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Type Specimens

Referencing archival hand-lettering from the collection at the Wagner Institute of Science, Dermot Mac Cormack designed a digital font, Willison. This font is based on the labels by Charles Willison Johnson, one of the museum’s founding curators. While remaining true to the original, unique hand-lettering in the collection, the Willison font exists as its own digital entity and is a reverse italic font. The creation of the font led to the development of an in-person font “scavenger hunt,” where children can visit the museum and find the hidden examples of the letterforms dispersed throughout the museum. Once they discover the letters, they can view them through a phone and see the letterforms jump to life via augmented reality (AR) technology. Visitors are encouraged to download the Artivive app prior to attending the exhibition, or the museum can provide an iPad for viewing. The exhibition opened with a presentation, “Type Specimens: The creation of a digital font inspired by hand-lettering at the Wagner Free Institute of Science.” This presentation explored how the font came into being, and revealed the process involved in creating a font inspired by the historic setting of the Wagner Free Institute of Science—one of Philadelphia’s hidden treasures. Cormack’s presentation will primarily target educators and students; showing the development of the font design from its initial research through to the final output. It will then show how the typography was incorporated into the displays within the museum using AR to engage the audience and explore the contents of the museum. Cormack hopes to show the power of typographic design, and how it can be used to engage museum visitors, especially a younger audience.


Dermot Mac Cormack