Massimo Vignelli, What Will You Make Today?

Published on Felt & Wire April 29, 2013
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The grid. It’s the first thing they teach you about in school; a building block of design education. It’s what many designers start with when they begin making a layout.  Few designers feature the use of the grid as much as Massimo Vignelli. For Mohawk’s “What Will You Make Today” campaign, we asked Massimo to share with us what he makes using the grid. The result? Follow us to find out.

Michael Bierut and his team at Pentagram worked on the concept of the video and created a corresponding journal featuring the grid. Michael was willing, and we were excited, to talk to him about creating these two pieces.

The spine is white foil stamped with the phrase, “What will you make today?”

[Allyson] What were the steps involved in making the video? Storyboarding, sketching, animating?
[Michael Bierut]  Because I worked with Massimo for 10 years, I was very familiar with his unique way of designing books, which involves sitting with the all the ingredients — text and images — and drawing each page with a pencil, including all the photographs, using a grid as a layout guide. It is such a clear, step-by-step process that I thought it would be interesting to document in the form of a short film that would show each successive step as the sketches are transformed into a finished book.

Was Massimo given a specific question about design, or did he begin speaking about his design experience naturally?
We asked Hillary Frank, a writer and editor with a lot of experience in radio, to conduct a fairly unstructured interview that she then organized into a narrative that we built the animation around.

Did you handle the actual animation?
Yes, Aron Fay at Pentagram did the animation, with me and a lot of other enthusiastic people pitching in comments and advice.

What were your thoughts behind selecting the music? Did you have to go through a lot of different melodies before you settled on the one featured?
The music is one of J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations. I suggested Bach because his music is both logical and magical, which I think relates to the way Massimo designs. Also, the Goldbergs are each a variation on a common theme, much the way each spread in a book is an expression of a common design structure.

Why did you choose to document the Richard Meier book?
Massimo has been collaborating with Richard Meier on his books for years. It’s one of his favorite projects, and a perfect expression of his working methods.

You also designed the journal that accompanies the video. Did you work with Massimo on creating that?
Massimo knew we were working on it but we did it independently.

Did Massimo offer any feedback about working with Mohawk Superfine for designs?
When Massimo heard the project was for Mohawk he was enthusiastic, because I know he loves Mohawk Superfine.

How many iterations of the grid did you go through when designing the journal?
Just one: the grid that Massimo uses in the Meier book.

How do you envision other designers using the notebook?
Any way they want. That’s the great thing about a grid: it can be the framework of so many things.

How do you plan on using your journal?
I’m embarrassed to say I’m going to leave mine completely blank. I think it looks great that way.

What’s your favorite Mohawk grade?
Mohawk Superfine, Soft White, Eggshell Finish!

What would you make with a Massimo journal? We’ll mail a free copy of the journal to the first 50 readers that share in the comments! Or, order a copy or two (or three!) here.