University Press Week

University Press Week: Inspired to be Resolutely Disobedient.

This week is University Press Week! This year’s focus is #LookItUP: a tribute to the knowledge and facts that all university presses publish and value, especially in the face of “fake news” and “alternative facts”. This week we’ll be sharing how our friends across the nation are demonstrating their expertise on a variety of subjects. Today’s theme is “Producing the books that matter”. 

Muriel Cooper was brilliant, outspoken, and impish. She was a woman who will forever be admired not only for the precision and clarity of her print design, but also as the unconventional non-programmer who ushered in a new era of digital design. More than a half century after she designed the MIT Press colophon, it still sets the standard by which other logos are measured. Her 3D digital information landscapes, presented at TED5 in 1994, wowed the audience–including Bill Gates–who asked for a copy of her presentation. Muriel Cooper died in 194, but her legacy certainly lives on at MIT Press and in the design community. She taught us all that the medium was not the message, and that true genius can be absolutely outrageous.

In October, the MIT Press and the MIT Media Lab hosed an event to celebrate Muriel Cooper on the 50th anniversary of her becoming the first art director of the MIT Press. The day also marks the release of Muriel Cooper, the book by David Reinfurt and Robert Wiesenberger.

Though they never met, Muriel Cooper has a profound influence on the designers at MIT Press today. Following the program last month at the Media Lab, we asked our designers what inspired them about Muriel. Here are their thoughts: 

I was inspired to be resolutely disobedient. 

I am impressed by how consistent people’s accounts of Muriel Cooper are. It does make us feel as though we, too, knew her: the contrast between chaotic and orderly, endearing and tough, fun and serious.

Bauhaus teachings that MIT Press designers know and love were emphasized, but so was Cooper’s mid-1990s prescient approach to computer-based typography, non-linear solutions to problems, and type treatments that go way beyond two dimensions. 

It’s amazing and wonderful how influential she is today as she was back when she was alive. Also loved hearing more about her character; her love for exotic ingredients and her basement filled with old artifacts. There’s another book here!

It was interesting to view the combination of type and image as a  multidimensional progression that can create additional layers of meaning aside from the content.

There were two Muriels: the one we all know for her Swiss design style, and the one we didn’t know—Muriel the person—who was colorful, eccentric, indecisive and warm. Looking through Learning From Las Vegas again this morning, I was able to see both of those Muriels in the pages. She used the grid, but in a free and expressive way that not many can execute.

I loved hearing from her nephew, and his description of her basement. He helped paint a picture of the Muriel outside of the books. I can visualize her museum of Sony products and boxes of art supplies and slides. 

As someone who thinks about the look and feel of books and pages for a living, one of the most interesting parts for me was hearing Michael Beirut and Ellen Lupton posit the design merits of the two different versions of Learning from Las Vegas. I’m still “Team Muriel” on this one—I agree with Beirut that her version makes for a more interesting and guided reading experience—but I appreciated that Lupton pointed to the accessible trim size of the Denise Scott Brown paperback. 

Thank you, Muriel. You continue to be an inspiration. 

Thank you to Pentagram for allowing us to share these videos that were designed and produced for the Muriel Cooper event.