Graphic Designer Bob Noorda’s Very Systematic Mind
“Don’t bore the public with mysterious designs.” This no-nonsense quote once verbalized by renowned graphic designer Bob Noorda can be considered the all-encompassing philosophy spanning his entire portfolio of work. His genius simplified designs down to their purest form through a highly elegant, calculated, and systematic approach.
Noorda grew up a Dutchman, and received a Bauhaus-centric design education from Instituut voor Kunstnijverheidsonderwijs (hope you aren’t reading this aloud) in Amsterdam. He truly came into his own when he was adopted by the Italian city of Milan in 1954, twenty-seven years after his birth, and four after graduating from IvKNO. With World War II in the rear view mirror, the Italian economy was booming, and it was in Milan where Noorda really hit his stride–a stride that would last for decades to come.
Noorda’s first massive success came in the form of print advertisements for Italian tire manufacturer Pirelli, where he would spend the better part of a decade creating simple, yet highly effective pieces that were pleasing to the eye and most importantly, straight to the point. He also deeply refined the “Six-legged dog” trademark behind what is now known as Agip fuels, and designed the associated logo gearheads worldwide know and love today.
His unique ability to stylishly appeal to the masses did not go unnoticed, and he was selected to lead all graphics development for the all-new subway system being constructed in Milan, known as the Metropolitana Milanese, which opened in 1964.
A year later Noorda co-founded his own firm, Unimark International, with Massimo Vignelli–a close colleague of his.
Up to this point Noorda’s influence was largely confined to European borders, but it was in 1966 that he was to undertake his most famous effort, which to this day is observed by millions of Americans each and every day: the signage for the New York City subway system.
Following high praise from a design curator at the Museum of Modern Art, the New York City Transit Authority took note of Noorda’s design successes with the Metropolitana Milanese, and commissioned Unimark International to create a modernized signage system for the intricate network of underground public transportation. His firm’s efforts in New York paid off handsomely and numerous other cities signed up to work with Unimark to cohesively design signage for their respective public transit projects.
Unfortunately, these public projects were not enough to keep the doors open at Unimark and in the early 1970s the firm crumbled. What remained of the company’s thirteen offices was the sole location that started it all in Milan, which Noorda held onto and spun off into an independent design firm.
While it may have never reached the peak of its former glory, the firm remained in business until 2000. After the doors were shuttered, Mr. Noorda and his wife started their own design studio.
Bob Noorda passed away in 2010 at the age of 82 in Milan, Italy.
Massimo Vignelli, his partner at Unimark, spoke of Noorda’s attention to detail in extremely high regard, once saying: “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.”
Considering that Mr. Noorda’s design work remains the iconic bases for signage across the globe, finding a better solution to the questions he poured his passions into answering may prove an impossibility.