bags, cameras, tripods and iPad in hand, we quickly made it through the building.

Massimo Vignelli, 83 and Italian-born, answered the door with a warm and endearing smile, wearing his signature color – black. It took us a couple of seconds to fully grasp and process the long- awaited moment. He immediately showed us in, gave us a tour of his beautiful home and led us into his living room office. A brilliantly-lighted double height black-and-white space with nothing but a massive window and a square table, evoked his bona-fide credo consistent through decades.

It seemed as though every corner of his home portrayed that distinctive Vignelli philosophy: simplicity and elegance. As Ernesto, More Than Branding’s beloved video director set up the cameras, I sat down with Massimo and reviewed the questions for the interview. His graceful manner during our conversation reflected the ease in which he, very graciously, obliged for an interview weeks before. I had always dreamed of discussing the world of design with a man responsible for the creation of so many iconic products – a man who has contributed so much to the field of branding and communications. Equipped with my massive notes and questions, we began. 

As a child who grew up in the design-driven city of Milan, Massimo knew he wanted to pursue a life in the field by the young age of 14. After attending the Polytechnic University of Milan, he worked in the Studio of Achille Casteglioni, a world-renowned Italian designer. It was here where Vignelli’s famous maxim started taking its shape. It was here where the concept of applying the fundamentals of design to everything in a minimal, simplistic way, became the essence of his ideology and his craft.

Massimo and Lella Vignelli

The incomparable duo: Massimo and Lella Vignelli in their New York City apartment. (Photo by John Madere)

He and his wife Lella founded Vignelli Associates more than four decades ago after moving from Italy to New York City during the 1960’s. With a vast formation in the field of architecture and design, they set forth on a journey that has resulted in an undisputable stamp on our visual culture. Their profession has encompassed everything from architecture, advertising, corporate identity, graphic design, packaging, interiors, product design, books, magazines (among them AAA), furniture and industrial design, as well as countless other products under their distinguishable and iconic aesthetic.

Within the corporate world, they were responsible for the creation of notorious brands such as American Airlines, Bloomingdale’s, Ford, IBM, United Colors of Benetton, Heller, Knoll and a myriad of others across the globe. During the 70’s, the Vignelli’s developed what became the legendary map and signage for the New York City Metro System.

New York City Metro

In an interview for Design Boom, he described his work as: “Spare, essential, intellectually elegant, strong, and timeless.” The Vignelli brand is the embodiment of the attitude that less is always more - ridding oneself of the unnecessary in pursuit of conciseness and sophistication.

In addition to practicing their profession, Massimo and his wife Lella both taught, wrote, served as jury and board members, lectured and contributed their talent to the field of design. It was this proclivity that led them to Dominican Republic in 2006, as visiting professors in the esteemed Altos de Chavón School of Design

Amongst the Vignellis’ many accomplishments, Massimo and Lella were awarded the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) Gold Medal in 1982 and were included in the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame in 1988. The AIGA medal —the most distinguished in the field—is awarded to professionals who have have excelled in the field of design and visual communication throughout the actual practice of design, teaching, writing or general leadership.

Perhaps one of the best definitions of the Vignelli design is found in an article written in 1983 by David Brown, Wylie Davis and Rose DeNeve published in AIGA Graphic Design: 

“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. The Vignelli commitment to the correctness of a design has taken their work beyond the mechanical exercise of devising a form best suited to a given function. They've always understood that design itself, in the abstract, could and should be an integral part of function. More than a process and a result, design—good design—is an imperative.”

United Colors of Benetton

Massimo Vignelli is the personification of a commitment to excellence fueled by an undeniable passion for the field of design – “Design that is visually powerful, that is intellectually elegant, and above all, timeless.”  I can’t help but admire this relentless approach to raising the bar of one’s profession, to the establishment of a legacy that interconnects with all areas of our daily lives. My profound respect stems from his infallible pursuit of relevance, to his keenness in observing everything and everyone – to reading life and contributing to it.

After two and a half hours, we were done with the interview. That same night I followed-up with a thank you email, to which he kindly replied including this last comment:

“There is no valid branding without an overall integrity of the company or products - otherwise is just empty styling - reflecting the company’s overall shallowness. And that is the kiss of death for any kind of company. I see this as a fundamental issue in relation to branding. It’s either real or it is phony. There is no middle ground on these issues.”

In a world so concerned with what is said and done, this moment during the video will forever echo in my heart: “The most important thing is to observe, keep track of everything and not miss anything…” accompanied by his enthusiastic smile - contagious and eternal. 


To watch the interview with Spanish subtitles, click here. / Para ver la versión subtitulada al español, haz click aquí.

Photo credits: John Madere / Massimo and Lella Vignelli.

Our favorite Super Bowl Ads on Youtube Blitz

Year in and year out, the Super Bowl provides sports fans, viewers and advertisers one exciting and memorable night. 2014 was no different. The Seattle Seahawks conquered the Denver Broncos with an outstanding score of 43 - 8, considered by experts as the "greatest defensive performances in Super Bowl history against the greater offence in NFL history."  But we're not really here to talk about sports, are we?

Let's get to it. 

As ever, Super Bowl Sunday is the holiday of holidays for advertisers and footfall fans alike. With 30-second spots at $4 million a pop ( that's about $133,000 per second), the quest for advertising efficiency is at an all-time high. Just like last year, social media played an exciting role for the pre-game promotion and hype; a strategy that allowed brands to set the tone and engage with customers sooner. As Paul Fahri expressed, "A Super Bowl commercial is just the start of an advertiser’s advertising . . . about its Super Bowl advertising. The commercial is just the middle. Thanks to social media, companies engage in a buildup about their ads before the game, and most follow up afterward, too." The Super Bowl may have ended, but thanks to Youtube, it ads will still resonate.

Youtube Ad Blitz

Youtube has returned with its Ad Blitz featuring the list of Super Bowl spots, inviting us to watch, vote and share our favorite ads of the night. Honestly, I am loving the idea of having a Super Bowl "hub" on Youtube; everything in one place, perfectly organized. It offers brands a longevity to their Marketing efforts and gets people voting on what they really liked after watching it several times. And if Ad Blitz 2014 performs anywhere near what it did in 2013 - which offered a combined view of 110 million views, 1.3 million hours and 60 million daily impressions - we're talking about money well spent.

Youtube Ad Blitz

"The real contest at the big game is not fought in the field; the real contest is between advertisers and their commercials. And that commercial is fought - and won - on Youtube Ad Blitz." You got that right.

Go to Youtube and click VOTE under your favorite video. Simple.


 

The Business of Big Ideas: Ogilvy

Agency giant, Ogilvy, is no stranger to the subject of big ideas. 

In 1947, David Ogilvy, mastermind and founder of Ogilvy & Mather, set out to build one of the largest advertising networks in history. His audacity and success were only surpassed by a business acumen and ability to voice concepts that have served as inspiration and a guiding light for professionals in the field of advertising and marketing. When he spoke, we listened. And that we have done for over half a century.

Ogilvy founded his philosophy on three basic pillars: quality and diversity of the people, quality and class of the operation, and last but not least, belief in brands. From here stems that age-long conviction of the development and cultivation of the intangible aspects that make companies (and those responsible for it) unique. "Our history is the evolution of one man's thoughts, talents, and work ethic translated into a company culture, a defining business strategy, a destiny." We must make advertising that sells, but first, make advertising that builds brands. 

So when it comes to ideas worth spreading, what could be better than to share them through social media? The team at Ogilvy has done a great job in creating a platform that both informs and celebrates the passion for ideas set forth by none other than its brilliant founder. For the past year, I've been fascinated with amazing entries featuring infographics, quotes, rankings and facts on the subject of business, advertising, brands, and life.

In keeping with the celebration of knowledge, here are 20 of my most favorite posts from Ogilvy & Mather's Facebook page:

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Ogilvy 1

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Ogilvy 19 Ogilvy 20

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Google captures the spirit of ‘search’ in its new Zeitgeist video

There is no greater moment in advertising than that in which the spirit of a brand is linked to the spirit of humanity.

Since 2010, Google has provided a snapshot of the world's most important events through its Zeitgeist video. From our biggest achievements to our most perilous catastrophes, it reflects what touched us and shaped us during the course of 365 days.

This year's top trends can be found on their website under an array of categories - people, events, consumer electronics, hashtags, etc. - all of which result in a memorable and beautiful video. (see below)

Google Zeitgeist 2013

Google Zeitgeist - United States: 


Google Zeitgeist - France:


Google Zeitgeist - Japan:


Google Zeitgeist- Germany:


 

Previous years:

"Google Zeitgeist 2010: A Year in Review." 

"Google Zeitgeist 2011: How the World Searched." 

"Google Zeitgeist 2012: The World's Biggest Moments."

Success stories from the 2013 National Congress of Digital Marketing

Held in the Chapultepec Cultural Forum of Mexico City, this year's National Congress of Digital Marketing  gathered hundreds of marketing professionals, students, agencies and all those who are somehow involved in this exciting discipline. 

Industry's prominent speakers shared their opinions, advices, best practices and case studies in order to illustrate a varied, complete and interesting range of cutting-edge issues that can not be ignored by marketers and brands in the modern business environment.

Here are some succesfully performed international campaigns that were shared by the speakers, as good examples and inspiration for our daily work in the world of digital marketing.

Enjoy!

Starbucks: Tweet a Coffee


Burger King: Whopper Sacrifice


Xbox: Kinect Effect


Look at this Instagram: Nickelback Parody


Big Data for Smarter Customer Experience


Volkswagen search engine ad: Like a boss


Recife: Immortal Fans


Oreo: 100th birthday


 Betty White's  SNL monologue on Facebook