Most influential designers; Michael Bierut

The D5 Graphic Design Blog

This is the fifth part of a ten part blog series, if you’re looking to start from the beginning, go here. As part of their 50th anniversary survey GDUSA published a top ten list of the most influential graphic designers working today (amongst other creative professions). I’m going to work, in reverse order, through these top ten designers and establish just what it is that makes them so damn great and more importantly display some of their best works.

#6 Michael Bierut

Like many graphic designers on the list, Bierut is on the receiving end of multiple awards and recognitions with over a hundred to his name, though reeling off a typical list of trophies isn’t the aim of these articles. We want to find out why and what lifted our best designers to the heights of success and hopefully, we can see this through their work.

Bierut himself accredits his achievements to pure passion and hard work, recalling that, in the early stages of his career at Vignelli he would tuck his wife in to bed after a long days work only to return, 3 blocks down, for the nights shift. A relentless stint that went on for four whole years.

Now a partner at most influential graphic design firm; Pentagram New York, Bierut has built up a client list including; Benetton, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Alfred A. Knopf, the Walt Disney Company, Motorola, MillerCoors, Princeton University, Yale School of Architecture, New York University, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Sex, and the New York Jets.

He is also a design educator and serves as a senior critic in graphic design at the Yale School of Art, served more than a decade as the national president of the American Institue of Graphic Arts and is a co-editor of Design Observer.

Topically unfortunate; Michael Bierut has also accredited his design know-how to the HBO series, The Sopranos, who’s lead actor, James Gandolfini aka Tony Soprano sadly passed away yesterdayIn this article, he uses quotes from the hard-ass mafia family to support design arguments, the article again indicates Beirut’s relentlessness, logic, sensibilities and approach to design.

It would seem that Bierut has a sort of graphic design OCD, his partner at pentagram illustrates this by saying; “Michael has a brain that is a giant compendium,” Scher says. “He absorbs and retains everything and pulls it out at the appropriate moment and uses it to its maximal effect. Mention a movie and he quotes from it, maybe he enacts a little scene. Mention a book and he recites a passage and relates it to three other books that have the same spirit, that you haven’t read, but you will now. Mention a designer or architect and he knows the most recent project they’ve completed and their first project, how they’ve changed, how they haven’t, who influenced them, who they influence, and he sometimes will make a little sketch or diagram of their work. There isn’t a day that goes by when I haven’t asked Michael what he knows about anything and what he thinks about everything. If knowledge is power, then Michael Bierut is the most powerful person in the entire design community.”

Hard work and knowledge then are clear common themes in Bierut’s story so lets have a look at what you can achieve with these ‘powers’:

MD_BierutM_DesignCounts_640 MD_BierutM_LightYears_640 MD_BierutM_MatchBooks_640 MD_BierutM_NextWave95_640 MD_BierutM_NY_YSA_640 MD_BierutM_NYWTC_InfoSign_640 MD_BierutM_ProgArch_640 MD_BierutM_Tibor_640 MD_BierutM_United_Plane_640

Also, check out his opinions on graphic design and advertising in the 50’s and the introduction of helvetica and the international style.

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Next week, Paul Sahre!



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