Different Strokes: Custom Alphabets Help Us Introduce Audiences to Artists

Left: "A" from alphabet created for Tim Burton exhibition graphics; Right: "A" from alphabet created for Marina Abramović exhibition graphics

What’s so special about a “special” exhibition? For us, MoMA’s graphic designers, they’re special enough to require their own unique graphic identity, and oftentimes a unique identity is all in the letters. For two very different shows now on view at MoMA, Tim Burton and Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present, we created two very different title typefaces.

For the design of the Tim Burton exhibition we were inspired by the dark yet inviting world where each of his eccentric characters is described by their individual quirks. We also loved the exaggerated body proportions found in many of his creatures (skinny long arms and short legs, big round heads on small bodies, distorted torsos, etc.). All this inspiration lead us to create a set of hand-drawn letters that live in the same realm as his creatures and references Burton’s handwriting as well.

Typeface created for the Tim Burton exhibition graphics

Title wall for the exhibition Tim Burton

Tim Burton Chronology

When we first began to review typographic sketches with Marina Abramović, she responded with one name: Rodchenko. The power and intensity of Aleksandr Rodchenko’s designs is partly due to their strong hand-lettered typefaces. Though many Rodchenko-inspired fonts exist as Western alphabets, many tend to overemphasize their Cyrillic roots, resulting in parody—think the backwards “R” in a vodka advertisement. Taking inspiration from Rodchenko’s original works, we created our own alphabet, which retains a feeling of both strength and humanity. The capital “A,” in particular, has a very wide stance, as though it could never be pushed over, while the “M” has a short center, giving it a slightly more handmade feel.

Typeface created for the exhibition graphics of Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present

Title wall for the exhibition Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present

Detail of introduction to Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present