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I was fortunate to view the exhibit created by Pentagram partner Abbott Miller and curated and produced by Monotype as part of private tour led by Dan Rhatigan, type director at Monotype.

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Century: 100 Years of Type in Design exhibition at the AIGA National Design Center in New York City Credit Bilyana Dimitrova

Browsing the collection while waiting for Rhatigan to finish the tour before ours, it was clear how much thought and planning had gone into the design of the exhibit, as well as its actual curating. A pattern made from periods of over 1,000 different typefaces decorated the floor and walls without repeating, farther inside an animation entitled “Fractured Century” cycled through “100s of typefaces” dynamically illustrating the attributes—size, scale, proportion, weight and line—that make typographic shapes compelling as forms in addition to their practical function. To the left of the entry way hung five posters by printmaker Alan Kitching specially designed in honor of five design icons born in 1914—Tom Eckersley, Abram Games, F H K Henrion, Josef Muller-Brockmann and Paul Rand. As Rhatigan pointed out, the prints stood as elegant reminders that type is “not only technology/software driven.”

Figure-32-Credit-Bilyana-Dimitrova

Century: 100 Years of Type in Design exhibition at the AIGA National Design Center in New York City Credit Bilyana Dimitrova

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Alan Kitching’s limited edition letterpress printed poster honoring Paul Rand 1914– 1996 using the Gill Sans® Light Shadowed typeface, designed and printed by Alan Kitching. Image courtesy Alan Kitching

At the heart of the exhibit were walls and display cases filled with rare and never before seen pieces such as original proofs and drawings of unreleased typefaces from Eric Gill, prototype covers created by David Hockney for Condé Nast, a copy of the New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual designed by Massimo Vignelli and “Mad Men-era” paper promotions from Mohawk’s newly discovered Strathmore New York archive.

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Original drawings made by Eric Gill in 1935 for Monotype series no. 430, a family which was never completed and released. Image courtesy of Monotype.

The pieces, culled from Monotype, AIGA, Pentagram, Mohawk Paper, The Type Directors Club, Condé Nast, Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum, The Type Archive, The Herb Lubalin Study Center at Cooper Union, Alan Kitching and The Museum of Printing told a story of how print technology, type and design evolved together over time.

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“Inside Dylan’s Brain,” Photo illustration by Andrew Nimmo and Beth Bartholomew from a photograph by Chris Furlong, originally published Vanity Fair, May 2008. Conde Nast spread photographed by Paul Armbruster.
Image courtesy of Condé Nast

As Rhatigan guided us through the collection providing historical context for the collection, that story came into sharper focus. For example, when he described how new print technology freed designers to be more experimental with type or how the popularity of a certain typeface would push other type manufacturers to release their own versions. Or, as he put it “…These artifacts are chosen and arranged to tell a story about how design is informed, constrained, and even enhanced by technology over the past century—whether it’s the technology of machine or the microprocessor and bitmap.”

Asked how the concept for the exhibit came about Rhatigan replied, “When AIGA invited us to mount an exhibition in the gallery as part of their centennial programming, it sounded like a good time to explore an idea James and I had chatted about a bit before. That is, most people are familiar with typefaces through works of design in which they’ve been used, so it would be nice to show type in context. As we spoke with potential partners for the show, it became clear that there were other archives than just our own that could shed light on the story of the last century, so we could present a richer story by pulling different sources together.”

Century will definitely delight designers but non-designers shouldn’t shy away. When asked about the exhibit’s appeal for non-designers Rhatigan said, “There are certainly plenty of non-designers and young designers to enjoy and discover in the show (as they have been doing so far). Items on display were curated so as to find connections among the different sets of material—typefaces like Caslon and Helvetica being used differently over the years, designers like W. A. Dwiggins doing eclectic work that shows up in different contexts, and many items—like Gill’s unpublished type drawings or almost all the Strathmore pieces—that have never really been seen before claiming their places in design history.”

Century: 100 Years of Type in Design is on display at the AIGA National Design Center located at 164 Fifth Avenue in New York City until July 31. Admission is free and open to the public. To reserve tickets for guided tours and more information on the Century exhibition, visit EventBrite.

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