Vignelli was born in Milan in 1931; through his teenage years, he became enthralled with design and befriended many of the great architects of his day. (He sometimes says his youth was spent as an "architecture groupie.") He went on to study architecture at the Politecnico di Milano and later at the Università di Architettura, Venice.
From 1957 to 1960, Vignelli visited America on a fellowship, and returned to New York in 1966 to start the New York branch of a new company, Unimark International, which quickly became, both in scope and in sheer number of personnel, one of the largest design firms in the world. The firm went on to design many of the world's most recognizable corporate identities, including that of American Airlines (which forced him to incorporate the eagle, Massimo is always quick to point out). Vignelli also designed the iconic signage for the New York subway system during this period.
In 1971, Massimo founded Vignelli Associates with his wife Lella.
Presently, Vignelli continues to work as a designer from Vignelli Associates' New York office.
Massimo Vignelli has worked in a wide variety of areas, including interior design, environmental design, package design, graphic design, furniture design, and product design. His clients at Vignelli Associates have included high-profile companies such as IBM, American Airlines.
His extensive knowledge of typography has only elevated his design to a genius level. His 1966 Stendig Calendar has become an icon in the design world for its ultimate marriage of form and function. He recently donated a large portion of his work to the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Massimo Vignelli participated in the Stock Exchange of Visions project in 2007.