Michael Bierut: Graphic designer, design critic and educator

Michael Bierut (born 1957) is a graphic designer, design critic and educator, who has been a partner at design firm Pentagram since 1990. He designed the logo for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Michael Bierut studied graphic design at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, graduating summa cum laude in 1980. He worked for ten years at Vignelli Associates before joining Pentagram as a partner in 1990.

His clients at Pentagram have included The New York Times, Saks Fifth Avenue, The Robin Hood Foundation, MIT Media Lab, Mastercard, Bobby Flay Bold Foods, Princeton University, the New York Jets, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Playwrights Horizons. As a volunteer to Hillary Clinton’s communications team, he designed the H logo that was ubiquitous throughout her 2016 presidential campaign.

Michael Bierut served as president of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) from 1988 to 1990 and is president emeritus of AIGA National. He also serves on the boards of the Architectural League of New York and the Library of America.

Bierut was elected to the Alliance Graphique Internationale in 1989, to the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame in 2003, and was awarded the profession’s highest honor, the AIGA Medal, in 2006. He was winner in the Design Mind category at the 2008 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Awards. In 2016, he was the Henry Wolf Resident in Graphic Design at the American Academy in Rome.

“Not everything is design. But design is about everything. So do yourself a favor: be ready for anything”

Bierut is a senior critic in graphic design at the Yale School of Art and a lecturer in the practice of design and management at the Yale School of Management. He is a cofounder of the website Design Observer and is the co-editor of the five-volume series Looking Closer: Critical Writings on Graphic Design published by Allworth Press.

Michael’s book 79 Short Essays on Design was published in 2007 by Princeton Architectural Press. A monograph on his work, How to use graphic design to sell things, explain things, make things look better, make people laugh, make people cry and (every once in a while) change the world was published in 2015 by Harper Collins. His collection of new essays, Now You See It, was published in fall 2017.


How to: Michael Bierut’s first monograph collects 35 years of his work as a graphic designer

Pentagram’s Michael Bierut shares over three decades of his work in How to use graphic design to sell things, explain things, make things look better, make people laugh, make people cry, and (every once in a while) change the world, his first career monograph. The book is out today from Harper Design in the U.S. and published by Thames & Hudson in the UK and niggli Verlag in Germany.

Conceived as a design manual, How to… features 36 case studies that cover the creation of all types of work, from identity, logos and branding to environmental graphics, packaging, books and websites, many times all in one project. Featured clients include the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Yale School of Architecture, the New York Times, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the New York Jets, among many others.

Bierut frames each project as a specific challenge: “How to behave in church” covers his wide-ranging work for the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine; “How to get where you want to be” describes the creation of the WalkNYC pedestrian wayfinding; and “How to design two dozen logos at once” looks at his identity for the MIT Media Lab. The work is detailed from start to finish, with insights into the creative process, his relationships with clients, and what he learned from the project. In planning the monograph, Bierut was inspired by classic design books like Armin Hofmann’s Graphic Design Manual: Principles and Practice and Milton Glaser’s Graphic Design.

In the introduction, Bierut tells the story of how he discovered graphic design as a child and ended up pursuing it as a career. The book begins with a chapter about the inexpensive composition notebooks Bierut uses to sketch and refine his ideas, with a portfolio of full-scale reproductions of selected spreads. Underneath its bookjacket, How to… is bound in a black-and-white marble pattern inspired by the notebooks.


Now You See It: Michael Bierut’s book of essays is published by Princeton Architectural Press

Pentagram’s Michael Bierut collects his recent writing in the new collection Now You See It and Other Essays on Design, published by Princeton Architectural Press.

In 54 short pieces from the past decade, Bierut explores a diverse array of subjects. Essays range across design history, practice, and process; urban design and architecture; design hoaxes; pop culture; Hydrox cookies, Peggy Noonan, baseball, The Sopranos; an inside look at his experience creating the “H” logo for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign; and a tribute to his mentor, Massimo Vignelli. The book follows Bierut’s 2007 collection, Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design.

Bierut recently celebrated the publication of Now You See It with friends, colleagues and clients at Standards Manual, the design bookshop co-founded by Pentagram alums Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

michael-bierut_Culture Is Not Always Popular

Culture Is Not Always Popular: Fifteen Years of Design Observer

In 2003, Design Observer launched a forum for critical reflection, debate, and writing about design and culture, which has since become one of the most influential platforms in the field. Culture Is Not Always Popular: Fifteen Years of Design Observer is a retrospective of the website, edited by co-founders Michael Bierut and Jessica Helfand with Jarrett Fuller and published by MIT Press.

The book collects 66 of the best essays, illustrations, investigations and texts from DO so far (selected from the 6,700 articles, 900 authors and 30,000 comments published to date), all examining the way that design shapes — and is shaped by — our lives.

Design Observer recently celebrated the book’s publication with a party at Pentagram’s offices in New York. Contributors, friends and fans gathered to raise a toast and look forward to the next 15 years. Photographs by Ricky Cheung.

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