Beirut 79 Essays

Michael Bierut studied graphic design at the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, graduating summa cum laude in 1980. Prior to joining Pentagram in 1990 as a partner in the firm's New York office, he worked for ten years at Vignelli Associates, ultimately as vice-president of graphic design.

His clients at Pentagram have included The New York Times, Saks Fifth Avenue, The Council of Fashion Designers of America, Harley-Davidson, The New York Jets, MIT Media Lab, the New York Jets, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Walt Disney Company, and Verizon. He has won hundreds of design awards and his work is represented in the permanent collections of museums in the United States, Europe and Asia.

He 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. 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.

In 2008, he was named winner in the Design Mind category of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Awards.

Since the mid-90s, Bierut has been senior critic in graphic design at the Yale School of Art and a senior faculty fellow at the Yale School of Management. He writes frequently about design and is the co-editor of the five-volume series Looking Closer: Critical Writings on Graphic Design published by Allworth Press. In 2002, Bierut co-founded Design Observer, a blog of design and cultural criticism: today, the site is the largest design publication in the world with more than a million site visits a month. His book 79 Short Essays on Design was published in 2007 by Princeton Architectural Press. His best-selling monograph, 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 announced at Design Indaba in 2015 and published by Thames & Hudson.

From October 16th

Advertising and media people are supposed to understand a huge amount of material; sociology, economics, semiotics, psycholoogy. And that just gets you through the Monday morning status meeting. And perhaps the hardest stuff to pick up is that all that design gubbins the art directors do. They're notoriously bad at talking about it themselves and most of the books you'll buy are as comprehensible as credit default swaps. Which is why I would heartily recommend Michael Bierut's Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design. It's full of good sense, good stories, good ideas and nice fonts. And the essays really are short, perfect for the tube or the 10 minutes in a meeting waiting for the creatives to arrive. Mr Bierut is a partner in Pentagram, so his design credentials don't need listing here, but it's the quality and accessibility of his writing that makes this book so wonderful. He may be a regular contributer to the Design Observer blog but he doesn't write exhibit the horrible habits of we bloggers; hyperbole, using the word stuff a lot, tailing off with an anyway...His essays are cogent, funny and seem properly planned like you were always taught in essay school - they make an argument and end with a punchy final thought. The lessons we can draw are to do with his humility about his profession and the range and depth of his references and intellectual curiosity. He's clearly passionate about what he does; anyone who can write a sustained and convincing polemic called "I Hate ITC Garamond" is properly committed to his craft. But he also knows the limit of his trade and points out the folly of those that try to solve all the problems of the world with design, branding and taglines. Or even worse t-shirts; one essay starts "When fellow designer Sam Potts first emailled me about DOTWHO, the Designs On The White House Organization my initial reaction was slightly exasperated bemusement: when the going gets tough, designers have a t-shirt contest." It's a measure of his generosity that what could have been a piece about designer hubris ends in finding joy in the community around the t-shirt designs. And, for the non-designer, Mr Beirut's cultural sweep catches more than enough material that you're never bored with the fonts and the horizontal scaling. He tells you why Barthes hated ballpoint pens, how Nabokov invented hypertext, of the design thinking of Wilson Pickett and what it's like to fall of a treadmill. And along the way, in essay 68, he'll teach you a trick with the Chanel logo that'll help you sell all sorts of understated work to all sorts of demanding clients. Get yourself a copy. Now we just need a book that'll explain derivatives.

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