Never Alone and Interactive Design at The Museum of Modern Art
This exclusive excerpt from the exhibition catalogue traces interactive design in MoMA’s collection, from interfaces and emoji to video games.
Paola Antonelli, Anna Burckhardt, Paul Galloway
Dec 5, 2022
Pentagram, Lisa Strausfeld, Christian Marc Schmidt, Takaaki Okada, Walter Bender, Eben Eliason, One Laptop per Child, Marco Pesenti Gritti, Christopher Blizzard, and Red Hat, Inc. Sugar interface for the XO Laptop. 2006–07
Among the singular examples of interface design in MoMA’s collection is Sugar, which was created for One Laptop per Child, an ambitious plan, launched in 2005, to produce and deliver inexpensive laptops to schools in the Global South. The interface privileged community and ease of use, with a feature that used bright, clear icons to show children the proximity of their friends at various school activities. The XO laptop (the OLPC hardware for which Sugar was created) was also designed with children in mind; it was lightweight, no bigger than a textbook, and had a handle for carrying. Developed on an open-source, Linux-based operating system and focused on sharing and collaboration, Sugar was an early example of the participatory ethos of Web 2.0, but the market is not always a meritocracy: the innovative, too-ahead-of-its-time interface—along with technical, geopolitical, and a host of other issues—contributed to the demise of the OLPC plan.4
Shigetaka Kurita. Emoji. 1998–99
The Google Maps Pin, designed by Jens Eilstrup Rasmussen, is another powerful interactive icon, one that has introduced new connections and behaviors in a concise, evocative manner. Its upside-down teardrop shape, based on an old-fashioned object, has become a ubiquitous symbol for a corporeal location mapped in the digital world, a fitting illustration of the way in which our relationship to the physical world has changed since the advent of smartphones. And Shigetaka Kurita’s set of 176 emoji, acquired by MoMA in 2016, is another staple of contemporary communication: these pioneering translingual symbols form the design basis for the more than 3,600 such icons in use today.7
Want to read more? Pick up a copy of Never Alone: Video Games as Interactive Design today.
Never Alone: Video Games and Other Interactive Design, organized by Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator, Paul Galloway, Collection Specialist, and Anna Burckhardt and Amanda Forment, Curatorial Assistants, Department of Architecture and Design, is on view at MoMA through July 16, 2023.
Each book and its accompanying software focuses on a different aspect of the computer as a visual medium. The Reactive Square (1994), for example, translates sound into motion graphics, with ten squares that respond to commands spoken into the microphone, and in Flying Letters (1995), the mouse activates a series of interactive typographies.
On February 21, 2006, at the Symposium on the Future Development of MoMA’s Graphic Design Collection, Paola Antonelli discussed the future of MoMA’s visual design collection with a team of experts in their fields: the graphic designers Tarek Atrissi, Michael Bierut, Matthew Carter, and Khoi Vinh; the new-media designer Hillman Curtis; the digital-media producer and designer Peter Girardi; the design writers Emily King and Rick Poynor; and the creative director Mikon van Gastel. The event produced, among other recommendations, new categories and checklists of possible works for acquisition.
Development specialists and journalists as well as the general public have criticized the One Laptop Per Child program for failing to consider the real needs and conditions of the countries it was targeting. In 2005 Marthe Dansokho, a Cameroonian woman, pointed out that “African women who do most of the work in the countryside don’t have time to sit with their children and research what crops they should be planting. We know our land and wisdom is passed down through the generations. What is needed is clean water and real schools.” Sylvia Smith, “The $100 Laptop: Is It a Wind-Up?,” CNN online, December 1, 2005, edition.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/africa/12/01/laptop/. For a compendium of the problems that plagued the program, see Adi Robinson, “OLPC’s $100 Laptop Was Going to Change the World—Then It All Went Wrong,” The Verge online, April 16, 2018.
The Distellamap series is based on “columns of assembly language, most of it either math or conditional statements (if x is true, go to y). Each time there is a ‘go to’ instruction, a curve is drawn from that point to its destination. When a byte of data (as opposed to code) is found in the cartridge, it is shown as an orange row: a solid block for a ‘1’ or a dot for a ‘0.’” Ben Fry, “Distellamap,” 2004, benfry.com/distellamap/.
One theory of the origin of the @ symbol is that it was used in medieval manuscripts as a ligature, fusing the two letters of the Latin preposition ad (“at,” “to,” or “toward”) into a single stroke of the pen. It was used as an accounting abbreviation by merchants all over the Western world through the centuries; it appeared on the keyboard of the American Underwood typewriter in 1885 as the “commercial ‘a,’” as an abbreviation of the word “at” or as a stand-in for the phrase “at the rate of” in commercial invoices. It appeared on the original list of ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Inter change) characters in 1963, and in 1971 the electrical engineer Ray Tomlinson, looking for an underused key on his keyboard, chose @ for the world’s first email address. See William F. Allman, “The Accidental History of the @ Symbol,” Smithsonian Magazine online, September 2012.
Emoji (e meaning “picture” and moji meaning “character”) were integral to the rise of text messaging in the early 2000s and have come to play a large role in electronic communication. NTT DOCOMO released Kurita’s original emoji for its cell phones in 1999.
When Video Games Came to the Museum
A decade ago, MoMA acquired 14 video games—and kicked off a new era for the collection. Today there are 36, and many are in the exhibition Never Alone.
Paola Antonelli, Paul Galloway
Nov 3, 2022
Ten Minutes with Amira Virgil: On Video Games
Hear the story behind one gamer’s vision to create a more accurate and inclusive version of The Sims.
Sep 12, 2022