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Muriel Cooper, 68, dies; noted graphic designer

Professor Muriel R. Cooper a designer, educator and researcher whose work has been internationally acknowledged in exhibits and publications, died of an apparent heart attack on May 26 at the New England Medical Center. Professor Cooper, who lived in Brookline, was 68.

Ms. Cooper, professor of interactive media design in the Program in the Media Arts and Sciences at the School of Architecture and Planning, cofounded and directed MIT's Visible Language Workshop at the Media Laboratory.

"She was a remarkable woman," said Professor Stephen A. Benton, head of the Program in Media Arts and Sciences who has worked closely with her over the years. "As a founding member of the Media Laboratory, she was a wise counselor in shaping our evolution. After 15 years of leadership in graphic design, she was just reaching the fullest expression of her computational design genius."

Professor Nicholas P. Negroponte, director of the Media Laboratory, said, "We have lost the leader of the most revolutionary thought about graphics and computers. All of us at the Media Lab and elsewhere, who learned so much from Muriel, are now tasked [sic] to carry those concepts forward without her, which will be very difficult but very likely, given the large number of creative minds she spawned in her teaching, her research and her very being."

Ms. Cooper's teaching and research at the Visible Language Workshop focused on how computers can enhance the graphic communication process and, inversely, how high-quality graphics can improve computer information systems.

"When you start talking about design in relation to computers," she said in a recent interview, "you're not just talking about how information appears on the screen, you're talking about how it's designed into the architecture of the machine and of the language. You have different capabilities, different constraints and variables than you have in any other medium, and nobody even knows what they are yet."

Ms. Cooper came to MIT in 1952 as director of the Institute's newly formed Office of Publications, now known as Design Services. After leaving MIT in 1958 to take a Fulbright Scholarship in Milan, she returned to Boston and ran her own graphics studio for several years, with the MIT Press among her clients. During that time, she designed the world-famous logo for the MIT Press.

In 1967, she joined the MIT Press as its first art director and became widely recognized for her innovations in book design. Her work in print includes over 500 books, more than 100 of which have been awarded recognition in various competitions. Her best known book was the Bauhaus volume.

After seven years at the MIT Press, she started teaching a subject at MIT called Messages and Means which looked at graphics in relation to technology. The course was co-taught with Ronald L MacNeil, now a principal research associate in the Media Lab.

She became an assistant professor in the Department of Architecture in 1977, the first graphic designer appointed to the faculty. She was promoted to associate professor in 1981 and professor in 1988.

Professor Cooper received a BS degree in education from Ohio State University in 1944, and both the BFA in design and BS in education from the Massachusetts College of Art, in 1948 and 1951 respectively.

In 1992, she was the first recipient of the Robert P. Gersin Design Excellence Award given to a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art.

She is survived by two sisters, Helene Jackson of Boston and New York City, and Charlotte Lopoten of Philadelphia.

A memorial service will be held at MIT on a date to be announced.

A version of this article appeared in the June 1, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 35).

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