The drawn word: SFMoMA tracks the modern evolution of typography

The drawn word: SFMoMA tracks the modern evolution of typography

Before computers, graphic design relied heavily on printers to create visually striking images. ’Typeface to Interface’, an exhibition on view at the newly reopened San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) until October, traces the evolution of graphic design and typography from 1950 to the present day, through works from the museum’s collection.

The exhibition begins with a series of colourful posters from the 1950s and 60s for the Olivetti Company, which produced typewriters. From there it moves on to the movement that became known as ’Swiss Style’, depicting posters by Karl Gerstner, Pierre Mendell and Armin Hofmann – practitioners that made use of negative space and utilised bold, balanced typefaces like Helvetica and other sans-serifs to get their point across. Another area showcases the lurid, psychedelic Bay Area concert posters for venues like the Fillmore, that were commonplace in the city during the 1960s and 70s, capturing a moment in design and in the region.

What follows ranges from Massimo Vignelli’s iconic 1972 New York subway guide and Paul Rand’s 1981 Eye-Bee-M poster for IBM, to more chaotic designs by the likes of Stefan Sagmeister, as well as Michael Bierut’s posters for the Yale School of Architecture. The equipment used to create these posters, like the 1984 prototype for the Apple Macintosh touch-screen tablet and the 1984 Apple Macintosh personal computer, is also on display.

’Typeface to Interfaceprovides an in-depth overview of how graphic design has evolved both in the Bay Area and globally for the past half-century, via the days of print and through to the present, the process of which is traced by an automated wall-drawing robot, Viktor (designed by Jürg Lehni) in a series called A Taxonomy of Communication, created by Lehni and and Jenny Hirons.

‘There are moments of oscillation between different schools of graphic design and different practitioners, where we go from structured formalism, to much more chaotic experimentation and back, and these things operate in waves,’ says SFMoMA associate curator of architecture and design Joseph Becker. ‘People pushing against the graphic design that’s come before them, finding their own voice and pushing against that.’

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