Modernist graphic designer, Massimo Vignelli, has recently published, free and in portable document format (PDF) The Vignelli Canon. Today when designers self-publish books they tend towards portfolios with high production values. More form than content more often than not. The Vignelli Canon goes against the grain in this respect. It is a considered and concise review of the philosophy of the Vignelli studio.
Vignelli offers the studious graphic designer a clear methodological approach to work, guiding him step-by-step through semantics, syntactics, discipline, intellectual elegance and responsibility, to name a few sections. In time honoured fashion for designers of his generation, he also reminds us of the basics from paper sizes to grids and margins, typefaces to type sizes and colour to white space.
For me the section on responsibility leapt from the page. In such a short piece Vignelli reminds us that the ethical responsibilities of the graphic designer can be summed up in three parts, 'As designers, we have three levels of responsibility: One – to ourselves, the integrity of the project and all its components. Two – to the Client, to solve the problem in a way that is economically sound and efficient. Three – to the public at large, the consumer, the user of the final design.'
Vignelli, perhaps without knowing, deals the 'ethical designer' a sharp blow and shows that clarity of purpose and communication is fundamental in understanding the role of the graphic designer. It shows that we have, through the debate around ethical design, lost our way. Vignelli has shown the way home by publishing The Vignelli Canon.