By Michael Bierut
272 pages, hardcover, $24.95, published by Princeton Architectural Press, www.papress.com
Michael Bierut begins his collection of essays with an anecdote about being a young designer on a committee formed to establish a New York chapter of the AIGA. His list of renowned speakers was rejected as the usual “show & tell portfolio crap” and a Betty Boop film festival was suggested instead. Back then, Bierut didn’t get what Betty Boop had to do with design, but the recurrent theme in these essays is “design is about everything.”
As a partner at Pentagram, New York, and a senior critic in graphic design at the Yale School of Art, Bierut is also a writer who balances equal doses of optimism and skepticism to draw readers in and let them find their own way out. There’s symmetry in his range of topics in these short essays—most are two-to-three pages long—from the state of design education to last year’s decline by five honorees of the National Design Award presented at the White House. Bierut combines his thoughts on the design practices with observations on a variety of names whose ideas have sparked his interest, including Ed Ruscha, David Carson and Paul Rand’s excess attention to formal design concerns, such as square letter/round letter juxtaposition.
Bierut’s humor and reason carry through whether he’s discussing architecture, plagiarism or the botched redesign of the Iraqi flag. Bierut really smolders when he describes his hatred of ITC Garamond and then he’s droll, commenting on the alleged clarity of its x-height, “In theory this improves its legibility, only in the same way that dog poop’s creamy consistency, in theory, should make it more edible.”
Each of the 79 essays is printed in a different typeface, and though a reader could probably do without Bulmer and Danubia, reading the changing text is part of the enjoyable adventure as Bierut looks at ordinary circumstances of design that have the ability to create extraordinary consequences in life. —Ruth Hagopian