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Italy’s Overlooked Graphic Design Greats Get An Online Museum

Archivio Grafica Italiana is on a mission to preserve Italy’s graphic design legacy.

In Italy’s design universe, industrial design and furniture have long overshadowed graphics. Archivio Grafica Italiana–a new visual database of branding, posters, signage, books, and more–aims to rectify the situation by bringing a renewed focus on the country’s printed legacy.

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“Through the archive, I’m just trying to make people a little bit more aware about the role and the importance of graphic design,” says Nicola-Matteo Munari (no relation to famed midcentury artist and designer Bruno Munari), who’s compiling Archivo Grafica Italiana. There, you can fall down a rabbit hole of beautiful visual communication–the site features biographies of historic Italian graphic designers and color images of their work.

Supermarket Esselunga, Max Huber, c. 1957. “This is one of the numerous works by Swiss designers for Italian clients. Through the simple distortion of a letter, Max Huber made the company perfectly recognizable so that it became known with the surname Esselunga (translation: long S).” [Image: courtesy Archivio Grafica Italiana]
Munari, a graphic designer himself, got the idea to start the online archive when he was working for Italo Lupi, the former art director of Italian design magazines Domus and Abitare and the designer of Miu Miu and Cinelli’s logos. Munari spent a lot of time browsing Lupi’s extensive library and discovered a lot of unsung work that deserved more attention. “I felt that sharing this heritage with others was a duty,” he says. “As designers, we should promote the discipline by both preserving its history and contributing to its future, something which isn’t possible without promoting culture.”

The online archive isn’t the only digital “history” project of Munari’s. He also authored Designculture, a website featuring interviews and profiles of famous designers from the past and present. He likes the digital medium because it’s a democratic platform. “Although the web is full of images and archives, there wasn’t any digital archive conceived with the specific purpose to promote the Italian graphic design heritage,” he says. “I thought it was important to make one and the internet was the best way to make it accessible to everyone.”

The site includes work from visionaries like Massimo Vignelli, Bob Noorda, Enzo Mari, and Lora Lamm. Munari hopes that some of the younger designers–many of whom are practicing today, like Carlo FioreDaniele De Batté, and Leonardo Sonnoli–featured on the site get more attention, too. “The archive mostly features works from the past but it doesn’t want to propose a nostalgic view,” he says. “On the contrary, it wants to integrate recent works to the tradition, thus offering a wider scope and better promoting contemporary production.”

We asked Munari to share a few of his favorite works from the site. See his picks, and his explanations, in the slide show above.

 

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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