In a few days How to, the long overdue monograph of work by Michael Bierut (an AIGA Medalist, frequent AIGA Design Conference speaker, AIGA Gala host—basically all-round AIGA bff and designer extraordinaire) will be published by Harper Design. In the 300+ pages, Bierut reveals his process and design philosophy through writings, sketches, and page after page of remarkable and iconic work.
A partner at Pentagram since 1990, Cleveland-born Bierut cut his teeth at Vignelli Associates right after graduating from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning department in 1980. There, he worked with AIGA Medalists Massimo and Lella Vignelli for ten years, eventually becoming the firm’s vice president.
His work is in several permanent collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, the Library of Congress, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Denver Art Museum, et al. He served as the president of the national board of directors for AIGA from 1998–2001 and is a senior critic in graphic design at the Yale School of Art.
In many ways, Bierut is a designer’s designer, as evidenced by his over 100 works in the AIGA Design Archives. More often than not his client base consists of work for design groups, museums, and architects, and is designed for a discerning, design savvy audience. That said, Bierut can attest to the fact that “the audience for design keeps getting more and more sophisticated, and increasingly anyone who underestimates the public’s taste level is going to be punished. You can go to a museum on Sunday and then eat a hamburger on Monday. You’re the same person, and you deserve a great design experience in both places.
“I honestly don’t think there’s any such thing as a bad design project any more. Everything has potential.”
“Because I don’t need that many projects to stay busy, I’m in the fortunate position of being able to work with people who really want to work with me. That said, every client is different and I’ve learned to never assume anything. A client who works for a sophisticated cultural organization can be very difficult, and one who works for say, a widget manufacturer can be wonderful. Or vice versa. They are all just people, and people behave differently depending on the situation.
Recently Bierut designed Hillary Clinton’s campaign logo, which is at once simple, bold, and memorable. I asked what it’s like designing for a presidential candidate.
“It’s a great assignment because—thanks largely to Barack Obama’s successful use of great design—candidates, for the most part, understand that they have to worry about graphic design to communicate effectively, from how you design a rally attended by thousands to how you design a tiny icon for social media. At the same time, the expectations are much higher. Even though no one votes for a logo, thanks to today’s round-the-clock news coverage a candidate’s logo may get as much attention as a major policy statement. And it’s unnerving when the haters start piling on, for whatever reason.
“But if we graphic designers want to be taken seriously, we have to offer our work for serious scrutiny, and inevitably that means taking the good with the bad.”