Typography Center to be Established with $2 Million Gift, Honors Beloved Professor Leah Hoffmitz Milken


Letterform expert and Professor Leah Toby Hoffmitz Milken works with a student at Art Center where she taught for more than 20 years. © Copyright Steven A. Heller and Art Center College of Design

Typography is the hidden power player influencing the way we read, talk, write and interact with the digital world. Storytellers throughout corporate America, from soap makers to car manufacturers, articulate ideas through common visual languages. Similarly, global initiatives like the (RED) awareness campaign thrive from strong visual recognition. Armed with 21st-century visual literacy skills, artists and designers can be among the most important drivers in reaching consumers and influencers, helping business leaders communicate with each other and creating value for industry as well as nonprofits.

To that end, Art Center, this week announced a $2 million gift to the College from the Lowell Milken Family Foundation that will establish the Hoffmitz Milken Center for Typography. The Hoffmitz Milken Center’s aim is to advance the research, teaching and understanding of letterform design and typography. Recognizing typography as a vital component of our visual culture, the College has been developing plans to make Art Center a central influential force in this field. The Foundation’s gift helped turn those plans into reality.

The gift honors the legacy of beloved Professor Leah Toby Hoffmitz Milken who passed away on October 25 after an extended illness. 

“Leah’s expertise in typography and her gifts as a teacher will be deeply missed by our community,” said Lorne M. Buchman, president of Art Center College of Design. “We have both the desire and responsibility to build on her legacy in a meaningful way through the Hoffmitz Milken Center and its programming—the focus of which is unique in higher education,” he said. “We are most grateful to the Foundation for providing this tremendous opportunity to accomplish this long-envisioned goal.

“During the past decade, advances in technology and media have ushered in a new era of visual learning,” continued Buchman. “We continually consume information visually, and letterforms are a central and critical element of that visual world. It is imperative that we understand typography and its meaning as we navigate the global information age.”


A Hyperreality project created by Peter Santos for instructor Brad Bartlett’s Transmedia Typography course.

The Center for Typography aligns with the College’s long-term strategy of convening new dialogues among a diverse community to shape and define culture, encourage relevance and social responsibility in art and design discourse and practice, and prepare graduates for leadership, research and creating at the highest level.

“Establishing the Center is the best way to honor Leah’s memory as well as her extraordinary knowledge about typography, her deep passion and dedication to her students, and her commitment to give back to a field which she thoroughly cherished,” said philanthropist Lowell Milken, Leah’s husband and chairman of the Lowell Milken Family Foundation. “She was so pleased to know this was underway when discussions about the gift began some time ago.”

Renowned as a letterform expert, Leah taught at the College for more than 20 years and was a beloved member of the community. Throughout her career, she specialized in the creation of unique logotypes and typefaces for multiple industries and media. Corporate brands benefiting from her expert typographic eye include FedEx, Nokia, United Airlines and Disney.

Since joining the faculty in 1992, Leah influenced a generation of graduates, many of whom have become internationally recognized experts in graphic design and typography. Notable former students include Mike Abbink, senior creative director at the Museum of Modern Art, and designer of the typefaces FF Kievit, Brando and FF Milo for the FontFont label; Bryce Shawcross, graphic designer at Tesla Motors; Hansen Smith, art director at Magento, owned by eBay Inc.; and Josh Finklea, designer of the typeface Post Grotesque.

Leah’s profound dedication to teaching and her desire to give back to students was recognized in 2008 when she was presented with an Honorary Alumna designation from Art Center. She was also active in the College’s Legacy Circle, an alumni-led volunteer group raising support for student scholarships.

In 2013, Leah received the College’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of excellence in teaching, professional accomplishment and institutional service. Tributes at the ceremony hailed her extraordinary devotion to her students, whom she challenged and shaped, even as she respected their process of discovery. Her legendary high standards will be a focal point for the new Center.

New Center to reinforce the value of letterform knowledge in contemporary visual culture

“This gift provides a distinct opportunity for the College to create a new model of typographic education, research and international discourse that will serve as a professional destination and global resource for creative and commercial development in the field,” said Nikolaus Hafermaas, chair of Art Center’s Graphic Design department. “While drawing from the rich history of typographic development, the Center’s activities will lead the charge in exploring the future of typography in print, digital, emerging media and the growing field of Transmedia Design.”

Transmedia Graphic Design, Art Center College of Design, 2014 from Nikolaus Hafermaas on Vimeo.

Interdisciplinary programming at the Hoffmitz Milken Center for Typography will consist of classes, exhibitions, visiting lecturers and symposia. It will also significantly enhance and complement existing campus resources serving students and the international professional community, including the College’s Archetype Press letterpress printing facility and transdisciplinary study abroad partnerships. Additionally, the Center will support strategic alliances with other educational and professional organizations.

A portion of the gift will be allocated to student scholarships and faculty development. Since 2007, the Lowell Milken Family Foundation has supported students enrolled in the College’s undergraduate, graduate and public programs.

The gift will also help fund a South Campus renovation project to create a physical space for the Center as well as support public and professional educational programs related to the past, present and future of typography.  


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