Michael Bierut studied graphic design at the University of Cincinnati, and has been a partner in the New York office of Pentagram since 1990. Michael is a Senior Critic in Graphic Design at the Yale School of Art.


I grew up in Ohio in the 60s in a suburban milieu where design was seldom seen and never discussed. My parents encouraged my interest in art, which was in my pimply junior high school days a first a hobby, then an obsession, and finally a refuge. 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. I am now in my fourth decade of working as a graphic designer. 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.

It was curiosity that led me to join Jessica Helfand, Rick Poynor, and the late Bill Drenttel in creating Design Observer. Writing about design was a way for me to think about the work we designers do, why we do it, and the effect it has on the world. I also discovered that, like the design process, the act of writing was a way of engaging with different subjects, subjects as varied as cold war diplomacy, baseball, the history of the telephone company, standup comedy and corporate corruption. The Design Observer audience turned out to be varied as its subjects, and as that audience grew, so did our range. 

Design Observer was conceived in the world without Twitter or Facebook. Today, the quick satisfactions of social media have proven as effective a way of driving a conversation as any other. But the kind of deeper exploration that first drew me to Design Observer can’t be limited to a fixed number of characters or aimed towards an infinite number of likes. It was that kind of exploring I loved to do here ten years ago, and that I hope to do for many years to come. 

Michael Bierut
Border Control

Brexit, borders, naming, Fiorello La Guardia and his airport, robot dogs, though leadership, Snapfax

Michael Bierut
All That Jazz: Posters by Niklaus Troxler

Niklaus Troxler’s jazz posters can be viewed as a single, self-initiated project that has developed over five decades, a body of work with few precedents.

Michael Bierut
A Seat at the Table

The President needs a Cabinet-level Secretary of Design — or a design consigliere

Michael Bierut
Introducing Design at Yale School of Management

What does it mean to teach design in a business school?

Michael Bierut
Seymour, An Introduction

In a world of design consultants, information architects, and experience planners, Seymour Chwast is something refreshingly old-fashioned: a commercial artist.

Michael Bierut
Mind-Body Problems

Nutrition Facts, Mark Bittman’s food rating system, colon cancer screening, Time Well Spent, Peter Arno, Flat File

Michael Bierut
The Good, the Flat, and the Ugly

Instagram, rainbows, digital brutalism, Design: The Invention of Desire, the Freewrite.

Michael Bierut
Prisons and Paradise

Solitary confinement, virtual reality, design thinking for prisoners, Drew Hodges’s Broadway, The Paradise, Prince’s unpronounceable glyph

Michael Bierut
High Maintenance

Michael Bierut
Shapes and Japes

Corporate design humor from Mic Drop to bland.ly, photoviz, remembering Zaha Hadid

Michael Bierut
Crowd Control

Tay, Boaty McBoatface, New Zealand, emoji, and the madness of crowds

Michael Bierut
The Logosphere

The Met and the logosphere, designing with scientists, the Clinton-Sanders graphics race

Michael Bierut
Not Diving but Swimming

A new logo for the Met Museum raises questions about how we evaluate new identities.

Michael Bierut
Magic on the Page

Matthias Buchinger, Beyonce, Mohawk Superfine at 70, Umberto Eco

Michael Bierut
Guys and Dolls

Michael Bierut
Working-Class Heroes

British art schools, Bowie, Alan Rickman, the State of the Union, cannabis chocolate

Michael Bierut
State of the Chart

Data visualization, The Big Short

Michael Bierut

Michael Bierut
The Observer Decameron—First Day

The top ten books of 2015 from Design Observer contributors

Michael Bierut
Brute Force

Behind the Bataclan, pigeon pathologists, Design Thinking at IBM, the Coke bottle at 100, Michael Gross

Michael Bierut

Climate change, Drake’s take on James Turrell, an IKEA horror catalog

Michael Bierut
The Opposite of Ugly

Michael Bierut
Basic Human Needs

Michael Bierut
Moving Pictures

Aylan Kurdi, photojournalism, airline posters, early television

Michael Bierut
September Issues

Michael Bierut
Over the Rainbow

Rainbows, selfie sticks, and the flag of New Zealand

Michael Bierut
M Is for a Million Things

Milan, Mario Batali, Michelle Obama, Moshe Safdie, Modernism, MOO (our sponsor), Michael Erard, metaphor design, Macintosh icons, Massimo Vignelli....

Michael Bierut

Michael Bierut
150 Years, 7 Minutes, 6 Seconds

Visualizing business data, a logo to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, and more.

Michael Bierut
East Meets West

Or collaboration vs. “one person making one thing at one time”

Michael Bierut
Inside the Lines

Michael Bierut
The Observatory: The Inevitable

Michael Bierut
The Observatory: Land, Rand, Mad Men

Michael Bierut
The Observatory: Such Watch

Michael Bierut
The Observatory: FYI We Are Graphic Designers

This week, Michael and Jessica talk about graphic designers on screen, highlights from What Design Sounds Like, and Michael’s trip to Design Indaba.

Michael Bierut
The Observatory: Words, Pictures, Sounds

A few things on our minds

Michael Bierut
The Observatory: Our Favorite Things

On this episode, Jessica Helfand talks about her Paris 140 series, and Michael Bierut describes his 100 Day Project + some of the cultural highlights of the year.

Michael Bierut
The Observatory: Dollars and Change

On this episode of The Observatory, Michael Bierut and Jessica Helfand discuss the midterm election and currency design.

Michael Bierut
The Observatory: Epidemics and Theater

On this episode of The Observatory, Jessica and Michael talk about design, performance, and fear of Ebola. 

Michael Bierut
Thoughts on “Thoughts on Design”

On Paul Rand’s 96-page masterpiece, “Thoughts on Design.”

Michael Bierut
Massimo Vignelli, 1931-2014

Michael Bierut
What Bill Knew

Michael Bierut
And May All Your Christmases Be Carefully Staged So As To Appear White

A backstage story from Balanchine’s The Nutcracker 

Michael Bierut
50 Books/50 Covers 2012 Winners Announced

Continuing a tradition that dates back to 1922, we are pleased to announce the winners of the 2012 Fifty Books/Fifty Covers show.

Michael Bierut

Michael Bierut
Graphic Design Criticism as a Spectator Sport

Michael Bierut
Positively Michael Patrick Cronan

Michael Bierut remembers the late Michael Cronan.

Michael Bierut
Style: An Inventory

Michael Bierut
The Typeface of Truth

Michael Bierut
I Love the 80s

Michael Bierut
The Poster that Launched a Movement (Or Not)

Michael Bierut
Designing, Writing, Teaching: Not My Real Job

Michael Bierut
Seven Things Designers Can Learn from Stand Up Comics

Stand up comedy, a high-risk creative enterprise, has interesting lessons for designers.

Michael Bierut
Five Years of 100 Days

Five years of a 100 day workshop taught by Michael Bierut at the Yale School of Art.

Michael Bierut
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mentor, Or, Why Modernist Designers Are Superior

Michael Bierut
Michael Bierut on Clients

A video of Michael Bierut giving a talk on the subject of clients.

Michael Bierut
At the Movies with Javier Mariscal

Michael Bierut
Michael Bierut on Typography

In a video interview with The Atlantic, Michael Bierut talks about typography.

Michael Bierut
Art Directors Club: 2010 Hall of Fame

Michael Bierut
Dot Zero

A look inside little-known design publication Dot Zero, the house organ of pioneering design consultancy Unimark, featuring a slide show and an interview with its designer, Massimo Vignelli.

Michael Bierut
Mr. Vignelli’s Map

Vignelli Celebration: Massimo Vignelli's 1972 New York City subway map is a beautiful example of information design that was ultimately rejected by its users.

Michael Bierut
Lella Vignelli

In my ten years at Vignelli Associates, I came to understand the relationship between the two brilliant designers who ran the office. Massimo would tend to play the role of idea generator. Lella served as the critic, editing the ideas and shaping the best ones to fit the solution.

Michael Bierut
James Victore: Straight Up

"Few designers have done more to render typography foundries irrelevant than Victore. The human hand, his hand, is always in evidence." Michael Bierut on James Victore's work.

Michael Bierut
Michael Bierut on 86 Notebooks

Michael Bierut video of a talk on the 86 notebooks he's kept over the course of his career and  design lessons derived from them.

Michael Bierut
Jerry Della Femina, Mad Men, and the Cult of Advertising Personality

A review of Jerry Della Femina’s From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor, published in a new edition on the occasion of the debut of the fourth season of the AMC series Mad Men.

Michael Bierut
The Bones of Francois Robert

Francois Robert has spent hundreds of hours arranging the bones of a single human skeleton into a series of striking iconic shapesto create a series he calls "Stop the Violence."  

Michael Bierut
Designing the Unthinkable

For more than fifty years, there have been arguments against nuclear proliferation. The Doomsday Clock translates all the arguments to a simple visual analogy.

Michael Bierut
Designing Obama

Although much has been made — rightly so — of Barack Obama's ingenious and adaptable "O" logo and the rigorously executed graphic campaign that surrounded it, the candidate himself was his own best logo.  A preview of the introduction to Designing Obama, a new book from Scott Thomas, Design Director of New Media for Obama for America.

Michael Bierut
The Figure / Ground Relationship

Designing is the most important thing, but it’s not the only thing. All of the other things a designer designer does all day are important too, and you have to do them with intelligence, enthusiasm, dedication, and love. Together, those things create the background that makes the work meaningful, and, when you do them right, that makes the work good.

Michael Bierut
Spoiler Alert! Or, Happy Father's Day

Dad couldn't help it. He was a natural born spoiler.

Michael Bierut
When Design Gets in the Way

When it comes to fulfilling simple human desires, can design get in the way? A call for more incrementalism in design.

Michael Bierut
Invasion of the Neutered Sprites

There is an epidemic threatening our world: the pointy-limbed little people that appear in every other nonprofit logo. Death to the Neutered Sprites!

Michael Bierut
Designing Through the Recession

Here are three things that happen to designers in a recession, and five things they can do about it.

Michael Bierut
The Four Lessons of Lou Dorfsman

For over 40 years, Lou Dorfsman designed everything at CBS from its advertising to the paper cups in its cafeteria. Getting great work done in giant institution is supposed to be hard. How did he make it look easy?

Michael Bierut
26 Years, 85 Notebooks

Since 1982, I have never been without a marble-covered composition book. I am now in the middle of Notebook #85. Together, these notebooks create a history of my working life that spans three decades.

Michael Bierut
Mad Men: Pitch Perfect

AMC’s ad agency drama Mad Men, from the producer of the Sopranos, is beginning its second season. Like The Sopranos, the show finds human drama in an unexpected setting. And where The Sopranos had whackings, Mad Men has client presentations.

Michael Bierut
David Foster Wallace, Branding Theorist, 1962-2008

Michael Bierut
There is No Why

The year's best design movie is not about a typeface. It's Man on Wire, the new documentary about Philippe Petit's 1974 high wire walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center.

Michael Bierut
My Handicap

I've come to know a little bit about demographics, customer profiling and market segmentation, and I can tell I'm supposed to care deeply about golf. But I don't.

Michael Bierut

Charles Brannock only invented one thing in his life: that metal thing in shoe stores that the salesman uses to measure your feet. Is it the most perfect invention of the 20th century?

Michael Bierut
The (Faux) Old Ball Game

Since 1992, every ballpark in America has been designed on the nostalgic model of Baltimore's Camden Yards, including the new parks for the Yankees and the Mets. Why is it impossible to build a baseball stadium that looks like it belongs in the 21st century?

Michael Bierut
Would It Kill You To Smile?

Thoughts on the enduring influence of bershon, "how you feel when you’re 13 and your parents make you wear a Christmas sweatshirt and then pose for a family picture."

Michael Bierut
The Smartest Logo in the Room

The birth, death, and debate around one of Paul Rand's last logos: the "crooked E" he created for Enron.

Michael Bierut
Will the Real Ernst Bettler Please Stand Up?

In the late 50s, Swiss designer Ernst Bettler created a series of seemingly harmless posters that brought down a drug company with a Nazi past. It's a great story, but it never happened. Why do we need to believe in Ernst Bettler?

Michael Bierut
The Most Hated Holiday Song in the World

Ten years ago, Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid attempted to create the most irritating song in the world. It's now available online, and it's perfect for the holidays!

Michael Bierut
How To Be Ugly

Whether reactionary spasm or irrevocable paradigm shift, the new trend is making design that looks ugly. The trick is to surround it with enough attitude so it will be properly perceived not as the product of everyday incompetence, but rather as evidence of one's attunement with the zeitgeist.

Michael Bierut
Déjà Vu All Over Again

Michael Bierut
Rest in Peace, Herbert Muschamp

Officially published for the first time as a posthumous tribute: a loving parody of the writing of the late, great architectural critic Herbert Muschamp.

Michael Bierut
May I Show You My Portfolio?

My art school portfolio has sat in a box, largely untouched, in the closets and basements of the three places I've lived in the last 27 years, sort of like a slowly decaying design time capsule. A few weeks ago, I opened it up for the first time in a long time.

Michael Bierut
You're So Intelligent

Wanting to be taken seriously, designers yearn to be respected for their minds. Yet they take their real gifts — a miraculous fluency with beauty, an ability to manipulate form in a way that can touch people's hearts — for granted.

Michael Bierut
Flat, Simple and Funny: The World of Charley Harper

A tribute to the late designer Charley Harper, "the only wildlife artist who has never been compared to Audubon and never will be."

Michael Bierut
Donal McLaughlin’s Little Button

In 1945, architect-turned-graphic-designer Donal McLaughlin designed a lapel pin for a conference in 1945 that became one of the most widely seen symbols in the world: the emblem for the United Nations. Tomorrow is his 100th birthday.

Michael Bierut
Everything I Know About Design I Learned from The Sopranos

Last night, after eight years, 86 episodes, and untold quantities of gobbagool, The Sopranos finished its run on HBO. And this is what we've learned, from a design point of view.

Michael Bierut
Why a Book?

Introducing 79 Short Essays on Design, a 272-page book about design with 80 typefaces and no pictures.

Michael Bierut
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Typeface

Why choose a particular typeface for a particular situation? Here are thirteen reasons.

Michael Bierut
Our Little Secret

The documentary Helvetica premieres in a world where everyone knows how to do something that once only very few did: how to set type.

Michael Bierut
Good at Art

Growing up in the sixties, I couldn't throw or catch a baseball with authority, punch someone in the face, or shoplift. But I had something I could call my very own. I was good at art.

Michael Bierut
Jean Baudrillard Dies

Michael Bierut
Cheap Music and Commercial Art

You wouldn't know it from Dreamgirls, but Motown staff songwriters Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland were examples of how art is created under pressure.

Michael Bierut
Speech, Speech

The State of the Union Address is tonight. Messages, big ideas, careful details, second-guessing, refinements and revisions, anonymity: graphic design has a lot in common with political speechwriting. What kind of client do you suppose the President is?

Michael Bierut
The It Factor

In their 1983 book Quintessence: The Quality of Having It, Owen Edwards and Betty Cornfeld created an elegant and influential treatise in what makes something the real thing, a lesson that Steve Jobs has obviously absorbed.

Michael Bierut
Now You See It

There was a message hidden in the illustration on the cover of the New York Times Book Review a few weeks ago. At least I think it was hidden. Did you see it? Why didn't I?

Michael Bierut
The Graphic Glass Ceiling

A week ago, I was the moderator of a panel discussion at the 92nd Street Y with Milton Glaser, Chip Kidd and Dave Eggers. Afterwards, someone asked, "Why do you — all three of you — suppose there are so few female graphic designers — or at least so few female 'superstar' graphic designers?" There was a moment of uncomfortable silence. What would your answer be?

Michael Bierut
New House

In 1967, just after my tenth birthday, we moved from a cramped 1940s bungalow in an older Cleveland suburb to up-and-coming Parma, Ohio. I had been walking the earth for a full decade, but that fall I felt I was finally assuming my birthright as an American: a brand new house.

Michael Bierut
Onserved: CR on Alan Fletcher

Michael Bierut
What's That Crashing Sound, Or, Eisenman in Cincinnati

University of Cincinnati, College of Design, Architecture and Art, DAA, DAAP, Ivory Soap, Proctor & Gamble, P&G, Clifton, Louis Kahn, Crosley Tower, Pruitt-Igoe, le Corbusier, Paul Rudolph, TaB, Jay Chatterjee, George Hargreaves and Associates, Michael Graves, Harry Cobb, Henry Cobb, Pei Cobb Fried, College Conservatory of Music, Frank Gehry, Vontz Center for Molecular Studies, Thom Mayne, Peter Eisenman, The Aronoff Center for Design and Art,School of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, Wexner Center, New York Times, Paul Goldberger, Monacelli Press, Esther Bridavsky, Asya Palatova, Sarah Whiting, Kurt Forster, Silvia Kolbowski, Jeffrey Kipnis, Frank Gehry

Michael Bierut
Vinyl Fetish

Michael Bierut
Alan Fletcher: Living by Design

Remembering the late British designer Alan Fletcher, who once said, "I treat clients as raw material to do what I want to do, though I would never tell them that." For him, design was not a profession or a craft, but a life.

Michael Bierut
The Golden Age of American Commercialism

The encroachment of commercialism into everyday life seems like a peculiarly modern phenomenon. Yet around one hundred years ago, America began a romance with salesmanship that today seems almost delirious. A 1922 business directory shows how great crass commercialism used to look.

Michael Bierut
This is My Process

Designers often describe our work processes in terms that are dated and ill-suited for the activities that we actually undertake. Is there a model for the way that artists work that would be intelligible in a business context?

Michael Bierut
Helmut Krone, Period.

One of the greatest designers that ever lived was an advertising art director: Doyle Dane Bernbach's Helmut Krone. A new book celebrates his life and work.

Michael Bierut
The Road to Hell, Part Two: That Elusive Silver Bullet

An online offer to teach anyone to do graphic designer raises the ultimate question: can we conclusively prove the value of design to the general public? We can't? Now what?

Michael Bierut
Where the Happy People Go

The ferociously positive letters column in Architectural Digest magazine demonstrates that design can make people almost unnervingly happy.

Michael Bierut
Regrets Only

Five graphic designers have chosen to boycott a breakfast at the White House for the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Awards. A principled stand or an empty gesture?

Michael Bierut
The Mysterious Power of Context

Some of the most effective graphic design is neutral and open ended, and acquires its effectiveness only through use and association. Is it possible to anticipate the power of context in design?

Michael Bierut
My Phone Call to Arnold Newman

Michael Bierut remembers a 25-year-old phone conversation with the late photographer Arnold Newman.

Michael Bierut
The Road to Hell: Now Paved with Innovation?

A new magazine from Business Week on design and innovation was created through an unpaid competition. If this is innovation, to hell with it.

Michael Bierut
Eight-and-a-Half by Eleven

An installation of over 10,000 tiled pieces 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper redeems what has often been dismissed as a banal graphic format.

Michael Bierut
I Am a Plagiarist

Plagiarism is a hot topic in the world of publishing, What does it mean in the world of design? Michael Bierut pleads guilty.

Michael Bierut
When Design is a Matter of Life or Death

When structural engineer William LeMessurier realized that his work on Manhattan's Citicorp Center was flawed, he was faced with a choice: he could keep quiet and gamble with thousands of lives, or he could speak up. What would you do?

Michael Bierut
Variations on a Theme: New York's High Priorities

A half-page weekly feature in New York magazine has become a showcase for some of the world's best graphic designers.

Michael Bierut
Warning: May Contain Non-Design Content

Design is that it is almost always about something else. The more things you're interested in, the better your work will be.

Michael Bierut
The Persistence of the Exotic Menial

25 years ago, writer Ralph Caplan said that designers are exotic menials: exotic because of the presumed mystery inherent in what we do, and menial because whatever we do is required only for relatively low-level objectives. Has anything changed since then?

Michael Bierut
Design by Committee

"Design by committee" is usually thought to be a bad thing, but it has produced one great piece of architecture, the United Nations Headquarters Building.

Michael Bierut
Wilson Pickett, Design Theorist, 1942 - 2006

Wilson Pickett's advice on hitmaking, "Harmonize, then customize," would make good advice for any designer.

Michael Bierut
In Praise of Slow Design

Is there a such a thing as slow graphic design? A look at 80 years of barely perceptible design changes at The New Yorker.

Michael Bierut
The Unbearable Lightness of Fred Marcellino

Remembering Fred Marcellino, the designer and illustrator who dominated the look of quality fiction dustjackets in the 1980s.

Michael Bierut
Innovation is the New Black

Innovation is the latest buzzword to overtake the design profession. What does it mean?

Michael Bierut
Designing Twyla Tharp's Upper Room

Jennifer Tipton's lighting design for Twyla Tharp's dance piece, In the Upper Room, creates a magical experience for the audience and brings her often unseen art to the foreground.

Michael Bierut
The Final Days of AT&T

The acquisition of AT&T by SBC will result in, among other things, the retirement of one of Saul Bass's most well-known logos. Does anyone care?

Michael Bierut
The Great Non-Amber-Colored Hope

A student design for a prescription pill bottle takes a metoric rise to mass production and becomes an instant icon in the world of graphic design.

Michael Bierut
Looking for Celebration, Florida

An assessment of Celebration, Florida, a town built by the Walt Disney Company on "New Urbanist" planning principles in its tenth anniversary year.

Michael Bierut
Four Years After

After four years of ambiguity and contention and the World Trade Center site, Ellsworth Kelly's 2003 proposal seems wiser than ever.

Michael Bierut
You May Already Be a Winner

Are graphic design competitions worthwhile?

Michael Bierut
Every New Yorker is a Target

The latest New Yorker magazine has only one advertiser: Target. The effect is disorienting.

Michael Bierut
Credit Line Goes Here

Design is essentially a collaborative enterprise. That makes assigning credit for the products of our work a complicated issue.

Michael Bierut
Rick Valicenti: This Time It's Personal

In his newly-published monograph Emotion as Promotion: A Book of Thirst, Rick Valicenti provides a glimpse into a designer's life that is at once accessibly seductive and brazenly idiosyncratic.

Michael Bierut
My Favorite Book is Not About Design (or Is It?)

Act One, the autobiography of playwright and director Moss Hart, is the best, funniest, and most inspiring description of the creative process ever put down on paper.

Michael Bierut
The Obvious, Shunned by So Many, Is Successfully Avoided Once Again

Does anyone devote as much energy to avoiding simple, sensible solutions as the modern graphic designer? Publications of designers' own work demonstrate what effort they go through to needlessly complicate what might be simple solutions.

Michael Bierut
Call Me Shithead, or, What's in a Name?

Everyone has experience with naming, whether a baby or even a goldfish. The fact that it's so easy is what makes it so hard. The biggest problem, of course, is that new names seldom sound good at first.

Michael Bierut
The Man Who Saved Jackson Pollock

Herbert Matter, the designer who stored away a cache of recently-discovered Jackson Pollock paintings, deserves a similar rediscovery.

Michael Bierut
On (Design) Bullshit

Harry Frankfurt's book On Bullshit provokes the question: what is the relationship of bullshit and design?

Michael Bierut
Me and My Pyramid

The redesign of the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Pyramid is neither satisfying nor nourishing from an information design point of view.

Michael Bierut
The Supersized, Temporarily Impossible World of Bruce McCall

Illustrator Bruce McCall's vision of an exhuberant, overscale America is evoked by the opening of a new McDonald's in Chicago.

Michael Bierut
Homage to the Squares

The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum's exhibition Design is not Art provides a useful contrast to an simultaneous exhibition of the work of Josef and Anni Albers, and demonstrates differences between art and design.

Michael Bierut
No Headline Necessary

A wordless billboard depicting the purple-stained fingers of Iraqi voters makes a potent advertisement for that country's newborn democracy.

Michael Bierut
Fear and Loathing in Pen and Ink

Michael Bierut
Designing Under the Influence

The similarity of a young designer's work to that of the artist Barbara Kruger provides the starting point for a discussion of the role of influence in design, and whether it is possible for someone to "own" a specific style.

Michael Bierut
Authenticity: A User's Guide

Graphic designers take pleasure in simulation. This makes defining authenticity a tricky thing.

Michael Bierut
The Comfort of Style

The design process at the World Trade Center site has attracted enormous interest on one hand, and marginalized the role of designers on the other, as described in Philip Nobel's book Sixteen Acres: Architecture and the Outrageous Struggle for the Future of Ground Zero.

Michael Bierut
The Best Artist in the World

Alton Tobey, a little-known commercial illustrator, created a body of work in the early sixties that continues to inspire.

Michael Bierut
Robert Polidori's Peripheral Vision

Robert Polidori's photographs depict contemporary architecture in the context of a decidedly imperfect world.

Michael Bierut
The Other Rand

The Fountainhead, a 1943 novel by Ayn Rand, continues to exert its influence over generations of architects and designers.

Michael Bierut
Just Say Yes

A seemingly legitimate news release from Dow Chemical on the twentieth anniversary of the Bhopal disaster was actually a hoax perpetrated by The Yes Men, who have created a new kind of civil disobedience uniquely suited to the media age.

Michael Bierut
The Whole Damn Bus is Cheering

The familiar yellow ribbons stuck to cars urging us to "support our troops" have lots of competition and are horribly designed.

Michael Bierut
Logogate in Connecticut, or, The Rodneydangerfieldization of Graphic Design: Part II

A new logo for the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism by Cummings & Good provokes a public controversy on the value of design.

Michael Bierut
The World in Two Footnotes

Writing in Eye Magazine, Nick Bell observes that designers too often act as "agents of neutrality" or "aesthetes of style" and suggests that they focus more on their work's content.

Michael Bierut
First Person Shooter

News photographs from Iraq are eerily reminiscent of video game images.

Michael Bierut

Grand Central Terminal's enormous Colorama displays by Kodak documented a suburban fantasy world for millions of commuters.

Michael Bierut
What We Talk About When We Talk About Architecture

Architectural critiques, such as those conducted at Yale University and documented in its student publication Retrospecta, can have the same drama as good theatre; like the public radio show "Car Talk" the subject at hand is merely a springboard for diverting digression.

Michael Bierut
I Hate ITC Garamond

ITC Garamond, a popular typeface designed in 1975, is quite simply ugly, and I hate it.

Michael Bierut
Graphic Designers, Flush Left?

Are graphic designers as a class predisposed to favor left-wing politics?

Michael Bierut
The Graphic Design Olympics

The event graphics and pictograms created for the Olympics by designers such as Otl Aicher, Lance Wyman and Deborah Sussman are part of a historic tradition that continues to this day.

Michael Bierut
What is Design For? A Discussion

Rick Poynor and Michael Bierut discuss the purpose and promise of graphic design, in a conversation moderated by Creative Review editor Patrick Burgoyne.

Michael Bierut
The Rendering and the Reality

The winners of a competition to redesign New York City's High Line, Field Operations and Diller, Scofidio & Renfro, created architectural renderings that demonstrate both the discipline's power and shortcomings.

Michael Bierut
Eero Saarinen's Forty Year Layover

Michael Bierut
The Bodoni Conspiracy

Eerie parallels between the cover designs of the reports of the 9/11 Commission and the Monicagate investigator Kenneth Starr suggest a conspiracy that can be traced back to sixteenth-century type designer Giambattista Bodoni.

Michael Bierut
Pablo Ferro Offers You His Protection

The title design for the film Napoleon Dynamite, credited to Pablo Ferro [although designed in fact by actor Aaron Ruell], provoke an assessment of Ferro's influence in the world of motion graphics.

Michael Bierut
To Hell with the Simple Paper Clip

Answering the question "What's your favorite designed object?" with something humble and anonymous may be a tiresome cliche, but it's one that resonates with editors of the New York Times Magazine and curators at the Museum of Modern Art.

Michael Bierut
Ed Ruscha: When Art Rises to the Level of Graphic Design

A retrospective of the drawings of Ed Ruscha raises the question: is he an artist or a graphic designer?

Michael Bierut
And the Gold Award for Design Goes to God

New NASA images of the planet Saturn reveal it to be a beautifully designed object.

Michael Bierut
The Tyranny of the Tagline

Advertising agencies put great stock in taglines, those simple phrases intended as the core of an evergreen ad campaigns. Now taglines are invading the world of branding, as a new corporate identity for the YWCA reveals.

Michael Bierut
Barthes on the Ballpoint

Roland Barthes disliked ballpoint pens, suggesting that there is a "Bic style" suited for "writing that merely transcribes thought."

Michael Bierut
The Idealistic Corporation

American corporations in the mid-twentieth century, such as IBM, Container Corporation, and General Dynamics, worked with designers like Charles and Ray Eames, Herbert Bayer and Erik Nitsche in the conviction that design was not only a tool for business, but an potent instrument for making the world a better place.

Michael Bierut
McSweeney's No. 13 and the Revenge of the Nerds

McSweeney's No. 13, published by Dave Eggers and guest edited by Chris Ware, is a masterwork of publication design and an invaluable survey of today's best comic artists and graphic novelists.

Michael Bierut
India Switches Brands

The 2004 elections in India were an exercise in branding as well as politics, as a well-funded "India Shining" campaign failed to convince the electorate to retain the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP).

Michael Bierut
My Democracy Was Irretrievably Undermined by Reactionary Idiots and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

Will a designer t-shirt contest have any effect on the US presidential elections?

Michael Bierut
Better Nation Building Through Design

A new flag design for Iraq may inadvertantly symbolize much of what is misguided in the US's occupation of that country.

Michael Bierut
Catharsis, Salesmanship, and the Limits of Empire

Nozone #9: Empire and a new promotional campaign for the radio station Air America demonstrate alternate ways that graphic design can engage political issues and their audiences.

Michael Bierut
I Hear You’ve Got Script Trouble: The Designer as Auteur

Screenwriter William Goldman has written about how difficult it is to ascribe authorship for a film. The same may be true for graphic design, which, like filmmaking, is essentially a collaborative activity.

Michael Bierut
Stanley Kubrick and the Future of Graphic Design

Stanley Kubrick's attention to the nuances of graphic design, typography, and branding went far beyond his well-documented obsession with Futura Extra Bold. 2001: A Space Odyssey in particular projects a perfectly designed vision of the future that has never been topped.

Michael Bierut
Michael McDonough’s Top Ten Things They Never Taught Me in Design School

Architect Michael McDonough delineates the difference between educational theory and professional practice with “The Top 10 Things They Never Taught Me in Design School.”

Michael Bierut
The Book (Cover) That Changed My Life

The deceptively simple 1960s paperback cover of J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" is redolent of a very specific time and place to readers who discovered the book then.

Michael Bierut
George Kennan and the Cold War Between Form and Content

Diplomat George Kennan's "Long Telegram" of 1946 is a memorable synthesis of form and content, and a demonstration of how powerful form can be.

Michael Bierut
1989: Roots of Revolution

"Dangerous Ideas," the 1989 conference of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) chaired by Tibor Kalman and Milton Glaser, introduced many themes -- social responsibility, political engagement, professional ethics -- that still resonate today.

Michael Bierut
Information Design and the Placebo Effect

It turns out that New York City is filled with buttons for pedestrians to activitate "Walk" signals at busy intersections that have never worked. Does pressing these useless buttons provide us with a sense that at least we're doing something?

Michael Bierut
The Final Decline and Total Collapse of the American Magazine Cover

Comparing the magazine covers of today to those created for Esquire magazine in the 1960s by George Lois leads to only one conclusion: today's magazine ideal magazine cover is enticing, not arresting, aiming not for shock, but for seduction. And it stinks.

Michael Bierut
Rob Roy Kelly’s Old, Weird America

The late educator and designer Rob Roy Kelly has had a lasting influence on the profession of graphic design, particularly through his landmark book "American Wood Type."

Michael Bierut
The Sins of St. Paul

Paul Rand is almost universally revered as the infallible father of American graphic design, which may have blinded his legions of admirers to his flaws: an overemphasis on logos as a communications tool, a lack of engagement in content, a detachment from history, and humorlessness.

Michael Bierut
(Over)explaining Design

From the murals at Rockefeller Center to the proposals for the World Trade Center site, designers demonstrate an eagerness to explain, and perhaps overexplain, their ideas. Can the explanations get in the way of the work? Should the work speak for itself?

Michael Bierut
Vladimir Nabokov: Father of Hypertext?

The innovative narrative technique developed by Vladimir Nabokov for his 1962 novel "Pale Fire" -- essentially a single epic poem with footnotes and commentary -- anticipated hypertext, the internet, and the interconnected world of blogs.

Michael Bierut
The Forgotten Design Legacy of the National Lampoon

The rerelease of the National Lampoon's ersatz and hilarious "1964 C. Estes Kefauver Memorial High School Yearbook" is a reminder that the magazine's art directors, Michael Gross and David Kaestle, anticipated our profession's obsession with vernacular graphic languages by almost fifteen years.

Michael Bierut
Errol Morris Blows Up Spreadsheet, Thousands Killed

Errol Morris's documentary "The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert McNamara" demonstrates his mastery of information design as a poetic narrative device.

Michael Bierut
Mark Lombardi and the Ecstasy of Conspiracy

Artist Mark Lombardi's intricate handdrawn diagrams describing the relationships behind contemporary political and financial scandals are both beautiful objects and extraordinary feats of information design.

Michael Bierut
Graphic Design and the New Certainties

Graphic designers claim to want total freedom, but even in this intuitive, arbitrary, "creative" profession, many of us secretly crave limitations, standards, certainties. And certainties are a hard thing to come by these days.

Michael Bierut
The New York Times: Apocalypse Now, Page A1

Michael Bierut on the typographic redesign of the New York Times, October 2003.


Nicholson Baker
Brian Holland
Lamont Dozier
Eddie Holland
Veronica Geng
Preston Sturges
Tom Wolfe



Books by Michael Bierut

book cover


Interviews with Michael Bierut

Facing Sideways
Step Inside Design
Adaptive Path: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3


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