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Vignelli Canon Summary

Vignelli was an Italian designer that worked with interior, environmental, package, graphic, furniture, and product design. In his booklet he emphasizes the importance of creating design as a whole rather than in tiny pieces. One of the biggest take-aways is that you have to look at the big picture. No design can be successful if it doesn’t put the message across when you look at the design as a whole.

In the booklet Vignelli Canon by Massimo Vignelli talks adbout three major aspects of design; semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic.

Vignelli defines semantics as understanding a subject in all of its aspects. This means that the design is functional in that it makes sense to the designer and the audience that it is intended for, and the message is clear. Additionally, he says that every part of the design should have a precise purpose, an example that he gave is random stripes across a page that do not serve any meaning are not a good example of effective design. If design is not done correctly, Vignelli considers it visual pollution. Personally, after him use that term I can pick out the exact ads and examples of design that he would call visual pollution.

Syntactics are defined by Vignelli as “the discipline that controls the proper use of grammar in the construction of phrases and the articulation of a language, design”. The image that is shown to the right of this definition is a map of the New York subway system. I think the image does a great job of giving a visual of what he is describing as a syntax. Vignelli also explains that the consistency of design is provided by the appropriate relationship of the various syntactical elements of the project. In the subway diagram it is easy to follow, the intention of the design was to show where, when, and how people can find what train they are going on. I think aesthetically, the colors and lines are clean and are important to the functionality of the design, and the key up top is very helpful as well. One thing that I thought was interesting was that he mentions grids are an important tool to help with consistency in graphic design.

Lastly, pragmatics is the third major aspect Vignelli talks about. Pragmatics is more difficult to monitor because as Vignelli says we want to be able to have complex design, but we do not want to make it complicated. Something I have noticed about myself is that I love the look of a simple design, but I wonder if I am more inclined to like the simple because I often make things more complicated.  

In addition to those major aspects he defines, he talks about smaller more in-depth details that can elevate the overall look and feel of the design. My biggest takeaway from this booklet is that a good design needs to show intention and purpose while still keeping the design aesthetic and pleasing to the audience. There are so many components like font, images, size, and even the positioning of items that will make the difference between good and great design.