15 January 2010


Bob Noorda, Italy, Massimo Vignelli, Unimark

Massimo Vignelli on Bob Noorda

Back in the early 60s Bob Noorda was the designer in Milano with whom I wanted to be most associated. His famous work for Milano’s Metropolitana was of the highest standard. We started our friendship by driving to Venice every week to teach graphic design at the School of Industrial Design. That experience and that closeness cemented our friendship and in 1965 we decided to join our offices; that is when, with some other friends in Chicago, we started Unimark International.

For a year we worked together at the same desk, each one of us on his own projects, but always exchanging our impressions of them. When I left for the States, I left all my client in his hands and he took great care, without losing any of them. In the following years we worked on some projects together, one was the signage for the New York City Subway. I remember when Bob came to New York and spent everyday underground in the Subway to record the traffic flow in order to determine the points of decision where the signs should be placed. I also remember how we decided all details, from typeface to type spacing, from color coding to implementation. Bob Noorda had a very systematic mind. It was a pleasure to see how logic will prevail over emotional issues in order to deliver the best possible solution.

His work was extremely civilized, his Dutch origin reflecting that culture and bringing a quality of spareness and essentiality to all his projects. His elegant figure and gentle manners were opening all doors of the Milanese society, giving him access to the best clients. His manners were polite, subdued; as we used to say, those of a real gentleman. His design reflected his character in every detail. His excellent sense of typography could be seen in the endless list of publications designed by him through the years. He was married to a prolific designer, Ornella, who was a complementary presence in his life, bringing a witty and fresh component to his sober style. When Unimark closed its US offices, Bob kept the Milano office going on, eventually under his ownership for many more years. Bob Noorda was a designer who contributed enormously to the recognition of our profession, a noble person to whom we designers are all indebted. His example will remain a beacon for all of us.

- Massimo Vignelli, 12 January 2010

Special thanks to Massimo Vignelli for allowing us to publish his kind words and to Paul Shaw for acquiring the text.