Deconstructing Power
W.E.B. Du Bois at the 1900 World's Fair

As long time students of the work of W.E.B. Du Bois, we were honored to design both the exhibition design and environmental graphics for Cooper Hewitt’s Deconstructing Power: W.E.B. Du Bois at the 1900 World’s Fair.  The exhibition places decorative arts from Cooper Hewitt’s permanent collection in dialogue with 20 innovative data visualizations that Du Bois created for the 1900 Paris World’s Fair to explore how design can both reveal and mask dynamics of power and equity.

During our poetic research, we time traveled to Paris at the turn of the century to imagine the typographic landscape as Du Bois would have seen it, and considered the imperial fantasies permeating modern design at the Fair. In consideration of Cooper Hewitt’s second-floor galleries and the task of bringing the innovative diagrams into dialog with decorative arts, our team chose the typeface Mara de Bois, designed by Graham Bradley, for it’s inscriptional Roman proportions, Art Nouveau gestures, triangular serifs, as well as it’s reference to disparate eras.

As visitors move through the space, they will notice framing the display texts is a repeating bold red beveled rectangle, designed as a nod to Du Bois’s iconic color line and translating his aesthetic to the national style at the turn of the century. Then, pulling directly from the data visualizations on display, the Du Boisian red, archival beige, and powder blue wash across the main hall, allow space for the eye to rest while viewing the detailed infographics.