Bob Noorda, graphic design between freedom and rigor

The book dedicated to Bob Noorda, the great Dutch designer protagonist for the renewal of the Italian graphic image in the post-war years. “A Life in the Name of Graphics” is a biographical dialogue with Francesco Dondina, visual designer and teacher. A volume of 184 pages, in which Noorda tells his life, resumes the steps that led him from Amsterdam to Milan in the 1950s, tells of his youth experiences, from military service in Indonesia to the discovery of the Bauhaus in the design school led by Gerrit Rietveld: “a cognitive shock” – for those who, like him, had grown up immersed in Art Nouveau aesthetics – which disturbed his vision of design and ignited the rationalist spark. From that short circuit, unforgettable characters would have been born so effective that they withstood the continuous iconographic reuse of our metropolitan travel. He only talks about brands, and he designed more than one hundred and sixty, from Mondadori to Feltrinelli, from Enel to the Italian touring club, Dreher, Lombardy, Coop.

“The first edition of the book was published in 2009 by Editrice San Raffaele,” recalls Francesco Dondina. “The publishing house no longer exists, but the interest from teachers and lovers of graphic design has never stopped, as it is the only title dedicated to Noorda. So I was looking for a way to bring it back to the bookstore. Lazy Dog, a passionate and qualified publisher, received enthusiastically ”.

Bob Noorda talks to Dondina about himself, but the spirit of those years emerges from his stories: Milan at the center of a thought open to the new, cultured and curious, humanistic entrepreneurs like Enrico Mattei and Adriano Olivetti, and so on Gio Ponti, Bruno Munari, Albe Steiner and many others. An atmosphere of enthusiasm and desire to do where no one had time to consume in jealousy and rivalry: ‘maybe there was a bit of envy but not a malicious feeling, rather a brooding’ how beautiful this thing is, did him and not me ‘, but we were all friends ”.


Margaret Calvert, woman at work; the woman who showed the way to the British


Heard perhaps most of all many years of bond with Massimo Vignelli, another master of Italian graphics who would later move to New York. Noorda tells of when the two, while traveling by train, did who was best at drawing the Helvetica font in a small figure of eight, between the carriage swings. Together they were later to find the Unimark International studio in 1965, and their work for New York’s subway signage is, as many know, now on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Less well known, however, is that the order only came after the success of the signage to the Milan metro, “the perfect synthesis of Bob Noorda’s thoughts: the name of the stations repeated on a horizontal band made it possible to read even when the train was in motion. A timeless solution, today the standard for all subways in the world “adds Dondina.

Book cover for Feltrinelli

Strong and lasting friendship with Vignelli, which ended with the professional separation – which Noorda tells the details of in the book – but in any case felt and reciprocated: the new edition contains an unpublished text as Massimo Vignelli wrote in January 2010, on the occasion of the death of his friend Bob.

Noorda has contributed much to the formation of the visual culture of our country, and Italy has been able to recognize it. He himself testifies to this when he tells of the day when the Polytechnic awarded him an honorary degree in industrial design: A final applause followed him on his way from the classroom to the hallways, up to the outdoor lawn. “Very long. Beautiful”.

Advertising posters for Pirelli tires

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