Muriel Cooper

Muriel Cooper was an eminent twentieth century graphic designer. Besides being a noted book designer, she was a researcher and educator as well. MIT Press sought her assistance for a very longtime as an art director. Moreover, she founded MIT’s Visible Language Workshop and co-founded the MIT Media Lab.

Born on 1925, Muriel Cooper, attended college in Ohio State and received a Bachelors of Arts degree in 1944. In 1948, she garnered a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in Design. She then went on to study at Massachusetts College of Art and earned a BS degree. Soon after, she moved to New York City and looked for a job in advertising. There she had an opportunity to meet Paul Rand, who inspired her design ‘Way of Life’. Subsequently, she took up a freelance job at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Office of Publications as a designer. Cooper did a few collaborations with the professor of visual design at MIT, Gyorgy Kepes. Shortly after, she found herself in the position of head of the office. It was one of the first university design programs in the country called Design Services.

Cooper worked along with other notable graphic designers such as Jacqueline Casey, Dietmar Winkler and Ralph Coburn and made advancements in the domain of typography. These were some of the influential figures who brought modern Swiss-style typography to MIT Press and its magazine MIT Technology Review. In 1958, Cooper left MIT Press after working there for six years as she earned a Fulbright Scholarship in Milan. Exhibition Design was her subject of choice while studying in Milan. Upon completion of her studies, she returned to United States and immediately established an independent graphic studio in Boston, in 1963. Her one of the major client was again the MIT Press and her association with it led to creation of her design of its iconic trademark logo. It is an abstracted set of seven vertical bars spelling out MITP and the logo is referred to as a high-water mark in twentieth-century graphic design.

Paul Rand recommended Cooper to MIT which was followed by her return to the institute as a full-time Design Director, in 1967. She is also credited for designing the classic book Bauhaus which was published on the 50th anniversary of the German namesake school’s establishment. As it turned out the success of the project eclipsed everything else in her career for two years. The task required her to enlarge, redesign and revise the German version of the book into American. She applied Helvetica typeface and a grid system page layout to the book giving prominence to the modernist appearance. Furthermore, she produced the digital film rendition of the book as an attempt of translating interactive experiences from a computer to paper. By this effort, she tried to turn time into space.

Additionally, being an art director at MIT Press, Cooper approved the publication of the Bauhaus-influenced and modernist design books. She also had her hand in publication of the first edition of the ground-breaking manifesto of Post-Modernist design, Learning from Las Vegas (1972). Another contribution of hers to digital design is her introducing the new generation of designers to computers in MIT Press design. She audited the course on Computers and Design, which culminated in her growing fascination with the development of digital designs. Cooper performed her duties efficiently at MIT Press till 1974. She left the world shocked with her sudden demise due to a heart attack at the age of 64 in 1994.