Massimo Vignelli is one of the most famous designers of all time. In this episode Don and his wife Rachele talk about their personal experience with Massimo.
Don Mock 0:20
Right episode 20. We’ve hit 20, which is exciting. And we have a special guest, which is even more exciting, someone who stopped by to go out to lunch together. And we said, hey, why don’t you jump on the podcast and we’ll tell some fun graphic design stories. My wife Rachel is here in lieu of Rob. Hello, Rachel.
Rachele Mock 0:37
Hello. I have to work for my lunch, I guess.
Don Mock 0:41
Yes. Yes. So yeah, podcast before lunch. Right. So Rachel, we actually for those that don’t know, we actually met in design school. And you are a trained designer, and I am a trained designer, and we’ve been married, how many years now?
Rachele Mock 0:55
This August. It’ll be 24 years.
Don Mock 0:59
24 years. Very exciting. Very exciting for me, almost 25. That’s exciting too. So we both obviously, met at design school and it’s a long, boring story. Nobody needs to hear but we’re together. We’re not together, we’re back together all sorts of good stuff. Right?
Rachele Mock 1:12
In design school.
Don Mock 1:13
Yeah. In design school, right? And then, you know, we both get out and do our various different careers, you know, and starting at different places and doing different things. Right? And but we both do have the love the mutual love of our initial foundation of graphic design and that sort of professional development, right? And in a previous podcast, we talked about timeless design. Right?
Rachele Mock 1:40
Don Mock 1:40
And one of the designers I had mentioned was Massimo Vignelli, right, who’s I’ve heard of him. Yeah, he was a great, famous designer. And you have a tremendous amount of experience with Massimo so I thought it might be fun to sort of share some anecdotes or some stories or some things along the lines of Massimo has studios and whatnot. So how do we want to? How do we want to broach this subject and sort of bring it up and whatnot?
Rachele Mock 2:02
Well, I mean, I think something that’s really interesting to me, historically, is that growing up as a child of the 80s, outside of New York City, his work was everywhere.
Don Mock 2:15
Rachele Mock 2:15
And I had, I didn’t even know what graphic design was.
Don Mock 2:19
So we had referent we have referenced the New York City transit system on a few apps.
Rachele Mock 2:23
Sure. That’s one to start, but I mean, Bloomingdale’s, St. Mark’s Church, all of these things that he had his mark on. And when he was at Unum Mark, he did the Xerox logo.
Don Mock 2:37
Rachele Mock 2:38
My dad worked for Xerox for most of my life. And something I really remember as a really little kid, like three or four, I’d get on an airplane with my dad. And he’d point to the American Airlines logo, which was the AA. And he used to tell me that that was my airplane. Rachel, there’s your airplane.
Don Mock 2:57
There’s your airplane.
Rachele Mock 2:59
As an adult, or maybe as a college kid, I finally asked him. I said, “dad, why did you use to say, American Airlines was my airline?” He said, “I was teaching you your letter and the second letter in your name is an A.” So Massimo had some sort of, you know, presence in my life before I even met him.
Don Mock 3:18
Well, I’d say that he’s had a presence in a vast majority of people worldwide, without knowing who he is in terms of like, interacting with the brands that he’s worked on and how he shape those brands.
Rachele Mock 3:29
Oh, absolutely. I mean, one the thing about Massimo Vignelli is, one of his theories was if you can’t find it, design it. So he did not just do graphic design, it’s not just print. He and his wife, Lella, Vignelli designed all kinds of things. Dishware for Knoll pottery for Caci, Murano glassware, those kinds of things.
Don Mock 3:55
He did furniture as well.
Rachele Mock 3:58
We got our hands on some of his chairs recently.
Don Mock 4:00
Yeah. Their Super cool.
Rachele Mock 4:02
So yeah, he’s just, um, what’s it called? When something’s everywhere?
Don Mock 4:08
Rachele Mock 4:09
He’s ubiquitous. His work is ubiquitous.
Don Mock 4:13
Is it safe to say that you think that Massimo is probably your favorite designer? Or do you think he is one of your fundamental like Mount Rushmore of designers? Where is he at for you?
Rachele Mock 4:23
Gosh. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I love Paul Rand.
Don Mock 4:29
Well, I want to get to the good part of the story. So I want to hear about your story, because we actually got to meet him and I’m kind of jumping ahead in time. But we always joked that if someone had told me in design school that I would be making pancakes in my kitchen for Massimo Vignelli and our six year old daughter, I would have passed out or I would have punched myself in the face. That’s absolutely not a correct thing. How on earth did that happen? So talk us through like sort of how you got in touch with him and how the whole thing started.
Rachele Mock 5:00
Right. So after working, continued on to graduate school and got an MFA at SCAD, Atlanta. And one of the first field trips we went on, I was 30 years old on that field trip, was to see Massimo speaking at the Woodruff Arts Center.
Don Mock 5:17
Okay. I think I went to that.
Rachele Mock 5:20
No, you don’t get to go to that one, but you went to one later on.
Don Mock 5:24
Rachele Mock 5:25
And I think because you had to take care of our daughter at the time.
Don Mock 5:28
There you go.
Rachele Mock 5:29
So, it was great. I remember having to leave and I gave somebody the book that I had bought, and had them have him sign it.
Don Mock 5:38
Rachele Mock 5:38
And even though I’d taken history of graphic design, and everything, it totally opened me up or reminded me of everything he had done. Because his book, Design is One, basically is his lecture. You know, page after page is basically what he shows you and he’ll tell you anecdotes.
Don Mock 5:54
Rachele Mock 5:54
His wife, Lella at the time was in the audience. So, that was really cool.
Don Mock 6:01
Let me interrupt even though I keep asking you to fast forward to the good part. It’s definitely something different from I read your book, or I read this design book, or I flip through this whatever. Than having the actual talent, the individual narrate you through the story and fill in the gaps and color in the margins.
Rachele Mock 6:19
Don Mock 6:20
And it is like, Whoa, it is super remarkable.
Rachele Mock 6:23
Yeah. And one of my favorite things about graphic design, it probably comes from grad school is I love to hear about somebody’s process.
Don Mock 6:30
Rachele Mock 6:31
I could do that till the cows come home.
Don Mock 6:32
Sure process is always a fun part. And the, I don’t know what I’m trying to say here, but the color commentary on your own work. There’s something it’d be like, hey, here’s the logo, here’s the whatever, but the journey to get there and the anecdotes along the way is always the fun part.
Rachele Mock 6:47
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
Don Mock 6:48
All right. So time back in.
Rachele Mock 6:49
So he’s he spoke I was motivated, but I was excited. Opened my mind reminded me that I love Swiss design. I love minimalism.
Don Mock 7:00
Rachele Mock 7:00
I was not working in a minimalist field at the time. So yeah, you know, his ideas cleaned up my work a little bit. So cut to I finish grad school. We may have seen him together, speak somewhere. Finish grad school and I think it’s my first year teaching graphic design. And somebody mentioned to me that Vignelli has started doing these charettes. If you don’t know what a charrette is, it’s basically like, you don’t sleep for a week you work on one project. And the word comes from architecture they used to do these charettes.
Don Mock 7:42
Why is it that you don’t sleep?
Rachele Mock 7:43
You just don’t. You have so much work to do.
Don Mock 7:45
Rachele Mock 7:45
And you’re so excited. So excited.
Don Mock 7:48
But it’s a week long like workshop dare I say, right? Where you’re just jamming on this one thing.
Rachele Mock 7:52
It’s a workshop. Yeah, charrette is is definitely a fancy word for workshop.
Don Mock 7:56
No that’s fine. Okay. So he’s rocking a charrette.
Rachele Mock 7:58
He’s doing this workshop up at RIT and Rochester Institute of Technology. I think I clear it with you. I mean, I was insanely pregnant with our son.
Don Mock 8:08
Rachele Mock 8:11
I was still okay to fly, but I think he was born a month or two later. So I get up there. And at the time, when you’re teaching, when you come from graphic design, grad school, and then you’re teaching graphic design, you are just inhaling and you need to do all kinds of professional development. So this is going to crush my professional development for for the college, blah, blah, blah. So I get up there, they have a beautiful first night dinner. They asked us to all go around. I want to say there were like 14 or 15 students from all different walks of life.
Don Mock 8:47
Rachele Mock 8:47
Some people had just graduated college, some people were like renowned professionals. And we were all going to work on these projects to gather. This one project, but on our own together with Massimo. So the first night, they get up and they ask us to just tell the room something that no one else would know about you. And I think they thought I was gonna say, well, obviously I’m pregnant.
Don Mock 8:47
Rachele Mock 8:48
And I, you know, I told a different story. And it was that we were going through dementia with your grandmother at the time.
Don Mock 9:01
Okay. Wow. We’re getting personal.
Rachele Mock 9:05
Sorry. Yeah, edit this out.
Don Mock 9:10
No it’s fine I don’t care.
Rachele Mock 9:19
And Massimo looked at me. And he was going through exactly the same thing with his wife.
Don Mock 9:37
Rachele Mock 9:37
And so that kind of bonded us. He and I worked together that week with all the other students. The project was the new brand identity for the Eastman Museum, which is very famous. It’s basically all the archives of George Eastman. Who is the founder of Kodak, all of his stuff and the museum is amazing. It’s his old mansion.
Don Mock 10:06
Rachele Mock 10:06
It’s very well known in Rochester. There’s an Eastman School of Music through the University of Rochester. It’s a great place. So, we’re working on this all week. I mean, and I joke that there wasn’t sleep, but there really wasn’t sleep. I remember going back to my hotel room, and being like, you have to sleep you’re pregnant.
Don Mock 10:29
Rachele Mock 10:30
So I would go back and get up early in the morning, drink some more coffee and work and you know, you you’d show him your work. He’d give you ideas, he tell you what direction to go in. It was just one on one and it was Intense and it was awesome.
Don Mock 10:45
Intense, but amazing.
Rachele Mock 10:46
Don Mock 10:47
Any funny little quips, or any phrasing, or any things that he used that you remember that he would say, or feedback about your specific approach to the project?
Rachele Mock 10:57
He used this word about my project…
Don Mock 10:59
Well okay. What’s about to happen right now? That twinkle in your eye.
Rachele Mock 11:03
I never heard somebody call a graphic a piece of graphic design this. And now I just want to say it a million times over. But he said that my execution was so civilized.
Don Mock 11:14
Rachele Mock 11:16
Civilized. And I just…
Don Mock 11:19
I’ll take that as a positive, right?
Rachele Mock 11:21
Yeah. Yeah. So he got up after I presented it. And that’s was his feedback. “It’s civilized. It makes a lot of sense. It’s budget friendly, etcetera.” And he, I don’t know, you can cut this, but he saw a group of the students at the airport after. And they said, “come on, tell us tell us who had the best project.” And he said it was mine.
Don Mock 11:49
That it was yours.
Rachele Mock 11:49
Don Mock 11:50
Rachele Mock 11:50
I mean, that is…
Don Mock 11:51
Rachele Mock 11:52
That’s all I’ll ever need. Check that box.
Don Mock 11:54
Are you gonna be able to get out the door? Because your head is inflated.
Rachele Mock 11:58
My head is humongous.
Don Mock 11:59
Okay. All right.
Rachele Mock 12:00
Listen, I take care of three kids.
Don Mock 12:02
Hey, man. That is…
Rachele Mock 12:02
I drive a lot of carpool.
Don Mock 12:04
Well, I will say you had a great benefit of being a professional and having a professional approach right?
Rachele Mock 12:12
Yes and I was not right out of school. I can turn and burn when I need to. Yeah, lots of benefits.
Don Mock 12:18
Yeah. And we’ve talked on previous podcasts about the transition from school into the working world. Yeah, challenges and creativity is not a light sweatshop probably said that 10 times on 20 podcasts, but it’s true.
Rachele Mock 12:29
Why can’t we teach a sense of urgency? I could never teach that.
Don Mock 12:34
That’s a different podcast. I guess is what do we want students to learn right? Yeah. So you did the week long workshop. You crushed it.
Rachele Mock 12:41
We made friends. Yeah, kept in touch. I made friends with the people in the group. I made friends with Massimo. Oh, one wild thing was George Lois.
Don Mock 12:44
I was about to ask.
Rachele Mock 12:46
Yeah, so for two days because, um…
Don Mock 12:53
Tell everybody who George Lois is for those that don’t know.
Rachele Mock 12:57
George Lois is like one kings of advertising.
Don Mock 13:00
Rachele Mock 13:01
He did the Esquire covers for years. Remind me some of his work.
Don Mock 13:06
The most famous one will probably be the Muhammad Ali in the boxing gear where he’s all shot full of arrows reminiscent of the painting.
Rachele Mock 13:13
Don Mock 13:14
But he was also from an advertising perspective, even though I asked you the question, he was very much in charge of launching Tommy Hilfiger. Right and did that. So there’s a great ad for the history nerds out there. There’s a great case study and basically the short story is this. A client absolutely freaking out. Demanding to pull everything days before launch. George, who’s this brash New Yorker, right? Was like, you’re absolutely not pulling it. You’re effing doing this and this is the way it’s gonna be.
Rachele Mock 13:46
Don Mock 13:46
And Tommy Hilfiger, the stories are great, he’s like having a conniption.
Rachele Mock 13:50
Don Mock 13:51
And it launches and it’s huge, and it’s a gigantic brand. You know, and now everybody knows Tommy Hilfiger. You know. But I won’t spoil it for you if you do go out and look, look up the launch ad, because it was pretty interesting in terms of the positioning that George put Tommy Hilfiger in. But anyway, time back in. Back to George.
Rachele Mock 13:57
Yeah, so that was pretty cool. I mean, the whole thing it was a once in a lifetime affair. And thank you for taking care of the kids.
Don Mock 14:15
But George had something funny to say about the baby, did he not? We’ve got some great photos of you.
Rachele Mock 14:20
Oh, there was a lot of joking because we never knew what we were gonna a boy or girl. So, you know, people were making bets. You know, there was a gentleman who was in the program who told me that his wife was just about as far along. And he was having a boy and, we had already had two girls and you just assumed we’re having another girl. And so, George was saying things like, “well if it’s another girl you got to name her Lois.” And you know, things like that. And, and for a while, Massimo I don’t know if he couldn’t remember my name to begin with, but he would just call me “mommy.”
Don Mock 14:58
I thought he called you were the momma goose. wasn’t there a momma goose?
Rachele Mock 15:01
No, that comes later on when he and I were teaching together.
Don Mock 15:04
Okay well let’s let’s dive into that. So you do the workshop.
Rachele Mock 15:07
Yup, do the workshop meet George Lois. And by the way, he is brash but he’s the nicest salt of the earth guy ever.
Don Mock 15:16
Killer graphic design book too. I think it’s celebrity right but
$ellebrity with like the dollar sign.
Rachele Mock 15:22
And I brought my copy of celebrity with me and he signed it.
Don Mock 15:25
Yeah, he was a Titan. So huge.
Rachele Mock 15:29
His son Luke was with him. And he’s a great guy too and a photographer.
Don Mock 15:32
Alright, look at us just name dropping.
Rachele Mock 15:34
My job and life.
Don Mock 15:37
All right, so cut to what a year later. How long was it till later?
Rachele Mock 15:41
Yes. So probably about a year later, because our son, we had a boy, our son was just shy of a year old. And there was talk among my friends at SCAD Atlanta. My friends, being professors there. That Massimo was going to come to SCAD and try to do the same thing. I think they had asked me if I could consult on a few things. Like the proposal for SCAD, you know, how great it was, etcetera. And I reached out to Massimo and I said, you know, I just want to be involved however I can. And he was like, awesome. So what I ended up doing was I took the role of being his teaching assistant for another charrette. And this was I think, another seven days, basically. But luckily, it’s just down the street from us so I could come home and sleep. Um, and it was great, because we work hard. And then we take them out and entertain and we had
Antico pizza one night. I went there with a bunch of people and he drank beer. He came to our house for breakfast, and our daughter made him pancakes.
Don Mock 16:46
We went out to dinner across the street.
Rachele Mock 16:48
We went to dinner across the street.
Don Mock 16:51
Can’t name dropped that restaurant because it closed.
Rachele Mock 16:53
No, it closed, but didn’t you think it was a little funny? Because he insisted on sitting next to me and you were kind of like a third wheel.
Don Mock 16:59
Rachele Mock 17:00
And you were very gracious about it.
Don Mock 17:02
I’m okay being a third wheel. And again, I already foreshadow that I made pancakes for everybody.
Rachele Mock 17:06
You did, there were pancakes. So then there was the morning of the symposium. So that’s what SCAD called it. Where all the students presented their work. I introduced them. I talked about how Massimo, how we become generational as far as who taught us, who taught them, etcetera. Massimo Vignelli is a student of Mies van der Rohe.
Don Mock 17:31
Rachele Mock 17:31
So, therefore, if I’m his student, then I’m a grandchild of Mies van der Rohe. I mean, how cool is that?
Don Mock 17:38
That’s super cool.
Rachele Mock 17:38
Um, so that’s how I introduced it. And I said, you know, we’re sitting on the shoulders of giants, and the whole thing was beautiful. And the symposium was open to the public. So it was really great. But that morning, he came to our house, and our daughter took him out to see my garden. And he wanted a tour of the house, and I was so glad we had made our bed. I mean, we had toddlers at the time. So yeah, so he came and had breakfast and then he and I got in the car to take him to the event. And he put his hand on my hand and he said, You know, I know your design portfolio. But now I saw your personal portfolio and it was just as beautiful.
Don Mock 18:20
Rachele Mock 18:20
Yeah. I mean, remember Kirby was just sitting there and highchair. Yeah, I don’t know if we say our kids names on this? But um, yeah, he was sitting there in a highchair and it’s just really cool.
Don Mock 18:30
So what’s your favorite anecdote? Because I have a funny favorite Massimo anecdote. And we can kind of end with this one. Because, again, the two of us could probably chat about Massimo for forever.
Rachele Mock 18:39
I mean, we’re 18 minutes here. It’s the longest podcast you have.
Don Mock 18:42
Any funny little anecdotes or thoughts or memories that you cherish, right? That you feel comfortable sharing with everybody?
Rachele Mock 18:50
Well, this is an easy one, but the day after the symposium I took him out to Serenbe and we had lunch there and so we showed them around and everything and at Serenbe the tables at this restaurant…
Don Mock 19:06
Your just saying all of our kids names by the way. So…
Rachele Mock 19:09
Edit. So at this one table, they’re covered in craft paper, and we were all drawing on it and I had Massimo draw the broken Vignelli for Zoey.
Don Mock 19:25
Rachele Mock 19:25
And it’s this story of this Knoll cup that’s a demitasse that was originally made so that if you filled it to the top the coffee would pour out. And Knoll at some point, you know, covered it up. Can you explain that better than I can? They just filled that gap. And so he was explaining to Zoey, the broken Vignelli, and that’s what it’s called. And we have a set of those at home.
Don Mock 19:55
Yeah, super fun.
Rachele Mock 19:56
Alright, so I want to hear yours.
Don Mock 19:57
Mine is and you’re probably going to talk A lot of this is the napkin situation. Right?
Rachele Mock 20:03
Don Mock 20:03
So Massimo, I think we could talk about him forever, you know.
Unknown Speaker 20:08
Don Mock 20:08
To the point you mentioned this earlier, if it didn’t exist, he would design it right? There was a period of his life where he designed his own clothes and basically wore the same outfit. Call it Steve Jobs style, right? Or, you know, Zuckerberg. It was like, these are the clothes. It’s timeless. There’s no like, dating of the collars. They’re big, the collars are small, the ties are thin the ties are, you know, it was like he had designed this kind of interesting fashion agnostic outfit. And so he was very into sort of what your clothes you’re wearing for that time period right?
Rachele Mock 20:08
Yeah, and we would call that a uniform. I mean, we call that a uniform now make it easy.
Don Mock 20:46
So he had a very particular quirk, which was uncovered when we went out to dinner that he loved only cloth napkins and it was only black napkins. Because white napkins, the fuzz comes off. You know what I mean? Like, you know, that type of thing, right? So we go out to dinner, and as luck would have it, that particular restaurant had black napkins and we didn’t have to send a white napkin back. And he was, I believe, so plussed up that they had black napkins from the get go. And it was like ahhh! This is a great place.
Rachele Mock 21:23
Yeah. It was already a four star restraunt.
Don Mock 21:25
Yeah, exactly. So I just love that, and it was like, huh? I never thought about it. But like that guy is thinking about that kind of thing at all moments of the day, the brain is just constantly churning. So I always have a love of the black napkin, because of Masimo.
Rachele Mock 21:40
That’s a good one.
Don Mock 21:42
Alright, everybody. Well thanks for listening to us sort of prattle on about our own history. Our kids names and our interaction with design royalty. Definitely on the Mount Rushmore of designers for me. So maybe we do maybe we do a series of talks about who are the other three. That could be interesting for people to listen to.
Rachele Mock 22:00
As you know, I love a famous designer.
Don Mock 22:08
All good. All right. Well, thanks for listening. You can find us on the interwebs at mocktheagency.com. You can also look us up social wise @mocktheagency, and we will chat with you next time.