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Michael Bierut: 5 Secrets from 86 Notebooks

About this talk

Renowned graphic designer Michael Bierut claims that he’s not creative. Instead, he likens his job to that of a doctor who tends to patients – “the sicker, the better.” Digging into the 86 notebooks he’s kept over the course of his career, Bierut walks us through 5 projects – from original conception to final execution – extracting a handful of simple lessons (e.g. the problem contains the solution; don’t avoid the obvious) at the foundation of brilliant design solutions.

Michael Bierut, Partner, Pentagram

Prior to joining Pentagram in 1990 as a partner in the firm’s New York office, Michael Bierut 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 Minnesota Children’s Museum, The William Jefferson Clinton Foundation, Mohawk Paper Mills, the New York Jets, Princeton University, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the Morgan Library and Museum.

He has won hundreds of design awards and his work is represented in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Montreal. His commentaries about graphic design in everyday life have been heard nationally on the Public Radio International program “Studio 360” and his appearance in Helvetica: A Documentary Film is considered by many that movie’s funniest moment. Michael is a co-founder of the weblog Design Observer, and his book 79 Short Essays on Design was published in 2007 by Princeton Architectural Press.

Comments (24)
  • Ben Peck

    It very nice to see into the life of someone that has made such an impact on the design community and not only that but the communities that he’s designed for. That was great.


  • JM

    That was really great.

  • Aftab

    I donâ??t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Very informative and nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

  • Maja

    Thank you for sharing, it is enlightening.

  • NotebookMan

    that’s really nice, I enjoyed it, thank’s.

  • mario

    what an enlightening speech…beautiful work by such a beautiful talent. thanks so much!

  • Sam

    Great presentation! The use of your notebooks really helped explain the importance of visual diaries to my students. Very inspiring thanks!

  • Tom Barden

    amazing speech, really inspiring and a lot to be learnt from it. Thanks!

  • Valli

    Michael is truly inspiring.

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  • Suhail Amar

    His talks are so inspiring and natural.. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Michael Locke

    Hi work is amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  • Phil Martin

    The short piece by Nicole Allen (Atlantic, May 2011, p.57) based on sketches by Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas and comments and sketches by Michael Bierut strikes me as unusually intelligent, informative, and instructive of a process yielding a very persuasive logo for Miami’s New World Symphony. It puts Frank Gehry’s symphony hall and Thomas’s orchestra at the top of my list of things to see and hear. — Phil Martin / Gainesville FL

  • Stoker

    Great presentation

  • Murta

    Thanks a lot, Michael, for being so FREEative and CLIEtive. Thanks again, professor:-) 

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  • Victoria

    Best speech I’ve heard in a while! What an amazing work you are doing! Thank you for all the great advice! 

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  • Saïd Martínez

    I keep watching this presentation every few months.

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  • stockdam

    I really enjoyed this. A sense of wonder, urgency and passion and also humility. Some of the concepts can be used in all design including engineering/industrial.


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  • fred williams

    its good to inbrace the obvious



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