Standard Deviations: Types and Families in Contemporary Design

Since the late 19th century and throughout much of the 20th, designers have celebrated the socially uplifting promise of industrial production, believing the true path to modernity lay in standardization.

Art Exhibition previously on at The Museum of Modern Art - MoMA in New York, United States.
From Wednesday 02 March 2011 to Tuesday 31 January 2012

Big Mouth Dunny 2006 image Installation view of Standard Deviations: Types and Families in Contemporary Design image Installation view of Standard Deviations: Types and Families in Contemporary Design image Clampology 2006 image Clampology 2006 image Jar Tops 2006 image “Hello My Name Is” Dunny 2006 image Tilt Dunny 2005 image Cycle Dunny 2005 image Retina 1999 image Verdana 1996 image Template Gothic 1990 image FF Beowolf 1990 image Keedy Sans 1991 image OCR-A 1966 image Pratt Chair (no. 3) 1984 image 3-Dimensional Cams 1991 image Miura Stackable Stools 2003 image You Can’t Lay Down Your Memory Chest of Drawers, 1991 image Smart Car (

Published by MOMA on Saturday 21 May 2011.
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A designer’s job was to conceive a model that could be converted into a working prototype – a blueprint for a series of objects, each identical and manufactured according to exacting rules. Yet it is human nature to crave individuality, and since the 1980s designers have sought to inject “chromosomes” of unique identity into objects produced on an industrial scale. Digital technology has made the dream of creating families of objects with common traits and distinct behaviors a reality; today, the model of the working prototype is the series. Standard Deviations: Types and Families in Contemporary Design showcases some 150 objects and designs in The Museum of Modern Art’s collection that belong to “families,” including an important recent acquisition of 23 digital typefaces, on view at MoMA for the first time. The exhibition, on view from March 2, 2011, to January 31, 2012, is organized by Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator, and Kate Carmody, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art.

Gaetano Pesce’s Pratt Chair (1984) is one of the most explicit and earliest examples in the exhibition, one chair out of a family of nine, each coming from the same mold but each different because of slight changes in temperature or density of the resin. Other objects included in the exhibition come from the same archetype but are each different because of unpredictability of the source material – for instance, the Freitag messenger bags, each cut from a different used truck tarpaulin – or because they were conceived as a well-designed blank canvas open to interpretation and diversification – the almost endless iterations of Swatch watches, for example, or the limited edition vinyl toys produced by Kidrobot and based on one initial blank model.

When manufactured using 3D printing technology, an object’s model is also the working prototype and the serial product. When each object is manufactured on demand by a machine that materializes the instructions from a digital file whose code can be changed at any time, as in Patrick Jouin’s One_shot.MGX Stool, the distinctions between model, prototype, and serial objects vaporize, leaving the archetype – the matrix that mothered all its variations – to inform the whole family.

One of the clearest ways to understand the idea of family in design is to consider the nature of digital fonts, where each font name stands for several dozens of different sizes, styles, and variations. Standard Deviations showcases MoMA’s important recent acquisition of 23 digital typefaces, which represent a new branch in the collection. All digital or designed with a foresight of the scope of the digital revolution, they significantly respond to the technological and cultural advancements occurring at the end of the 20th century and in the opening years of the 21st. Each one is a milestone in the history of digital typography.

In many cases, advances in technology influenced the aesthetics of type. Typefaces like OCR-A, Oakland, New Alphabet, Verdana, and Beowolf address the span of 20th and 21st century type design solutions from CRT monitors to programming and the internet. Some are sublimely elegant responses to the issues of specific media – for example, typefaces like Bell Centennial, Mercury, Miller, and Retina were all types designed to be printed on newsprint, with cheap ink and in small sizes. More information about the typeface acquisition can be found on MoMA’s Inside/Out blog.