After writing and editing dozens of books chronicling the accomplishments and wisdom of his fellow designers, Michael Bierut is due to publish a monograph of his own this year — and it’s long overdue. After all, his body of work could fill as many books as he’s penned.
Over the span of his 35-year career, Bierut has worked for some of the most renowned firms in the world, right alongside design legends like Massimo and Lella Vignelli and Paula Scher. In fact, “legend” is a title he can most certainly claim for himself, which is why we invited him to speak not once, but twice, at HOW Design Live this year.
A Storied Career
Bierut studied graphic design at the University of Cincinnati’s prestigious College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, then moved to New York and worked for Vignelli Associates for 10 years. In 1990, he became a partner in Pentagram’s New York office, where he remains today. In addition to his work at Pentagram, he’s a senior critic at the Yale School of Art and a co-founder (along with Jessica Helfand, Rick Poynor and the late Bill Drenttel) of the online publication designobserver.com.
His client list reads like a bucket list for any aspiring creative: The Atlantic. Alfred A. Knopf. The Walt Disney Company. Mohawk Paper Mills. The Fashion Institute of Technology. The Museum of Sex. The New York Jets. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
For his work with these clients and so many other high-profile institutions, Bierut received the AIGA Medal in 2006, securing the spot he’d already clenched in design history. His other accolades include, but are not limited to:
- Having his work represented in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Montreal
- Serving as president of the national and New York chapter of the AIGA, and as a director of the Architectural League of New York
- Becoming a member of the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame
- Receiving the Design Mind award from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Words of Wisdom
In his personal statement on Design Observer, Bierut shares the following:
My earliest clients were my classmates who needed decorative lettering for the fall sports banquet, posters for the senior play, and convincing simulations of R. Crumb for their notebook covers. I still remember the thrill of discovering that this method of servicing the varied worlds of jocks, drama nerds and stoners wasn’t just fun but actually had a name: graphic design. … My clients are different today, but the motivation is still the same: to use the tools of visual communication to enter into other worlds and engage with people I might never know otherwise. For it turns out that graphic design is a social activity that rewards the curious.
Bierut extends his pursuit of social interaction by speaking to other designers about the lessons he’s learned throughout his career. In a 2011 CreativeMornings speech, he offered 16 tips on how to get clients, including these insights:
— Clients make the difference between art and design. Working with others to create, for a purpose, signifies design.
—Never educate a client. It’s a partnership, remember? Find out what they want, and how much will they allow. Recognize that ninety-nine percent of the discussion is about the client’s business and goals, and one percent about how to achieve it.
—Even bad clients have a purpose. You cannot necessarily make them into good clients, but by drawing on a particular strength, you will not lose heart with a good project.
This is the type of wisdom you’ll want to hear Bierut impart at HOW Design Live May 4-8. In addition to speaking with Robin Colangelo about Pentagram’s teamwork with the elite international law firm White + Case on a rebranding effort, Bierut will be delivering a keynote address. Don’t miss out. Register now.