Vignelli Center
for Design Studies
College of Imaging Arts and Sciences
Rochester Institute of Technology

Vignelli Center to Receive Archive of Aaron Marcus

Pioneer of Graphic Design with Computers, Computer Art, User-Interface Design and Information-Visualization Design/Digital Media

Designer Aaron Marcus is donating his professional archive to RIT’s Vignelli Center for Design Studies. His California-based firm, Aaron Marcus and Associates (AM+A), is a user-interface design and consulting company, one of the first such independent, computer-based design firms in the world.



Marcus is widely recognized as the first formally-trained designer to use the computer for graphic design applications.  He obtained his BA in Physics at Princeton University in 1965. He obtained his BFA and MFA in 1968 at Yale University’s School of Art and Architecture. He learned about painting, drawing, printmaking, and letterpress printing workshops informally, photography, and art history. He also learned about book design, calligraphy, color, graphic design, drawing, film making, printing, printmaking, painting, typography, and photography.


At Yale, while a design graduate student, he also began the study of computer graphics, taking a course in basic functioning of computers, and he learned FORTRAN programming at the Yale Computer Center in the summer of 1966.


In 1967, Marcus spent a summer making ASCII art as a researcher at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey. From 1968 to 1977, in the School of Architecture and Urban Planning and in the Visual Arts Program, he taught at Princeton University: color, computer art, computer graphics, concrete/visual poetry, environmental graphics, exhibit design, graphic design, history/philosophy of design/visual communication, information design, information visualization, layout, publication design, systematic design, semiotics, typography, and visual design. In 1969-71, he programmed a prototype desktop publishing page-layout application for AT&T Bell Labs. In 1971-73, he programmed some of the first virtual reality art/design spaces ever created while a faculty member at Princeton University.



In the early 1980s, he was a Staff Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in Berkeley, as well as a faculty member of the University of California at Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design.


In 1982, he founded Aaron Marcus and Associates, Inc. (AM+A), a user-interface design and consulting company, one of the first such independent, computer-based design firms in the world.


Roger Remington, RIT’s Vignelli Distinguished Professor of Design, commented that, “We are very fortunate in having Aaron’s career works here at RIT as they historically represent the unique fusion of the worlds of digital media and Graphic Design. Over the years it has been a pleasure to work with Aaron and to have hosted him here at RIT on several occasions.”




What it means to me to have my work on display at the Vignelli Center for Design at RIT, Rochester, NY

Aaron Marcus


I am in the middle of my eighth decade on earth (I turn 75 next May 2018). During the past five years I began to plan for places to leave, as a legacy, some of my computer art works, traditional art works, graphic design works, experimental visible language works, teaching materials, collections of others’ works of these kinds, as well as publications that I have written, that have been written about me, or that concern topics in which I have been interested in most of my life, from earliest childhood. I also have collected works of others, such as posters, publications, and other graphic media.


I was very pleased and honored that Prof. Roger Remington confirmed RIT’s willingness to take in some of these materials. I feel it is a warm and familiar home for my work because of several factors:


I knew Massimo Vignelli and his wife Lella (may they rest in peace) over many decades, occasionally meeting with them at their studio or seeing them at design conferences. I was delighted that one of my best students, Peter Laundy, whom I educated in graphic design at Princeton University where I taught for nine years,1968-1977, became a senior staff member in their New York Studio. Also in the 1970s, I organized one of the first exhibits in the USA of subway diagrams at the American Institute of Graphic Arts, and, of course, Massimo’s New York City Subway Map was a featured item.


In relation to RIT, I was a candidate for an endowed chair at one point (RIT decided instead to use the money for a series of people for shorter-term stays), and my second employee to join AM+A, my new user-interface design firm when it started in 1982, came from RIT: Bruce Browne.


So it seemed like my work was “coming home” to RIT.


The works date mostly from my professional work following my education in graphic design at Yale University’s School of Art and Architecture (BFA and MFA simultaneously in 1969) following an undergraduate education in physics, mathematics, and philosophy at Princeton University (BA 1965), including my pioneering exploration of computer-based visual communication and user-interface design. I believe at Yale I became the first graphic designer in the world (1967) to work full-time with computer graphics (at AT+T Bell Labs), including programming a desktop publishing system for the Picturephone ™ in 1969-71. At Princeton, I became the first professional designer of virtual reality (1971). I later became the first official graphic design of Princeton University in about 1975. In California, I became one of the first graphic designers in the world (1982)  to create an independent studio to serve Silicon Valley and the world.


What unites these works, is my lifelong interest in these topics and/or issues:


—  What are/can be signs? How can we use them for communication (icons, symbol systems, pictograms, ideograms, visible languages like LoCoS and Bliss Symbols, etc.).


—  What is the history and future of graphic design practice?  Especially the historical work of Isotype, Ulm, German-Swiss designers of the 1950s and 60s, as well as ancient writing systems of Hebrew, Egyptian hieroglyphics, ancient Chinese, etc., and the latest high-technology attempts to broaden/extend/deepen the way we communicate.


—  The combination of art/design with high technology/computers.


—  What systematic ways exist to understand and analyze visual communication? Semiotics, cross-cultural communication models, user-centered design theory, mobile persuasion design, cuteness engineering, etc., are all candidates.


—  How best to teach others and to share what insights I have gained from my own studies, research, writings, and practice: books, articles, courses, workshops, etc.?


It is no accident that I began drawing cartoons at the age of 8-10; that I became interested in rockets, robots, ray guns, space exploration;  that I became interested in the history of the alphabet;  that I taught myself typography and calligraphy (including Chancery cursive in college), and that I have been continually involved with publications, often serving as editor and/or art editor…even before I knew what “graphic design” was as a profession. When I began to study at Yale, I was surprised that I had collected all the necessary tools over the previous two decades. I just did not know the philosophy, principles, and practical techniques of being a professional. Once I started studying the work and content of the profession, I was so excited and happy that I could not sleep for three years in graduate school…:-)…sort of.


What I hope students/visitors will come away with or learn from seeing my work, is my curiosity about the world, my struggles to both understand and perform, my interest in both the “big picture” and the “details” of achieving innovative, effective, usable, useful, and appealing visual communication.