Get to Know MoMA’s New Digital Font Collection


Some exciting news for typography geeks: Following hot on the heels of last year’s acquisition of the “@” symbol, MoMA has acquired 23 digital fonts for their Architecture and Design collection. “Some are of everyday use, like Verdana; others are familiar characters in our world, like Gotham, which was used in President Obama’s election campaign, or OCR-A, which we can find at the bottom of any product’s bar code; and others are still less common, but exquisitely resonant, like Walker or Template Gothic,” explains Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of the Department of Architecture and Design. “We paid particular attention to the synthesis of goals, means, and elegance that we always seek in modern design.”

While Max Miedinger’s 36-point Helvetica Bold (1956) was previously the only typeface in MoMA’s collection, the museum plans to grow their offerings to document the past century. Click through to view the 23 newly-acquired typefaces, which will be on view starting March 2 in MoMA’s Architecture and Design galleries, as part of a collection show entitled Standard Deviations; Prototypes, Archetypes, and Families in Contemporary Design .

American Type Founders, OCR-A (1966)

This font — primarily used in bar codes — was designed to be perfectly readable by computers. OCR stands for “optical character recognition.”

Wim Crouwel, New Alphabet (1967)

You might recognize this font — which according to Crouwel, was “over-the-top and never meant to be really used” — from the cover of Joy Division’s Substance.

Matthew Carter, Bell Centennial (1976-78)

Fun fact: Carter created Bell Centennial to replace Bell Gothic, AT&T’s existing typeface, on the company’s 100th anniversary.

Matthew Carter, ITC Galliard (1978)

This font — which is named after a popular renaissance dance — is based on the work of 16th French typographer Robert Granjon.

Erik Spiekermann, FF Meta (1984-1991)

Spiekermann intended this font — which was originally commissioned by the West German post office — to be a “complete antithesis of Helvetica” which he found “boring and bland.”

Zuzana Licko, Oakland (1985)

Licko, a co-founder of Emigre magazine, designed this bitmap font on the first Apple Macintosh 128K computer.

Jeffery Keedy, Keedy Sans (1991)

“Most typefaces are logically systematic; if you see a few letters you can pretty much guess what the rest of the font will look like,” Keedy has said. “I wanted a typeface that would willfully contradict those expectations.”

Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum, FF Beowolf (1990)

With FF Beowolf, the imperfection and roughness are deliberate; a randomization feature in the code ensures that a letter will never look the same way twice.

Barry Deck, Template Gothic (1990)

You’ve probably used this ubiquitous font tons of times. What you probably didn’t know: it was inspired by a sign posted in Deck’s neighborhood laundromat.

P. Scott Makela, Dead History (1990)

Makela’s design is a mash-up of two existing digital fonts — Linotype’s Centennial and Adobe’s V.A.G. Rounded.

Jonathan Hoefler, HTF Didot (1991)

HTF Didot was commissioned by Harper’s Bazaar editor-in-chief Liz Tilberis and art director Fabien Baron as part of a redesign; they wanted to evoke the magazine’s earlier heyday under legendary art director Alexey Brodovitch.

Neville Brody, FF Blur (1992)

Inspired by the late-1970s punk rock aesthetic, FF Blur is meant to resemble type that has degenerated after being Xeroxed multiple times.

Jonathan Barnbrook, Mason (1992)

This font — which was influenced by 19th-century Russian letterforms, Greek architecture, and Renaissance bibles — was originally named “Manson.” As in Charles.

Matthew Carter, Mantinia (1993)

Carter designed this all-caps font to complement Galliard.

Tobias Frere-Jones, Interstate (1993-95)

Interstate is an homage to Highway Gothic, the official typeface of the American Federal Highway Administration, which was designed by Ted Forbes in 1949.

Matthew Carter, Big Caslon (1994)

If you’re a fan of Wallpaper magazine, you probably recognize the italic version of this font, which was designed for headlines and titles.

Albert-Jan Pool, FF DIN (1995)

Pool’s FF DIN is based on the fonts used for German traffic signage, which were popular with graphic designers thanks to their “lean, geometric lines.”

Matthew Carter, Walker (1995)

The official font of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis is also one of the very first interactive and mutable typefaces.

Matthew Carter, Verdana (1996)

While most typefaces are meant to be read on paper, Carter designed Verdana specifically for computer screens.

Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones, Mercury (1996)

The New Times newspaper chain asked Hoefler and Frere-Jones to design a font that would eliminate production issues caused by ink drying differently in various climates. Mercury, with a gradation scale, was their solution.

Matthew Carter, Miller (1997)

Different versions of Miller — which was inspired by early 19th-century Scotch Roman typefaces — have appeared in the Guardian, Hindustan Times, and the Boston Globe.

Jonathan Hoefler & Tobias Frere-Jones, Retina (1999)

The Wall Street Journal commissioned this typeface — which is designed to be legible at 7-point or below — for its financial tables. Now you see it used for ever thing from sports scores to movie listings.

Jonathan Hoefler & Tobias Frere-Jones, Gotham (2000)

Gotham, which is considered one of the most successful new fonts of this century, was originally inspired by the lettering on Manhattan’s Port Authority Bus Terminal sign.