Massimo Vignelli, What Will You Make Today?

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[Allyson Van Houten] The grid. It’s the first thing they teach you about in school; a building block of design education. It’s what many designers start with when they begin making a layout.  Few designers feature the use of the grid as much as Massimo Vignelli. For Mohawk’s “What Will You Make Today” campaign, we asked Massimo to share with us what he makes using the grid. The result? Follow us to find out.

Michael Bierut and his team at Pentagram worked on the concept of the video and created a corresponding journal featuring the grid. Michael was willing, and we were excited, to talk to him about creating these two pieces.

The spine is white foil stamped with the phrase, “What will you make today?”

The spine is white foil stamped with the phrase, “What will you make today?”

[Allyson] What were the steps involved in making the video? Storyboarding, sketching, animating?
[Michael Bierut]  Because I worked with Massimo for 10 years, I was very familiar with his unique way of designing books, which involves sitting with the all the ingredients — text and images — and drawing each page with a pencil, including all the photographs, using a grid as a layout guide. It is such a clear, step-by-step process that I thought it would be interesting to document in the form of a short film that would show each successive step as the sketches are transformed into a finished book.

Was Massimo given a specific question about design, or did he begin speaking about his design experience naturally?
We asked Hillary Frank, a writer and editor with a lot of experience in radio, to conduct a fairly unstructured interview that she then organized into a narrative that we built the animation around.

Did you handle the actual animation?
Yes, Aron Fay at Pentagram did the animation, with me and a lot of other enthusiastic people pitching in comments and advice.

What were your thoughts behind selecting the music? Did you have to go through a lot of different melodies before you settled on the one featured?
The music is one of J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations. I suggested Bach because his music is both logical and magical, which I think relates to the way Massimo designs. Also, the Goldbergs are each a variation on a common theme, much the way each spread in a book is an expression of a common design structure.

Vignelli’s grid-based design is interwoven throughout the handsome 7” x 7” journal, which features a selection of fine Mohawk papers.  Developed by Pentagram, New York, NY; the journal was printed by Universal Wilde, Boston, MA; and finishing/bindery was completed by The Riverside Group, Rochester, NY.

Vignelli’s grid-based design is interwoven throughout the handsome 7” x 7” journal, which features a selection of fine Mohawk papers. The journal was printed by Universal Wilde, Boston, MA; and finishing/bindery was completed by The Riverside Group, Rochester, NY.

Why did you choose to document the Richard Meier book?
Massimo has been collaborating with Richard Meier on his books for years. It’s one of his favorite projects, and a perfect expression of his working methods.

You also designed the journal that accompanies the video. Did you work with Massimo on creating that?
Massimo knew we were working on it but we did it independently.

The introductory page f is enabled with augmented reality technology to connect readers with the animated video via Mohawk Live, a new, free mobile app, designed to enhance materials printed on Mohawk paper.

The introductory page is enabled with augmented reality technology to connect readers with the animated video via Mohawk Live, a new, free mobile app, designed to enhance materials printed on Mohawk paper.

Did Massimo offer any feedback about working with Mohawk Superfine for designs?
When Massimo heard the project was for Mohawk he was enthusiastic, because I know he loves Mohawk Superfine.

How many iterations of the grid did you go through when designing the journal?
Just one: the grid that Massimo uses in the Meier book.

“The grid is an integral part of book design. It’s not something that you see. It’s just like underwear: you wear it, but it’s not to be exposed. The grid is the underwear of the book.” – Massimo Vignelli

How do you envision other designers using the notebook?
Any way they want. That’s the great thing about a grid: it can be the framework of so many things.

How do you plan on using your journal?
I’m embarrassed to say I’m going to leave mine completely blank. I think it looks great that way.

What’s your favorite Mohawk grade and why?
Mohawk Superfine, Soft White, Eggshell Finish!

What would you make with a Massimo journal? We’ll mail a free copy of the journal to the first 50 readers that share in the comments! Or, order a copy or two (or three!) here.

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Comments (76)

  1. Posted by Josh B on 04.29.13 at 10:14 am

    It’s a shame to hear Massimo’s hand-drawn method described as “unique.” More young designers should learn to work that way. It should be the norm, not the exception.

    Love the debossed cover!

  2. Posted by Valerie on 04.29.13 at 10:22 am

    I would love to see more of the inside of the book! Please mail me a copy.

  3. Posted by Bhadri on 04.29.13 at 10:24 am

    Cool idea. What would I do with one of the journals? Good question. I’ve never used much of a grid system, so it would be interesting to experiment.

  4. Posted by Mathias on 04.29.13 at 10:25 am

    That would be great for my daily sketching!

  5. Posted by Matt on 04.29.13 at 10:27 am

    I’d kind of love to use this for laying out comics.
    Also I suppose books.

  6. Posted by Ross on 04.29.13 at 10:31 am

    Every few months I’m tempted to skip detailed sketches, thinking it’s worked out in my head. It’s a nice reminder to take the necessarily time, especially if there isn’t time.

  7. Posted by John L on 04.29.13 at 10:32 am

    A great analogy of the grid to underwear. I’ve always heard it referred—in architectural terms—as the foundation of the page, but underwear puts an entirely new spin on the term. Great job, Massimo, Michael, Pentagram and Mohawk.

  8. Posted by Daniel A on 04.29.13 at 10:37 am

    This look great for wireframes or storyboard sketches.

  9. Posted by nikink on 04.29.13 at 10:39 am

    well, handling that book I will be always happy, just by drawing layouts in my mind while browsing pages; I shared this post on my agency account https://twitter.com/GioMinola/status/328880965327925248

  10. Posted by Levi McGranahan on 04.29.13 at 10:46 am

    I watched the video Friday, smiling the whole time. Such a great project, Thank you!

  11. Posted by Matthew Olin on 04.29.13 at 10:49 am

    This is beautiful. Just shared via Twitter

  12. Posted by John M on 04.29.13 at 10:53 am

    Beautiful! I’d love to see an archive of all of Massimo’s hand-drawn books!! I would use this as my daily note/sketchbook. Would love to see how the gird influences my project notes and sketches. I’m sure it would be my most organized and beautiful notebook ever!

  13. Posted by Todd Burton on 04.29.13 at 10:56 am

    I’m finally digging into grids and trying to go as deep with them as I can. The further you go, the more you learn about playing with them, breaking them, etc. Sketching is always a strong part of that.

  14. Posted by Bryan Farevaag on 04.29.13 at 11:04 am

    I plan on using this journal for my one a day type sketchs. Thirty minutes between coffee and cereal in the morning.

  15. Posted by James Dawe on 04.29.13 at 11:11 am

    Going to use mine to start storyboarding my film

  16. Posted by Alice on 04.29.13 at 11:21 am

    Its a nice idea, I would love to have a mini version to sketch books.

  17. Posted by Jordan on 04.29.13 at 11:26 am

    I wish I had this while I was in school. Such a valuable tool.

  18. Posted by Emma on 04.29.13 at 11:27 am

    Love the idea—grids are key. I’d use the sketchbook for designing preliminary layout concepts for magazine pages (as well as the odd storyboard here & there!).

  19. Posted by Jessica Wei on 04.29.13 at 11:28 am

    Such a gorgeous book. I would sketch thumbnails for handlettered type layouts or even practice drawing the characters themselves.

  20. Posted by Michael on 04.29.13 at 11:37 am

    I would collaborate with my 4.5 year old son, introducing him to grid systems, and let him populate the pages.

  21. Posted by David G on 04.29.13 at 11:40 am

    Fantastic. Excellent tool for internalizing the importance of the grid (so memorably articulated by Massimo). Fabulous for spitballing editorial layouts or poster design — and would probably make an inspiring foil for manga storyboards or film storyboarding.

  22. Posted by Heather B on 04.29.13 at 11:41 am

    I’ll teach myself the grid, since no one in art school really went over it. Would love a copy, thanks!

  23. Posted by tbergt on 04.29.13 at 11:44 am

    Beautiful, just absolutely stunning

  24. Posted by Hannah on 04.29.13 at 11:48 am

    A great tool that I wish I had been introduced to earlier in my education, I will use this notebook for my last year of design school.

  25. Posted by Lisa S on 04.29.13 at 11:49 am

    What an inspiring article! As a design student, I would use this journal to brainstorm ideas for storyboards and book layouts, as well as everyday sketching.

  26. Posted by Kyle Letendre on 04.29.13 at 11:58 am

    This is so gorgeous. I would use the hell out of these for website design at work, and for planning posters/print ephemera! Yay!

  27. Posted by martin fahy on 04.29.13 at 12:10 pm

    I love this journal … Its perfect timing too, as I’m beginning to design and layout a book about making picture books & aslo assisting with a group of teen writers ,who are writing & illustrating their own books and we just covered layout and storyboards !

  28. Posted by Sarah on 04.29.13 at 12:11 pm

    How lovely! What would I do with one of the journals? I would use it to play with the organization of objects and color- using each gridded page to capture and catalogue an entire day- either in segmented bits or in it’s entirety!

  29. Posted by Steve L on 04.29.13 at 12:15 pm

    I love that Massimo starts everything with a pencil and paper—that’s the way it should be. This notebook is the perfect avenue for young designers to start drawing things out first before going to the computer. The computer is a great design tool when used appropriately. Forcing yourself to draw it out helps in the creative process.

    I want to use this notebook to be more like Massimo (draw, draw, draw!)

  30. Posted by Michelle Hebert on 04.29.13 at 12:21 pm

    This is incredible, I love the pencil and paper aspect! Great for starting designers. It allows designers to get into a routine and force a habit of sketching. Wonderfully designed. I am very inspired by Michael and Massimo. I love Mohawk!

  31. Posted by Ryan on 04.29.13 at 12:21 pm

    I would use the notebook to help plan out my wood transfer prints.

    I could also see it coming in handing when sketching layout wireframes.

  32. Posted by Katie on 04.29.13 at 12:36 pm

    Looks like a fun way to pre-fab an awesome kid’s book – kind of in the style of Keri Smith’s ‘How To Be An Explorer of The World.’

    And for some funny reason, I immediately think I would use it for web layout sketching, too… it’s so layout friendly! Looks like Ryan and I are thinking alike today. :)

  33. Posted by Erin K on 04.29.13 at 12:39 pm

    “I like design to be semantically correct, syntactically consistent, and pragmatically understandable. I like it to be visually powerful, intellectually elegant, and above all timeless.” Are words by Massimo Vignelli that are hanging on my wall and that I live by when ever I’m designing. No better way to follow these words than with a grid. I would love a copy of this book!

  34. Posted by Rachel on 04.29.13 at 12:49 pm

    I would use it for thumbnail sketches!

  35. Posted by shainley on 04.29.13 at 1:07 pm

    I would use the journal for sketching layouts, but I think it would be fun to create little scenes in each square when I need a bit of a creative outlet.

  36. Posted by Vincent I on 04.29.13 at 1:18 pm

    Such a great idea, using a grid is essential!

  37. Posted by Michael on 04.29.13 at 1:18 pm

    why, a book of course

  38. Posted by Rachel Mercer on 04.29.13 at 1:21 pm

    I use storyboarding every day for my UX wireframes! This is awesome-o.

  39. Posted by Oscar on 04.29.13 at 1:22 pm

    Great for thumbnail sketches and for layout ideas. You could even create some really cool geometric designs using the grid squares.

  40. Posted by michael on 04.29.13 at 1:22 pm

    Yes this is the embodiment of everything I believe in

  41. Posted by janel on 04.29.13 at 1:23 pm

    perfect. exactly what i need!

  42. Posted by Anthony Dines on 04.29.13 at 1:24 pm

    As a digital product designer, this looks like an essential book!!

  43. Posted by Jonathan Ng on 04.29.13 at 1:33 pm

    As a traditional print designer this book is an essential tool!

  44. Posted by Christina on 04.29.13 at 1:36 pm

    Simple and Beautiful. Exactly what I’ve been looking for.

  45. Posted by Sandra Ling on 04.29.13 at 1:38 pm

    Nice! I will love to use this for personal projects. Move away from everything digital and get back into sketching. Love it!

  46. Posted by Jason N on 04.29.13 at 1:39 pm

    This is fantastic- I plan on using this for UX design.

  47. Posted by Taohou on 04.29.13 at 2:06 pm

    I love this! Would love to use this as sketching out ideas & layout ideas

  48. Posted by Naim Sheriff on 04.29.13 at 2:23 pm

    Nice. It’s the perfect storyboard sketchbook. I’ll write and animate a story with this at hand!!

  49. Posted by kmaranaomi on 04.29.13 at 2:50 pm

    Need//Want it. Also agree with MB, I would leave mine blank.

  50. Posted by Susan Michelle on 04.29.13 at 2:51 pm

    Wonderful! It’s perfect for attacking with a million thumbnail concepts – I’m all about it!

  51. Posted by Mireille M on 04.29.13 at 3:15 pm

    This is a great idea! I’d love a copy to use for magazine layout or daily sketching!

  52. Posted by Steve L on 04.29.13 at 3:29 pm

    I love that Massimo starts everything with a pencil and paper—that’s the way it should be. This notebook is the perfect avenue for young designers to start drawing things out first before going to the computer. The computer is a great design tool when used appropriately. Forcing yourself to draw it out helps in the creative process.

    I want to use this notebook to be more like Massimo (draw, draw, draw!)

  53. Posted by Omar on 04.29.13 at 3:46 pm

    I would probably make magazine layouts

  54. Posted by Erin T on 04.29.13 at 4:55 pm

    I’m a sketch book collector. I could see making beautiful patterns in this book.

  55. Posted by Marit on 04.29.13 at 5:05 pm

    I would get my 2 year old daughter to do something with the grid till the pages run out …

  56. Posted by joan on 04.29.13 at 6:10 pm

    I would make a book about embroidery with the journal.

  57. Posted by adolf witzeling on 04.30.13 at 2:55 am

    I would use it to…(thumb)nail my next project…

  58. Posted by Dave Merrilees-Kelly on 04.30.13 at 4:08 am

    Show my students

  59. Posted by peg nocciolino on 04.30.13 at 10:44 am

    Been a fan of Massimo Vignelli for years. I would use it as a teaching tool and display it on a pedastal!

  60. Posted by Andrew Schneider on 05.1.13 at 7:20 am

    shared on twitter and really want a copy! How do i know if i was within the first 50?

  61. Posted by Allyson Van Houten on 05.1.13 at 9:56 am

    Thank you all for the great comments! We can’t wait to see your plans for your journals in action. We’ll be sending a journal to EVERY reader who leaves a comment through the end of today!

  62. Posted by Andrew Schneider on 05.1.13 at 10:15 am

    That is great news! I love Vignelli and Mohawk a whole ton. BTW Allyson, I saw your brief talk on Mohawk Paper at AIGA’s Portfolio Building Workshop that took place in Albany and I enjoyed it (and all the free swag) thoroughly.

  63. Posted by Logan on 05.1.13 at 10:22 am

    Beautiful book! Would love my own copy!

  64. Posted by Allyson Van Houten on 05.1.13 at 10:56 am

    Thank you Andrew! :)

  65. Posted by Erica Mimken on 05.1.13 at 4:11 pm

    This is a great idea! Massimo Vignelli is the man! I would use this journal for some layout sketches. It is such a nice book and I would love to have one of my own!

  66. Posted by Pesky Illustrator on 05.1.13 at 10:55 pm

    Massimo Vignelli is like the cheese grater of grid design.

  67. Posted by Andrew Schneider on 05.5.13 at 6:43 pm

    How will I know if I’m going to receive a journal? Im way too excited about it for my own good.

  68. Posted by Allyson Van Houten on 05.6.13 at 10:58 am

    Hi Andrew! We’ll be in touch with everyone for their mailing addresses. We’ll get them out in the mail later this week!

  69. Posted by Nancy Wu on 05.8.13 at 11:05 am

    Looks great! Love it and the idea. Sorry I missed the first 50 cut off tho.

  70. Posted by grrrrr on 05.15.13 at 12:06 am

    hmm, where is the person who translates it all into digital form? no mention of that person….massimo can’t work that way without help. would it be too much to actually describe how he really works?

  71. Posted by Josh B on 05.16.13 at 6:18 pm

    Wondering if the first 50 commenters are still going to receive a copy. I haven’t heard anything.

  72. Posted by Allyson Van Houten on 05.17.13 at 7:54 am

    Hi Josh! We sent a couple emails out to all commenters looking for mailing addresses. Should we try a different email to get in touch with you?

  73. Posted by Michael on 05.17.13 at 9:56 am

    Hi Allyson. If I qualified “Posted by Michael on 04.29.13 at 11:37 am”, I never received a follow-up as well. I believe my email address was entered correctly – I’ve been subscribed to this comment thread, and have been getting new comment updates. Have a great weekend

  74. Posted by Josh B on 05.17.13 at 11:54 am

    Thanks Allyson. Might have been caught by my spam filter. Bummer. I’ve left this comment with a different email address associated with it, so hopefully that works. And I’ll go sift thru my spam in the meantime. Thanks!

  75. Posted by Laily Mumtazi-Sims on 05.30.13 at 3:04 am

    I carry a sketch book on my commute to work on the train. I would love to use this and doodle on it during my commute. I am a big fan of Mr. Vignelli so maybe I might keep it… I might be too late for the first 50 copies, but anyways I tried.

  76. Posted by skulmine.co.za on 08.12.13 at 1:24 pm

    HiI are unable to advocate something similar to that! I’ve previously said the optimum dosage you must take, which will be 3000mg.Thanks

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