Massimo Vignellis' NPS Unigrid System

North Cascades Brochure

Massimo Vignellis is not a household name, though his work is known worldwide, from the American Airlines, Benetton and Bloomingdale's logos, to the Ford logo and the New York subway system signage.

One of my most favorite works of his though, is the National Park Service brochure design. According to the National Park Service, The Unigrid System "solves two primary problems of folder planning. First, it organizes the editorial and graphic components within a format. Second, it quickly helps determine how a folder will be printed—the inks, the paper, and the sheet size. The measurements for the 10 formats are derived from the B6 size, the system's largest printed sheet. This Unigrid base has 12 panels on each side. All dimensions for text, maps, and art are reckoned from this base on acetate grid overlays. Because this network of points is constant, designers can quickly locate graphic components in the layout stages leading to mechanical art."

Rona Marech, writing for the National Parks Conservation Association, states "The Unigrid system limited waste by fitting snugly into standard-size paper. It established the famous black bar, which conveyed the organization’s identity in a heartbeat, and visually linked all the park units. It was branding long before branding was a ubiquitous catchword."

The Unigrid System was developed by Vignellis in 1977. Marech notes that "in 2001, the original fonts were replaced to improve legibility. Vignelli’s Helvetica and Times New Roman were switched to Frutiger and NPS Rawlinson, a font designed specifically for the Park Service. In addition, the white typeface on the front panel is slightly smaller than it used to be, to accommodate longer names and a slightly narrower black band. The parks’ beloved maps, which are streamlined to focus on the most useful information for visitors, have also evolved. Cartographers have the technology to make three-dimensional maps, for example, and they’ve moved away from using flat tones in oceans, skies, and other big patches."

Vignellis died in May 2014, but his vision lives on in his works. A Flickr set of Vignellis' work can be found here : Vignellis

The articles from the National Park Service and the National Parks Conservation Association can be found here : Unigrid and here : Raising the Bar