As he redesigns the MIT Museum's logo and branding, Michael Bierut reflects on the legacy of design at MIT.
Prestigious research universities are generally not known for their progressive graphic design, unless your definition of progressive graphic design includes the obscurantist blackletter styles found on diplomas or the fussy symbolism and dead-language inscriptions that festoon university seals. There is one institution, however, that has established a truly modernist design legacy over the last half century: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Midcentury America was mired in a culture of “commercial art,” typified by cluttered layouts, clichéd illustrations and decorative typefaces. At the same time, in postwar Europe designers were perfecting a new, “objective” approach to design communications, typified by minimalism, white space, abstraction, and – above all, the use of a new sans serif typeface called Neue Haas Grotesk by the foundry that created it, soon to be marketed under a new name: Helvetica. The story of how this graphic style came to the New World is not well known, and MIT is at the heart of it.