Immersing yourself in an archive filled with the work of designers Massimo and Lella Vignelli on a daily basis is only a dream for many, but for Josh Owen, this is his new reality. The Director of Rochester Institute of Technology’s industrial design program was recently named the new director of the institute’s Vignelli Center for Design Studies, where he will be in charge of mapping out the future of the center and creating new programming to educate the public about the importance of design. Owen succeeds the Vignelli Center’s founding director Roger Remington whom he has worked closely with over the past decade.
The Vignelli Center was established in 2010, and when Owen joined the RIT faculty that same year, one of the institute’s resources he was most excited to explore was the Vignelli archive – and for good reason. Massimo and Lella Vignelli founded Vignelli Associates in the 1970s and have designed some of the most iconic graphics, signage, packaging, and product systems still used in daily life today, including the National Parks Service maps, the New York Subway system signage and map, and the iconic Bloomingdale’s “big brown bag.”
Owen has already had his fair share of experience curating events and educational programming at the Vignelli Center. During his time as an associate working with Remington, Owen brought in a variety of speakers, including Caroline Baumann, Joe Doucet, and Gary Smith. In the future, he hopes to expand upon this initiative. “My goal is to make the Vignelli Center even more accessible and applicable by bringing in exciting guest contributors from diverse and under-represented backgrounds who are using design in innovative ways.”
He also successfully advocated for the archive’s growth beyond the Vignelli’s products by bringing in products from other renowned modernist designers. This initiative, known as “Product Time Capsule” has grown to include the work of forty designers’ projects. He has also created opportunities for students to be directly involved in archival activities through educational events and courses, including the “Metaproject” and “Activating the Archives” courses.
Looking towards the future, Owen hopes to build upon his experience in design education and within the Vignelli Center to further educate the public and RIT students about the power of design. “The Vignellis taught us that design is a systematic framework for solving the world’s most intractable problems,” he says. “If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that while we humans are adaptable, our societies and systems have major flaws. We are at a point when we need to have difficult discussions and work to create a new balance in the world. In this, design must play a critical role.”
Photos by Elizabeth Lamark, RIT.