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 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!

  2. 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!)

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

    I would probably make magazine layouts

  4. 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.

  5. 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 …

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

    I would make a book about embroidery with the journal.

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

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

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

    Show my students

  9. 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!

  10. 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?

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

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

    Beautiful book! Would love my own copy!

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

    Thank you Andrew! :)

  15. 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!

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

    Massimo Vignelli is like the cheese grater of grid design.

  17. 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.

  18. 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!

  19. 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.

  20. 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?

  21. 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.

  22. 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?

  23. 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

  24. 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!

  25. 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.

  26. 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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