Vignelli Vignette

This scene in Design is One grabbed my attention simply because the artefact was handled by its designer as he told the story of its reception. Cup overflow was discussed as habit versus design flaw. Searching for more I came across this clip & transcript at The Dinner Party and voilà my cup runneth over…

Brendan Francis Newnam: So there's a scene in the film, it's a scene from your life, where you were designing plateware for Heller. You created this clever, minimal, plastic plateware that can stack and do things. There's a mug for hot coffee with a handle that you designed, and it's hard to describe this on the radio, but essentially, the handle was such that it acted like a gutter if you filled the coffee mug up too high.

Massimo Vignelli: Yes, for putting your finger.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Yeah, it's for putting your thumb, you can put it in this ridge, but if you filled up the cup too high, coffee would spill out of the ridge.

You, being from European background, knew this was a demitasse cup, and this cup was not meant to be ever filled to the top, yet Americans fill up a cuppa joe, and they were spilling it.

It turned out to be fine - you know, it's in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art - but I'm wondering: how do you know when you're ahead of your time versus just being wrong?

Massimo Vignelli: I wasn't wrong. I wasn't wrong.

Brendan Francis Newnam: But people weren't able to drink their coffee in America for a while.

Massimo Vignelli: This is good. They do it once, then they learn, which at the end turns into an advantage. It's very rude to fill up the cup all the way to the top, you know, and so they learn how to be civilized by filling it up less.

You're on the radio, you don't make noises. Why don't you make bad noises on the radio? Because it's uncivilized.

Brendan Francis Newnam: So a poor design decision is the equivalent of making rude noises?

Massimo Vignelli: Exactly. Even if making a bad noise, you could claim that it's part of your freedom. It's not part of your freedom, it's part of you being impolite or uncivilized!

The same thing is there. I mean, visual things have the same relationship to sound or other things, gesture, body language... everything has a meaning. You see, this is the point. This is what design is all about. It's decodifying the meaning of things.
Flow. Flaw. Fart.

And so for day 1502