Design is One: a documentary about Lella and Massimo Vignelli

Design is One, Lella and Massimo Vignelli
A film by Kathy Brew and Roberto Guerra

Design is One is a documentary that tells the story of one of the design world’s greatest partnerships, Lella and Massimo Vignelli. Created in 2012, the film serves as a retrospective of their career in design. From their first client, Knoll, to their current (and second) redesign of New York City subway map, the viewer is given a gateway into how their work developed over time.

One of the strongest parts of the film is the great care that is taken to showcase Lella as an equal contributor to the design process. Often, Massimo has been portrayed in the design world as the primary force in their work, with many unaware how significant Lella has been to his success. Not only partners in work, but in life, the couple has been married for over fifty years, and they attribute their common interest in design to the success of their relationship, saying that if they had separate careers, they would have nothing to talk about. Design is One reveals that their work relationship works well because each one’s personality complements the other. As Lella puts it so eloquently in the film, “Massimo is the dreamer and I have the reality.” With this, the pair has seen enormous success by creating stunning designs that not only solve design challenges but also delight viewers.


Design aficionados will appreciate the appearances by many great designers who have worked in collaboration with them. Michael Donovan, who was the ‘associates’ part of Vignelli & Associates for years, appears throughout the film. Former clients and many notable designers appear in the film, including Milton Glaser, Michael Bierut, Paula Scher, Steven Heller, Jessica Helfand and many more. It is clear that their peers in the design world and their clients have great respect for the Vignellis and their work.

This film has a lot to offer in terms of educating designers both new and old alike. One of the most visually dynamic parts of the film is when the grids in Massimo’s design layouts are depicted and broken down on screen. Seeing the framework provides great insight in to the mind of the designer, and it is awe inspiring to see how these designs are built. A strength of the film is its demonstration that modernist work need not be rigid and unmoving and that perhaps all any designer needs are ten typefaces to choose from (maybe even less) to create successful work.


As true innovators in design, the Vignellis believe in “Vision, Courage, and Determination” and with these characteristics they’ve left their mark on the world of design, a legacy portrayed with thoroughness and visual flair in Design Is One.


Design is One is available as an institutional DVD for $295. AIGA Members will receive a 15% discount on this rate.
 The Home Video DVD will be released at the end of 2014. Educational streaming rights and public screening rights are available now as well. For more information go to:


Sherry Saunders, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Lamar University in Beaumont, TX
Sherry Saunders received a BFA from Emmanuel College in 2007 and in 2011, she received her MFA in Graphic Design from Savannah College of Art and Design. She currently is the Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Lamar University in Beaumont, TX. She has received local, regional and national awards for her graphic design work. Sherry also continues to present research at conferences and publish her graphic design research. Visit her website.

By Sherry Saunders
Published February 7, 2014
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