TYPO London 2011 - Michael Bierut
The final speaker on the first day of TYPO London was Michael Bierut, of Pentagram, who was sure to tell everyone he has no link to the capital of the Lebanon. And provided his wife’s method of telling people how to spell their name “I E R as in sexier”. So now you have no excuse if you spell it wrong! Oh and also he has twin brothers called Donald and Ronald. Which is a strange little insight into his personal background, which is one, it seems of a not very exciting town in Ohio. But Michael found his passion, and it was art. As seen in a history essay he showed that earned him an A+, complete with an amazing ballpoint pen illustration of the sinking titanic (above bottom left, via). And later he discovered his real passion was design, after designing a flyer for a school theatre production he felt like a celebrity, more people saw his poster than the play itself! The flyer (above bottom right, via) was pretty punky really, hand drawn messy type, but he soon moved on to discover modernism and never look back. Art school, then ten years working for Massimo Vignelli and then onto Pentagram till the present day. Quite a career!
Michael then proceeded to explain ten pieces of Pentagram work, that fitted the conferences theme “Places”. As well as Michaels own theme for his talk “The Only Important Decision”, about how picking a typeface can be the major part of a designers job. The projects he showed were a visual style for the Disney town of Celebration, Identities for the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), a wayfinding system for lower Manhattan, signage systems for the Lever Brothers building, General Dynamics offices and The New York Times building in Times Square as well as super-graphics for the Harley Davidson museum and the New York Jets training facilities.
For me the most interesting project he spoke about was designing the logo for the New World Symphony Orchestra, he thought he had nailed it with a mark influenced by the unique architecture of their Frank Ghery designed theatre. But this along with other ideas had been rejected by the client, he was incredibly honest about how frustrated he got with the process. He wasn’t afraid to admit that a clients rough sketch inspired him to look more at the music itself rather than the architecture. Through looking at the movement of conducting he came up with a perfect solution. Some of the projects made his design process seem so effortless and brilliant but he did show as well that he’s only human.
Overall Michael was a brilliant speaker, articulate and very funny too, with a deadpan sense of humour that was helped by his suit and tie. If you have ever read 79 Short Essays on Design you will know how good he is at writing (Go get it if you haven’t!), but he is definitely just as good at speaking. Very charming, I can just imagine how he wins clients over to his ideas. And what good ideas they are, all the work he showed was great and his explanations behind them were very insightful. Definitely an inspiring lecture, and an inspiring man, it’s easy to tell why he has had such a successful career!
Top image © Gerhard Kassner (via)