Massimo Vignelli had always wanted to affect millions of people through design.
From the sleek curves of the Ford Motor Company label to the bold loops of the Bloomingdale’s logo, the designs of the late Vignelli and his partner, Lella Vignelli, have certainly made their mark unto the millions who constantly see these symbols in passing. The reputation of the husband-wife creative team lies not in their names, but in the household recognition of their lifework.
While the familiarity of the Vignelli name is lesser known than the ubiquitous nature of their influence, husband-wife filmmakers Kathy Brew and the late Roberto Guerra bring the limelight onto the world-class designers in their documentary, “Design is One.” A reception and screening of the film will be held at Broad Art Center Thursday beginning at 5 p.m., followed by a discussion led by Brew.
Directed by Brew and Guerra, the documentary intimately explores the lives and views of the Vignellis through a series of interviews conducted by leaders in modern design such as architect Richard Meier and graphic designer Milton Glaser, as well as Brew and Guerra themselves.
The film and discussion, which is hosted by the Art | Sci Center, is one of many informal “pop-up lectures” that the center organizes.
“It’s keeping up with the nature of the Art | Sci center, of having informal discussions and being able to engage in a comfortable setting,” said Marissa Clifford, assistant to the director at Art | Sci.
The Italian design duo, whose marriage doubled as a lifelong collaborative working relationship, has been influencing American design for more than the 50 years since they migrated from Italy. Even before founding Vignelli Associates together, the couple was responsible for key design innovations, ranging from the aesthetic design of the New York City subway map to the presence of the popular typeface, Helvetica, which Massimo Vignelli said he credits himself to have introduced to America.
The film was an unexpected departure from the original request by the Vignellis that Guerra, who had previously worked with them, film their interview. What began as an interview became an idea for a made-for-television documentary, which then transformed into a feature-length documentary that has since been distributed in the United States, Canada and various other countries, and will soon be featured in the Milano Design Film Festival.
“It turned into something else,” Brew said. “They were too interesting to just stop at an interview.”
Aside from their warmth and generosity to all people, something striking about the Vignellis was their strict adherence to their philosophies, Brew said.
“They are incredibly inspiring people, who lived and breathed their design philosophy,” Brew said. “Everything about them has function but also aesthetics but refinement but also beauty and classiness. Their whole aura exudes their passion for design.”
In the film, which explores the relationship of Massimo and Lella Vignelli through conversation, Lella Vignelli is described as the practical partner and Massimo Vignelli the dreamer.
“Collaboration is a trust on the other person. People think there are two hands on one pencil,” Massimo Vignelli says in the film. “Most of the time I am the pencil and Lella (Vignelli) is the criticism. This is the luck that we have – we are absolutely complementary to each other.”
While observing the dynamic of the Vignellis, Brew found the parallels she drew between the Vignellis and herself and Guerra to be of particular interest.
“What also struck me as a collaborative couple, working on a film about a collaborative couple, was exploring the yin and yang dynamic between them that works,” Brew said. “Like Massimo said, some people think it’s two different hands on the same pencil, but it’s more a bringing together of different ideas from two complementary people.”
Independently, Brew generally focuses on social issues and contemporary art, and accredits Guerra, whose background included profiles and coverage in the worlds of design and fashion, to sparking her interest in design and its portrayal in film.
“Design is ubiquitous. Everything we are surrounded by is designed by someone,” Brew said.
Brew said she looks forward to holding a dynamic discussion with the audience after the screening.
“I hope they leave film and look at the world in a different way, and become more aware, think of what’s out there in the environment and who made it,” Brew said. “Hopefully it’ll open their eyes to things they didn’t notice before.”