Massimo Vignelli (1931-2014) was one of the seminal figures of graphic design in the second half of the twentieth century. A master of typography and graphic design. His ethos was ‘If you can design one thing, you can design everything’. The famous Italian designer allows us to glimpse at his understanding of the principles of good design in his famous book ‘The Vignelli Canon’, an essential book for even the seasoned Graphic Designer to reference from.
Within it it summarises the most important frameworks that help generate engaging and exciting graphic design solutions. ‘I have always said that there are three aspects in Design that are important to me: Semantic, Syntactic and Pragmatic.’ I always refer to the these three core principles on any project I undertake, it makes the process and results bespoke, it also helps generate its own creativity and individuality to any project.
Semantics: ‘is the search of the meaning of whatever we have to design.’
Starting from researching the history, the company, the product, the market, the competition, the subject, to better understand the nature of the project and its precise target.
‘Semantics, in design, means to understand the subject in all its aspects; to relate the subject to the sender and the receiver in such a way that it makes sense to both. It means to design something that has a meaning, that is not arbitrary, that has a reason for being, something in which every detail carries the meaning or has a precise purpose aimed at a precise target.’
Syntactics: ‘God is in the details.’
The essence of syntax is the proper construction of all the elements required within the project. Synatical consistency is the most important thing in helping designers create both structure and a good base for creativity.
‘In graphic design, for instance, they are the overall structure, the grid, the typefaces, the text and headlines, the illustrations, etc. The consistency of a design is provided by the appropriate relationship of the various syntactical elements of the project: how type relates to grids and images from page to page throughout the whole project. Or, how type sizes relate to each other. Or, how pictures relate to each other and how the parts relate to the whole.’
Pragmatics: ‘Whatever we do, if not understood, fails to communicate and is wasted effort.’
Pragmatics is the ability of the design to have clarity and be understood. As graphic design should always be be intellectually elegant, thought through, and most importantly relatable to the user.
‘We design things which we think are semantically correct and syntactically consistent but if, at the point of fruition, no one understands the result, or the meaning of all that effort, the entire work is useless.’