running words around
design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

MoMA's New Design Icon

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Museum of Modern Art in New York has officially added the '@' symbol as a design icon in its design collection.

@ symbol

MoMA's Senior curator Paola Antonelli posted a blog article explaining why @ has been recognised as an iconic piece of design, and why the Museum is willing to accept an abstract concept, rather than a physical artefact, for display in its design collection. The @ symbol, says Antonelli, "has become part of the fabric of life around the world."

The @ symbol has been around since medieval times, and first appeared on a typewriter keyboard towards the end of the 19th Century. It was eventually reappropriated by internet pioneer Ray Tomlinson in 1971, when he sent the first ever email over the ARPAnet, the progenitor of the internet.

Its translation varies in different languages, but in the internet age, @ perfectly symbolises the technological interactive connections between individuals, cultures, societies and organisations.

The @ is an elegant piece of visual communication with a specific functional use, which was predetermined by its designer or adaptor (i.e. Tomlinson). It's also typography, and is the most used symbol in the world. Many of us will have typed or txt'd or handwritten it tens of thousands of times. I've typed it nine times already during this post.

It's a great piece of design, and now it's @MoMA.