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Massimo Vignelli is considered by many to be the most important graphic designer of the 20th century and undoubtedly one of the most significant designers in contemporary history. The creator of the wayfinding system for the New York metro, as well as brand identities including Knoll, Poltrona Frau, American Airlines, Benetton, Bloomingdales, Ford and IBM, Massimo also contributed to a crucial period of Ducati Motor Holding history.
In 1996 something special happened, as Ducati became conscious of itself and its international value. A change in management, the launch of milestone models like the 916 and the Monster, and success in the Superbike championship all led to a new awareness, and new international visibility. To complete this evolution, a change of pace was needed, also in terms of branding. The need to define and cultivate brand values and construct a clear brand statement led Ducati to contact Massimo Vignelli, to create what was then known as a “Visual Identification Programme”.
Turning style into a code.
The fact that the visual identity product was defined as a “programme” and not a “manual” speaks volumes. This brand definition activity marked a beginning for Ducati, not an end. There was a real desire to embark on a path of growth and international positioning and, for the first time, the company realised that “The strength of impact of our identity is directly proportional to the coherence of visual communication we will develop.”
Making a statement.
This is how the 1996 Ducati brand was born, a comprehensive company image that was both modern and timeless, and firmly rooted in the Italian tradition. The new logo, developed in collaboration with the Ducati Graphics Office, made its debut on all models built in 1998. The logo, inspired by gems such as the 1970 450 Desmo, recalled the modern characters that had appeared on the 750 Sport, the star of the historic Imola win in 1972. The brand, a meaningful dynamic “D”, was taken directly from the classic Ducati eagle that was found on the much-loved Diana, Daytona and Mach from the Sixties.
Fuel the evolution.
Evolution has been ongoing in Ducati. And yet part of the image revolution designed by Massimo still lives on today. In a practical sense, in the logotype, but also in the meticulous attention Ducati pays to its style identity, as if it were its most precious asset.
If you do it right, it will last forever.
As of the Sixties, Massimo Vignelli was a key figure behind the modernisation of international graphics, particularly with the spread of the modernist methodology at the hands of Unimark International. In 1972, two years after having worked on the corporate image of the entire New York transport system together with his colleague and partner Bob Noorda, Vignelli created the famous New York metro map, an abstract diagram of the metro network where each line is identified by a different colour and each stop is represented by a spot. The map is considered by many to be Vignelli’s opus magnum and is part of collections at various museums, including the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.
A design that never sleeps.
The map is particularly admired by designers, who appreciate the extreme formal purity and clear information, the result of abstract space and the brilliant use of geometry. But the entire aesthetic of the map still influences the collective imagination today. And it’s impossible to cross New York without realising the impact the metro’s graphic system has had on the appearance of the entire city. The 1970 map is no longer in use but, like any true design project, Vignelli’s signature has left its mark on New York.
Photo by courtesy of Vignelli Center for Design Studies, Vignelli personal photo collection
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