A Look At Typography’s Digital Phase

Typefaces at MoMA

One of my favorite galleries at the New York Museum of Modern Art were the Architecture and Design galleries. When I visited the Museum in late November 2011, there was an exhibition called Standard Deviations, which showcases objects and designs in the Museum’s collection that belong to families, including an important recent acquisition of 23 digital typefaces.

According to the curators, type design has undergone significant change over the last two hundred years – from the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century to the explosion of digital media over the last three decades – and its history, like that of industrial design and architecture, is a record of social cultural, and technological developments across time. Like them it has modern, postmodern, and digital phases.

The selection of 23 typefaces, acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in 2010, reflects typography’s digital phase: all are digital or designed in anticipation of the digital revolution, and as such they all respond to the technological advancements of the end of the twentieth century. Each one is a milestone in the history of digital typography. Interestingly, although they were created on screens using digital tools, most of the typefaces on display at the gallery were designed for print on paper, with the exception of Matthew Carter’s Verdana.

MoMA curators made their selection based on “the same criteria they use when evaluating objects, judging the designers’ aesthetics, historical relevancy, functionality, social significance, technological ingenuity, and economy, with an eye to the synthesis of goals, means, and elegance that they always seek in modern design.”

This article is part of a series of posts about my visit to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Click here to read the complete series.

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