1973 – 1994

The Visible Language Workshop special collection consists primarily of video and audio tapes, teaching slides, and a large portfolio of detailed notes and documents exposing the theories, inner workings, and products of Muriel Cooper’s VLW, examining interactive media design, electronic communication, and experimentation with computing and printing technologies. This archive also contains materials from the 1994 TED 5 conference in Monterey, California, where Cooper presented a collection of student work from the Workshop, and a box of unique materials from the dedication of first Media Lab building (E15) in 1985, where the VLW was a founding group.


The Visible Language Workshop (VLW) was derived in 1973 from a course, “Messages and Means,” taught by Muriel Cooper. Entering the MIT community as a designer with the Office of Publications, Cooper instigated a pioneering career in design. She became the head of the Office of Publications, and also held roles as a Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) Fellow, the head of Design Services, art director at MIT Press, and co-founder of the VLW with Ron MacNeil.

The VLW took a varied approach to design, particularly examining interactive design, but also photography, typesetting, platemaking, and a broad variety of explorations. The VLW was well-connected to both the CAVS and the Architecture Machine Group; and it was one of the original research groups of the Media Lab at its founding in 1985.

Muriel Cooper and students, 1978.

Collection Processing and Access

A portion of collection materials are digitized and available by request. The physical collection may be browsed on request by appointment. See Reading Room and Research Policies page for details. For inquiries on the use of images, video, and other materials, contact ACT’s Project Archivist  or email actreference@mit.edu.