April 26, 2010  |  Design, Events & Programs
Magnetic MoMA: A Graphic Look at Shape Lab

The yellow shapes are movable magnets, which can be repositioned to fit into the small forest scene at bottom right. Photo by Michael Nagle

When we first met with the educators from MoMA’s Education Department to discuss the Shape Lab installation, we knew instantly that this project had to be FUN for us, the designers—and that FUN needed to be part of the design for the visitors.

Shape Lab is an interactive educational space for families. The educators’ intention for this space is to encourage visitors to interact with the space and explore the different ways artists use shapes in painting and sculpture. The space was filled with interactive tools and furniture, educational toys, art books, and shape learning activities. The original project request was to design an identity for its title wall. Instead, we designed a multifunctional activity wall, which both communicates its message and functions as a fun learning game.

Families are greeted by four interactive magnetic walls: the title wall, with movable yellow highlights; a wall with movable black-and-white geometric shapes; a wall with movable colorful, organic shapes; and a wall with movable blue 3D blocks, inspired by the artist Donald Judd. Photos by Michael Nagle


Creating the identity for Shape Lab started with thinking about how visitors were expected to interact with the space. The installation’s main focus is encouraging visitors (both young and old) to participate and interact with basic form and composition. To create both conceptual and visual cohesion, the overall look and custom-made letters borrowed characteristics from the actual games being played.

The custom type was made to reflect the simple and playful nature of the space, content, and games.


The letters of “Shape Lab” contain basic and recognizable removable magnetic shapes. The chosen letterforms are abstract enough to encourage visitors to explore the limits of letter recognition, and the activity provides an opportunity for visitors to create their own alphabets and words.

Visitors are encouraged to create their own alphabets and words.


The space is filled with interactive tools, furniture, educational toys, art books, and shape-learning activities designed specifically for Shape Lab. Photos by Michael Nagle


hello ¡¡¡

Absolutely love Shape Lab. It is exciting to see graphic design translated to a physical space. Wonderful concept, beautifully fabricated. I’ll keep my eye on the flickr group page to see what creations people develop and how the space evolves. I would love to see and help create similar spaces in Montessori schools and Doctor offices.

I would like to know the relationship among shapes, colors, and emotions. We are doing new research on the relationship between emotion and colors in infants and adults. I would like to have my laboratory set up an eye tracker in the shape lab, schools, etc. Let us know if you have space for cooperation in NYC.

I am from The Works Museum in Bloomington, MN. We are designing a wall similar to your Shape Lab magnetic wall. Can you point me to the correct person to speak with about materials sourcing and specifics of installation, etc.?
Thank you, kindly,


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