In 1994 Muriel Cooper presented work at the TED5 conference in Monterey, CA that changed the way designers thought of the possibilities of electronic media. The work, from her group at the MIT Media Lab‘s Visible Language Workshop (or VLW), took typography, literally, into three dimensions — and gave it dynamics and interactivity that had never been seen before. Tragically it was just after this that she passed away.
I was a grad student in the VLW, and Muriel was my adviser — but I graduated several years before this work was done. When I saw it, I was immediately jealous! It’s not that the earlier work from the VLW was lacking — but shortly after I left, the lab got some new SGI computers that enabled these sorts of 3D typographic experiments. And once they started experimenting with them some amazing work developed.
For years I’ve shown carried around a VHS tape of this work. I’d show it to my students as an example of Muriel’s vision, the great work her students did — and, hopefully, as an inspiration to push boundaries and try new things. To be revolutionary.
The work is a beautiful demonstration of the ideas that Muriel had been pursuing for much of her career. Dynamics, interactivity, typography, and live data. For this video she used the titles “Designing and information landscape in time and space” and “The dynamic visualization of information in two and three dimensions.”
The video is a fantastic set of demos that addresses these themes. I’ve finally digitized the tape and now have posted it online. I’m so happy to be able to share it.
Janet Abrams wrote a beautiful piece for I.D. Magazine about Muriel and her work. And it captures her spirit perfectly. In this video check out the intro voiceover and the end video clip — where you get a glimpse of the impish version of Muriel. She could drive me crazy – but I miss her.
The above two images are from Lisa Strausfeld’s Financial Viewpoints project. Click the images to see them full size.
UPDATE: Take a look at This stands as a sketch for the future. A PDF tracing the legacy of Muriel and the VLW by David Reinfurt.