This Canon Explodes…With Ideas!

Massimo Vignelli is a man of much knowledge and opinion about the world of graphic design. In his short booklet, “The Vignelli Canon”, he outlines several key principles to this area of study that are relevant to ds106, but also creating anything of visual merit. After reading this work, I realized that I agree with all of Vignelli’s points about the importance of certain graphic principles, except for one. Perhaps, it is the current time period and access to new technology that leads me to disagree with him, as most work is done on the computer nowadays.

There is obviously true value in Vignelli’s booklet. He begins by laying out what he believes are the three most important aspects of design, and I could not agree more. The first, semantics, focuses on the meaning of a work. He constitutes that design without semantics is shallow. It is easy to agree with his proposal that in the contemporary world, it is hard to find true forms of vernacular communication. This is because vulgarity is gaining popularity and is polluting and degrading our environment. The second, syntactics, revolves around all of the visual aspects of design including structure, grid, typefaces, text, illustrations, and more. Syntax is valued based on its continuity. The final aspect, pragmatics, is based on understanding. A work is wasted effort and useless if it does not achieve clarity that results in the conveyance of meaning.

In addition to Vignelli’s three crucial areas of design, an overwhelming theme of this booklet is that “design is one”. This concept may be hard to digest at the surface, but Vignelli develops it by describing the syntactical elements of design and the importance of their ability to all work together in unity. The key behind achieving this is realizing that every detail is crucial because the result is the sum of all of these details. It seems simple enough, as most are familiar with the idea that the whole is the sums of its parts. Vignelli stresses several elements that add to the overall impact of design. Paper size, scale, grid, texture, color, white space, and several more must be carefully considered when creating a work, as, if they are used correctly, they can achieve powerful expression, relay a message, prevent meaningless placement of objects, symbolize, and identify mood.

I agree with all of Vignell’s points mentioned thus far, because they are still relevant today. Although he did most of his graphic design on paper, these principles greatly apply to computer-generated graphics, as well. The one concept that Vignelli discredits is typeface. Here lies a bone of contention, in my opinion. He believes that the abundant amount of typefaces, being invented by so many different sources, is nothing but visual pollution. According to him, there are only a few that are of value. Maybe it is the gigantic presence of technology in today’s world, but I see value in all typefaces. I have certainly used a wide variety of them over the years and feel they greatly enhance graphic design.

One of Vignelli’s main points of the booklet is that only one person is responsible for every detail of a work. That person is the designer. He loves that part of design, and I wholeheartedly agree.

One thought on “This Canon Explodes…With Ideas!”

  1. I love your close reading of Vignelli and detailed write-up, this is excellent. I think the idea of design as a unity might be another thing under attack in the digital age. One thing about the digital is in isn;t linear and unified in the same way, think about the very idea of the internet/web. It is de-centered and fractured, and I wonder if that introduces a new element into 21st century design. A sense of disjunction and struggle with meaning.

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