Need Help on Assignment

I’m just entering the 3rd and final year of my graduate course in Design, specializing in Visual Communication, and for our first assignment we’ve been asked to read the Vignelli Canon and make a 2 to 3 minute video about it, or our thoughts about it (but not like a documentary style summary of it or a book report).

Here’s the deal - I’m halfway through the book and I can’t help but feel a little? stifled? for lack of better word… He strikes me as very conservative in his ideas and the styles I personally tend to gravitate towards really feel like a different world (think Art Nouveau, collage, or spontaneous composition). So I’m really struggling to find a direction to go in without just coming off like a hater or someone with a superiority complex. Some of the sentences I come across I find myself disagreeing with at a fundamental level like “I do not like typography intended as an expression
of the self, as a pretext for pictorial exercises.”

I’d really appreciate any insights on the book and what parts of it really struck a chord with you. Thanks in advance! :seedling:

You need to try a different mindset.
Graphic Design is not about YOU.
It’s about your client’s message to THEIR audience.

So picture this guy as a client. You may not like what they sell, but you have to find a way to increase their bottom line (as well as yours.) You can’t come across as a hater. That is total antithesis to your roll as a graphic designer.

So picture you are trying to design a promo video for a conservative client to a conservative audience (like a bank to bank kind of thing maybe.)

I don’t want to point you in a direction. But maybe continue the discussion from your side coming from that angle.

this is such a great way of looking at it! thanks a bunch :grin:

definitely not a hater at all, I can totally understand what he’s trying to convey and the need for approaches like his. I guess I need to get out of my own way sometimes

It comes with experience. :slight_smile:
Most students of design discover with horror that the real world isn’t about their Art at all. Graphic Design is more like a commodity you sell - A creative product built for the client, not some soulful inner purpose. If you can embrace that, it’ll set you free of that first box you find yourself in when you have a project you really don’t love, but need bread on the table.


I think this exact discovery process is exactly what’s holding me back subconsciously, like now with this assignment. For the moment I’m trying to get my hands on as many opinions on graphic design as I can so I avoid an echo chamber of my own inexperienced ideas. I have a lot of work ahead and I’m just worried I’m not fast enough (I’m older than all my college peers because I switched career paths and that’s definitely not helping haha)
I know I’ll soon have to leave the relative anything goes space of academics and jump into the industry but I’m kind of scared I won’t like my job. It helps to hear things like what you’re saying though, reality is what it is and there’s no point building up false expectations!

Massimo Vignelli was an extraordinarily gifted designer who, during his peak, was at the forefront of the field. He helped push design forward in new directions that were different and arguably better than what had come before.

It’s a mistake to interpret his canon as a current document that reflects today’s state of design. There’s a great deal to be learned from Vignelli, but his opinions and ethos reflect a recent past that is still relevant but not entirely current.

In some ways, the work of Milton Glaser, Saul Bass, Paul Rand, and Herb Lubalin, among others, are similar to Vignelli in the sense that during their heydays, they were the best, the most innovative, the most influential, and the most successful designers. They influenced the work of tens of thousands of designers who came after them.

When viewed through the lens of today, these people’s work looks dated and conservative, but at the time, their work was enormously innovative and progressive.

Vignelli wrote his canon later in his life. It reflects his ethos and rather dogmatic approaches to design that, in today’s world, might seem a bit limiting or out of touch. Again, though, you need to look at his work through the lens of the 1960s and '70s when it represented the cutting edge of creating order out of the chaotic and stale approach to design that preceded it.

To get a better understanding of Vignelli, I strongly recommend listening to this interview of him by Debbie Milman. When I first listened to it a dozen years ago, my esteem for him rose enormously, even though I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says.

A follow-up…

It’s important to also remember that Vignelli and the others I mentioned represent a European/Western/American approach to design that might not resonate as well in other parts of the world with their own cultures and traditions.

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This helps a lot! Very true about the more Western focus and maybe that’s part of what kept me from really resonating with his ideas. Thanks for the link, I’ll check them out! :grin:

Never heard of him or the book.

I’ve never read a design book in my life.

Here you have thoughts - and you don’t like him - you’ve said it in your opening post.

Make a video about that.

This is literally what your assignment is about.

You don’t have to be overly critical - but you can give some examples of his quotes where overtime and modern eras his quotations and design thoughts have been broken by new modern thinking.

All you have to do is make a video on it.

I haven’t read it.
I wouldn’t read it.

I can’t think of anything more boring than reading a book on graphic design or any design book.

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Definitely a fresh perspective, thank you! At the very least, it’s comforting to see there can be room for the opinions of a novice at the student level like myself, even if it’s just the way I feel in the moment .

Having sat with this for some time since I made this topic, I’ve reached sort of a neutral feeling about the book, so I wouldn’t say I don’t like him. Character development? haha :seedling:

To each their own, but if you ever do want to check out books on design I personally really enjoyed ‘Stop Stealing Sheep and Figure Out How Type Works’ by Erik Spiekermann.

Good choice. That is one of those books you need to read. The more you can read about typography, then better. Spiekermann definitely knows what he is talking about. There are times when I don’t always agree with his approach (for 99% of the time, I do), but he definitely one who’s opinion you should read before accepting or rejecting it.

Stefan Sagmeister is a lot like that for me. If often don’t agree with his self-indulgent, almost art-like approach to design, but I think it is always good to read the opinions of people you don’t agree with, otherwise you only have your own opinions.

Gain knowledge, form opinions and then always try to tear them down by reading and speaking to people who think differently. It can only either make the foundation of your own stronger, or expose the cracks in them.

For me, (sorry Smurf, but I am going to have to disagree with you here), the more you can read, the better – and never stop reading, Thinking you’ve learned all you can learn is worse than knowing nothing at all. Where I do agree with Smurf, though, on this, is that it’’s OK not not agree with something, as long as you can offer an informed, measured counter-response.

Fotr what it’s worth, I love Vignelli’s more pragmatic, intellectually stripped-down approach to design. That way, you’ll more likely get closer to the essence of what design really is.

I once heard said, that to play a single middle C well, on a piano, you must first be able to play Rachmaninov’s 4th.

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Oh this sounds like something I’d like! See maybe my being an artist on the side also makes me less inclined to Vignelli’s kind of approach. I try hard to remember the important differences between art and design but outside of client work or school projects, both art and design still influence my psychology so this definitely sounds like someone I should check out! Thanks!

Well, I didn’t say I’ve stopped reading.
I just have never read a book about design.

Design is grid-ular - it’s visually hierarchizing information in an entertaining and clear way.

I don’t think there’s too many rules to it.

And most of the time you end up with Brand Guidelines anyway and then it’s more lke getting a lego set - here’s all the pieces and colours we use - what can you make out of it.

Artistic is far harder, and something I lack - and I don’t think that can be learned.

Design can be learned.

But I don’t care about other designers works - it’s just not interesting to me.

I prefer finding my own way.

As I said - it’s a lego set - see what you can build. Get creative.

In all of us there is a frustrated artist trying to get out. That’s what side-shizzles are for. To be a designer, you have to learn to tame the ego and be a conduit.

By all means have side projects – they feed the creative – but just know, that is not design.

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Sorry, I wasn’t implying such. Personally, I think it is good to read about other approaches, but each to their own. Not a judge, just a preference.

As it happens I never seem to find the time to read as much as I’d like to be able to.

Yeh I’m just not into as a subject - never was.
I like doing it. But reading about it - I’ve better things to do with time off.

oh I love this! gonna make a poster of this and look at it from time to time :frowning_with_open_mouth:

Most of the time when I buy a design book I parse through it looking at other people’s concepts of branding, positioning, their ideas. It can be pretty easy to get trapped in a box and most of the time I look at design for fun anyways.

Sometimes, I disagree with a client but my job isnt aways to make them happy. If their client is happy, then their ROI should make them happy.

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I don’t read about it either. For my purposes, there’s more value in observing design. It’s everywhere, afterall.

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