Bodoni Soap Dish

David Strauss

The Bodoni Soap Dish is inspired by the Vignelli’s Soap Bubble Chair Mold, which is located in the Vignelli Archive. The Soap Bubble Chair was never produced and it is not known when the models were made.

My design intends to make a connection to the process, scale, and naming conventions that were used to produce the model, by creating a chair for soap. Following the Vignelli Cannon, I have based the overall shape around the letter “O” of the Bodoni typeface, a favorite of the Vignelli’s. The soap is custom produced to fit inside the dish and includes the popular Vignelli quote “Design Is One” on the reverse.

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Artifact Observations

The Vignelli Archive at RIT currently has only four objects in its possession that I believed were attributed to the Heller Vignelli Chair. These objects consist of a plywood mold frame, a plaster of paris mold, and two resin positive models.

The mold frame is constructed out of six crafted plywood sheets that appear to be glued together. The words “Soap Bubble Chair Mold” have been written in black sharpie across the top of the mold, and the only other indication of the process has been written on the back in pencil noting “4 coats”, assumed to be the resin coating amounts.

The plaster of paris mold is assumed to fit into the mold frame and provide the structure for resin coatings of the positives that exist in two different form factors and shapes.
Both resin positives appear to have many air bubbles present in their structure, which is indicative of the thickening catalyzed resin being stirred too vigorously during preparations. It is not totally clear if the color of these objects reflects the material or natural ageing process.

The Vignelli’s might be using one of their own key philosophies, ambiguity, in their naming selection for the model and mold. The shape of the chair resembles a soap bubble as it is being pulled upwards from it’s foundation, as well as the possibility of the bubbles being purposefully included inside the resin, or a chair that is easily cleaned with soap bubbles, and even the possibility that the way light refracts off the object causes it to appear like a soap bubble. It is not known what year these tests were conducted, but no such “Soap Bubble Chair” currently exists on the market.

The Vignelli Philosophy

The Vignelli’s most well known motto and design philosophy is, “If you can’t find it, design it.” This is also the case with their furniture designs. Between the two Vignelli’s, Lella is the voice of reason and Massimo is the dreamer.

“To design furniture is to respond to a challenge between reality and dreams. Shapes vaguely perceived are brought to form, verified, in the context of their uniqueness, analyzed for their concept, to solve a function, to impress the user, to reflect their time and to last into the future.” – Massimo Vignelli

The Vignelli’s believe that finding the appropriate manufacturer early on is critical to an item becoming a product. A designer needs a manufacturer with vision and craftsmen who want to experiment. The furniture design process is often “long and full of obstacles”. The design on paper comes first, but the real test occurs when the first prototype is made. Often the prototype needs to be adjusted in “thickness, height, structural strength, materials, texture, color…”

There is also a strong interest in the juxtaposition of thick and thin, which has a strong comparison to one of the Vignelli’s favorite typefaces, Bodoni. Their furniture design process follows an attitude of minimal components, details, and forms.


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