Designer and collector Aaron Marcus ’65 did not have any grand plans when he began collecting posters designed by Swiss graphic artists in the late 1960s. He assembled examples that he admired, including works by colleagues and mentors from his graduate school days at Yale Art School. Years later, he donated the collection to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), and beginning May 14, several of those donations — along with Marcus’ own art and design works and other selections from the SFMOMA collection — will be on display at the newly reopened museum in an exhibit titled “Typeface to Interface.”

Aaron Marcus ’65
Courtesy Aaron Marcus

Marcus says that viewing the exhibit was “like seeing old friends.” The SFMOMA collection also includes several works by Marcus that are not currently on display. Marcus, an expert in user interface design, is the founder of Aaron Marcus and Associates, a design consulting firm in Berkeley, Calif. He taught at Princeton in the 1970s and continues to lecture at universities around the world.

Marcus majored in physics as an undergraduate and jokes that he “reached escape velocity,” leaving science for the design world. He chose the Yale graphics program instead of attending graduate school for physics, but his interest in science has endured — particularly in computer science. He learned to program computers while in art school and immediately began searching for ways to incorporate technology in his design work.

The “Typeface to Interface” exhibition explores “the shift from analog to digital in visual communication,” according to the SFMOMA website, essentially tracing the themes that defined the professional lives of Marcus and many of his contemporaries. By including computer hardware, such as the original Apple Macintosh, along with examples of icon design, Joseph Becker, SFMOMA’s associate curator of architecture and design, “is telling the story of the emergence of computer technology and user interface design … as a form of visual communication,” Marcus says.

Long before Marcus was thinking about computer dashboards, he was designing intricate control panels for cardboard rocket ships as a young boy in Omaha, Neb. “Some of these themes have been threads that have been woven into my life, almost from the very beginning,” he says. “I didn’t choose these things — they chose me.”