The Masters Series: Michael Bierut in Conversation with Steven Heller


– Good evening, good evening everybody. I’m Francis DiTommaso,
Director of SVA Galleries, and it gives me great pleasure to welcome everyone here to this
evening’s conversation between Michael Bierut and Steven Heller. I would also like to extend a warm welcome to our online audience, who’s watching this from the SVA website. This evening is also being tweeted live on the SVA Twitter account and you can ask a question by using
the hashtag #BeirutSVA. This dialogue is part of the Master Series Michael Beirut, now on view at the SVA Chelsea Gallery, 601 West 26th Street. The exhibition is the 27th in a series of career retrospectives originally conceived in 1988 to honor the
great visual communicators of our time. The honorees have
primarily been designers, but also illustrators, photographers, and art directors, who,
held in high esteem by their peers, have
remained virtually unknown in the public sphere, where their work is nonetheless widely recognized, a consistent influence on
the tenor and direction of contemporary visual culture. I invite you to visit the gallery and see for yourself the dazzling array of works that comprise this
first Bierut retrospective. For those familiar with their careers, you know what a privilege it is to have these two giants of design speak with us this evening. For those of you not familiar with the “man who designed Manhattan,”
as the New York Times recently described him, you are about to learn why Michael Bierut
generates so much buzz. For his interlocutor, here
is a a severely abbreviated biographical sketch
addressed to the maybe, two or three persons in
this audience for whom the name Steven Heller only rings a bell. In the late ’60s, then a 17
year-old aspiring cartoonist, Steve landed a job doing mechanicals at the underground New York free press. A short seven years later, during which he started his own magazine, the New York Review of Sex and Politics, he was hired to art direct the op-ed page of the New York Times. He stayed there 33 years, most of them as Art Director of the book review. Over the last two decades, he has been a contributing editor to Print, Eye, Baseline, and ID as well as the editor of the AIG
Journal of Graphic Design and the online AIG voice. All this, while also co-founding the MFA Designers author department at SVA and serving as its co-chair. The author, co-author, and/or editor of some 170 books on design
and popular culture, and also the curator
of numerous exhibitions and conferences, Steve received the AIGA Medal for Lifetime Achievement, and the Smithsonian Institution
National Design Award, among many other honorifics,
including SVA’s 2003 Master Series Award. On that nicely coincidental note, let us nicely listen to a discussion about the life and career
of the 2015 Master. At its conclusion, our speakers will take questions from the audience, ladies and gentleman, Michael Beirut, and Steven Heller. (audience applause) – But this is not about
me, is it, Michael? – As much as you want it
to be about you, Steve, I can’t support that, so. (audience laughs) – I’ve long admired
Michael Bierut, going back to over 25 years ago when we were introduced at Massimo Vignelli’s office and I thought he was Lebanese, and I’d keep spelling it that way. Years later we together along with Paula Scher and Tibor
Kalman on two different AIGA conferences, and
then with Bill Drenttrel and Jessica Helfand on looking closer to design criticism books. I admire his boundless energy, enviable elocution, and erudition, incredible mastery of metaphor, which you’ll doubtless hear tonight, his extraordinary logic, and not least his piano virtuosity. From the moment I heard him play the 88s at an AIG conference years ago, I knew this guy was cool. And you will agree that his suit is very nice. Michael could have
chosen a career in music, or science or law or government, and with that nasal twang of his, he might have been a
progressive rock radio DJ. But he loves graphic
design, and has devoted his past, present, and future to making it, discussing it, documenting it, and reveling in it. There are many smart
design makers and thinkers, but after rereading Michael’s
earlier book of essays and his recent monograph
which is on sale here, I think Michael has
earned his place on the main stage in the design pantheon, and not just about graphic design. Paul Rand used to tell about the right way to design, which just
happened to be his way. When Michael speaks his design talk, he does not impose unalterable truths but rather allows for the laws
of nature to govern design. Nonetheless, he has coined
some illuminating truisms. He recently told me that it’s not his job to educate a client
about design, that’s not what he’s hired for. And his reluctance to
use his pulpit to preach is one part of what makes him such a seductive conversationalist. The other thing is Michael’s keen ability to turn a phrase. I guarantee that throughout the course of this evening, you’ll tweet
many of Michael’s pearls. But before he utters
them, I prevailed upon a few of Michael’s friends and colleagues to share some of the gems and here are two that ring true to me: Hamish Smith told me that after a client had rejected a logo that everyone on your team loved, you said, “We gave them “a cure for Ebola, but they chose “to remain sick.” (audience laughs) And Paula Scher recalled your warning that clients are normal people, normal people don’t know anything about stupid things like typefaces. Well, this audience is
full of abnormal designers, and design students, so we can happily talk about typefaces,
logos, design jargon, and all that other nerdy stuff. There will also be time for questions with this and our online audience. So I’d like to start our
conversation with this, you seem to have avoided locking into a recognizable Bierut graphics style, but you have an aesthetic
and conceptual attitude, can you tell how this has worked for you, and whether or not you can define through some of the examples we’re about to show what constitutes a Michael
Bierut philosophy, method, attitude, or whatever you wanna call it? – Thanks Steve, you’re right, it’s hard for me to talk my own kind of
approach to design because I really look at every
job as being different, I don’t assume that anyone comes to me because I don’t like
when someone comes to me because they saw something I designed and they want another
thing that looks like that thing, I’m not good at that, and I can’t even reliably replicate the thing I did last time; the appearance of the last time with the next thing that comes along. Instead, a lot of times people will simply come to me and my team at Pentagram with a project like the one behind us, which was for the New York
Department of Transportation, where really, the brief
was so dense, complicated, and intricate that it was just a matter managing all the detail and weaving it all together, in a coherent whole, figuring out what typeface was supposed to go on those maps, what
color the parks would be, how we’d render each of the landmarks, how we would indicate where the
entrances to subways were, that’s what we would argue about, and it’s very hard to impose style on things like that, the problem is just so intricate, it’s like trying to impose style on like a crossword puzzle. You can be good at doing them, you can do them fast or flow, but the thing is gonna come out almost the same way no matter
how you do it, sometimes. – I just wanna mention that’s one his analogies that you should be tweeting. – I’m not sure that’s tweetable yet, I’ll indicate the tweetable
ones by warning, in advance. I’ll count, I’ll say
one, two, three, four, and count up to 140 characters and you’ll know you’re good to go. – Michael I think actually we had made a deal that Michael wouldn’t click around because he’s the star,
and stars don’t click, but I think you may have to. – Okay, if you want. – At least for this round. – Very similar to do the sign on the New York Times building, where Tracy Cameron is
sitting right there. Had the task of figuring
out with me how to get a big sign on a glass building; that was required by
zoning, that every sign in Times Square has to have at least one and preferably, more big signs on it, so it looks like, you know, Times Square. Renzo Piano’s building made of glass and steel, completely transparent, your former palace of
employment actually, Steve, but you were in the old place, right? – [Steve] Oh, I ended up in the new place as well, I couldn’t look out the windows, thanks to you. – No, no, so that sign is actually, it looks opaque from below, but when you look at it straight on it’s actually made out
of all of these little individual pieces that are attached to the breezes the way
that Renzo Piano and his team put on the building, so it sort of accomplishes both things. I maintain that it was very hard to work it out, but again, I think it was sort of virtually the only solution that could have been done
for that particular job, and sort of just working our way to it was a challenge in that regard– – But before you talk about this, – Should I go back first? – One thing that I wanna thank you for are the signs on our office doors. – You know and on the other hand, I don’t have a picture of it if you’ve already purchased the book, or have to for Christmas, you’ll see reproduced therein all
of these different signs we did for the New York
Times interior rooms, which each one of them is different, every mens’ room sign
has a different picture with guys on it, every women’s room sign has a different picture with women on it, and they will be from the entire history of the publication of the times, every mechanical room
has something mechanical photographed on it, et cetera et cetera, all the way up to the door to the balcony, which has a picture of the Pope on it, so. You can sort of declaim as you want on the balcony, I assume
Steve has fantasized about doing that or
perhaps has actually done that so. – I think now I will do that. – Yeah, you should. So sometimes there are
projects that require a kind of anonymity, and like I remember this particular sign, while
we were working on it, I was sure about
everything, whether or not it would actually be
legible, particularly at this time of night when it was sunset, the lights were coming on on the inside, and a full size model of it was built out in New Jersey, just with one letter, a letter “E” as I recall,
the “E” from Times, and so everyone looked at it and sort of became satisfied that yeah,
it would probably work, but I remember being on a
bus going up 8th Avenue, the day that they started
installing the sign, and I remember wait a
second, if today’s Tuesday, it’s the day the sign’s supposed to go up, so I switched to the
right-hand side of the bus, and I looked out and I saw, oh, you could read it, I almost
was jumping up and down. And actually want, if you want to get extra elbow room on a New York city bus, just overreact to a sign on a building, people really give you as much space as you need, it’s quite luxurious. So people backed away, but I sort of calmed down after that. So I think it’s exciting, but I’m not sure most people walking by there just say, “Oh, that must be where
the New York Times is,” and they continue walking on, you know. – [Steve] I actually do
think it’s very exciting. – [Michael] Thank you, I mean, you have the capacity, so. – [Steve] This is actually kind of an interesting piece, so
there are things that I think, like you did the street signs, the parking signs, the “No Pooping” signs, and I would walk by these
flush left beautifully typographically lined up signs and think, I wonder if Michael did
that, and of course, I never called you to
ask, but I found them at the show, quite nicely displayed. But that’s something I would ask myself, did Michael do this
system, this is something I wouldn’t think Michael did. Would you speak for Michael? – This, yeah, well Michael would say if he were here is, and this is a case where it was really specific, where this was a guy named Jeff Braverman was a third-generation nut
vendor from New Jersey, and he had taken the company online, had purchased a hard-to-get URL, their URL used to be nutsonline.com, and then nuts.com became available, so he got it, I can’t tell you who he bought it from, but use your imagination. (audience laughs) And so basically what
he and Braverman family had done for generations is sell nuts, and now they do it online, so if you go to their great website, you can buy all these snacks and whatnot,
and then it comes in packages that look like that, in boxes that look like that, and they do know advertising; their
only advertising is actually the packaging and you know, when people leave– – Littering shells. – You know, leaving
shells around, exactly. But so it’s a family-owned business, and they have a great sense of humor, really lively personalities,
so this wasn’t about, this is a time where I’m kind of grateful that I’m not a standard bearer for some particular ideology, because I think my former boss, Massimo Vignelli, he would have said,
“Well, I guess for this “for this I’ll use Futura, you know, “’cause it’s more fun.” (audience laughs) Type joke for everyone, hooray, some people don’t know it, so. So instead, we tried a bunch of different things and I said, “Let me just go “hand-letter this myself,” so that’s a typeface done by Jeremy Meckle based on my lettering, and then we had Nicholas? – [Man] Christoph Neimann. – [Michael] Christoph Neimann, sorry, draw like these little
characters, you see one poking up there, and so it was like really just about expressing the personality of these nutty people. I don’t think Jeff called
me up because his wife was in a spin class with
a woman who was married to another client of mine;
just, I need some packages, who knows how to do
that, so they came to me, so they weren’t coming for my style, they were coming because they wanted to sell some peanuts, and
by God, they have, so. – [Steven] And you’re a salty character. – I’m less than you think, actually. – So the next group one is part of series that you’ve done. – Yeah, I’ve been working for
Yale School of Architecture, for nearly 15 years now, so this is one of probably 80 plus posters that’s displayed
in the exhibition. By the way, Francis who introduced us, and his team did an amazing job installing this work, the work is such as it is, but the installation is so gorgeous and perfectly done, if you go it, I promise you, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re disappointed by the work in the vitrines and hanging,
you will be delighted by the hardware that is actually hanging the work and the
beautiful way the vitrines and tables and everything
else has been made, so please go see it. But there’s about 80 plus of these posters hanging in one of the galleries there, and they represent work that I was asked to do by the Dean, Robert Ames Stern, who had arrived on the
scene and was determined to prove to people that he was going to run a very diverse and
eclectic program there, that would not be ideologically based, but instead it would respect and express and honor all sort of different strands of architectural practice. So again, in this case is Bob Stern’s previous place of employment was the Columbia School of Architecture; at Columbia, a fantastic designer named Billy Koontz had been
working for them for years, and had developed a style of posters that was remarkable, they
use the same typeface over and over again. – Same typeface, almost
same colors, same grid. – Same typeface, same
format, same grid, amazing. – In fact, year after year, they were beautifully the same. – Yeah, they were beautifully the same, they’d vary slightly, and sort of it was almost like watching
what slight change would he make to it from year to year, and by God, if you saw
one of those posters, you didn’t have to read a word, you knew that it was from the
Columbia Architecture School. So that wouldn’t have
worked for what Bob Stern wanted to do at Yale, and
I don’t think designers who again, were sort of
determined to work through a specific style would have had difficulty with that assignment. Instead, I came back
and said, “My plan is to “never use the same typeface twice.” We happen to have one up
here that features Helvetica in it, but it’s, I
think, virtually the only time Helvetica made an
appearance in all 80 of those posters, and you know, previous Helvetica would
have been something like, I’m not kidding, like dom casual, no joke, typefaces, you know, hobo, I don’t know– – [Steve] It looked like you used hobo for something. – [Michael] You think so, maybe. – [Steve] Well there was
an art nouveau-y poster. – [Michael] Hobo is art
nouveau in your brain? – [Steve] Yes, you wanna fight? (audience laughs) – [Michael] No, carry on. Moving on. So we sort of tried to
pack some little things into this, so if you have good eyesight, right back there, the y in the circle changes every time, it’s
always done differently; that’s the logo, it’s a
circle with “Y” in it, but it can be any Y, and in this case, ’cause it’s about architecture
and psychoanalysis with the Mies van der Rohe couch with all of the type-like buildings on it, the Y is a Rorschach blot, but again, I made that myself, I had
to research Rorschach blots, to do it, hard to do. – You did, I mean there are 80 posters, and there are 80 different designs, all with lots and lots of type. – Yeah, yeah, yeah. – You must have a great deal of patience? – I have a great deal of patience, and really, really talented,
eager people working for me, who have tons and tons
of energy, and for whom that particular series
has been a great way to just try out new things. I had a designer who used it sort of to audition interns for awhile, you know, to just kind
of like, try designing one of these posters,
see how that works out. So those 80 are the ones that I had a hand in all of them, sometimes I can point to a sketch in one of my
notebooks that matches what occurred absolutely,
sometimes I would literally say, do something, the last one was like
this, this one should be more like that, you know. I’m not kidding. – ThIs is your direction. – Yeah, yeah. – So you’re also a choreographer. – Yeah, or a conductor, I prefer – A conductor, yes. – I’ll keep moving on. – Are you a football player? – No, I was very nerdy I
was not good at sports, I was really a nerdy, bookish lonely kid who learned that drawing
and lettering could get me out of fights on the schoolyard. – [Steve] So you got of fights by doing the Jets logo, this gives
a you a lot of equity for many years. – [Michael] I an avidi
testaverde right here, right now, no, this was an interesting case because we were hired to do their brand identity, but the requirement was we weren’t allowed to change their logo, and so that again became an exercise in
what are the ingredients of an identity, and then
we decomposed the logo, we had Johnathan Halford,
Tobias Frere-Jones extrapolate a whole typeface family, – [Steve] This might have
caused their breakup. – [Michael] I think this kept, it was like the baby that kept them together longer perhaps, how about that? But so we just kind of took this thing and tried to render as much value out of that little logo as
they could possibly do. And then sometimes when you work a collaborator like Errol Morris, you really are just trying
to express his particular vision and this is a 800-page examination of a well-reported murder that happened back in the ’70s, that’s still really is either solved or unsolved,
but kind of the guy is– – [Steve] He came out on the side of the? – [Michael] He doesn’t
think Jeff McDonald did it actually, so he came out on the side of not guilty, there is
a guy who has claimed, he’s in jail, he’s in prison
for killing his family, he claims he never did it,
and Errol reinvestigated the whole thing, asked us to do the book, and he’s kind of crazy. He at one point, we did
all these line drawings for the inside of every piece of evidence and he said he wanted
to, I think he sincerely wanted to release it as a children’s coloring book, actually. He said, “Oh, these would
make a great coloring book, “can you imagine that,” and
he was excited about that. And I sort of, if you just want to keep rolling, is that okay? – Yes, keep rolling. – There’s kind of design that I like to do, which is just sort of like, blunt and obvious, and I realized to some people that may be another way of saying stupid and ugly, and for all of you, I apologize. So this is the exterior of James Beaver’s design for the US Pavilion at Expo Milan, which is all dedicated to food and it began as a cover for the proposal, the competitive proposal
that he and his team submitted to get the award to actually do the pavilion. And I remember I sat with, Britt Cobb, who’s sitting over there, and I said, I walked over and said, “Jim wants us to “do a cover for this proposal” we sat down and this is
sort of the simplest thing I could think of, I think Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Giesmar are here,
and I literally said, let’s do something that kind of feels more, forgive me if you hate this, but I said, “I want something that sort of “feels the way those early ’60s “World’s Fair felt that”
so Chermayeff and Geismar did those beautiful things, and sort of really simple and unashamedly
American in a way. And as we did it, we
realized it’s sort of, there are all these tasteful cities that have great, intricate,
subtle food cultures, and people want from
America in that context really has to do with as
much as anything else, what’s sort of the American
road, there’s a food truck court in the back of this,
which is very popular, and this really just has
a character of a billboard in away, so kind of bluntness carries the day again. – So this next one, the Mohawk logo, I’m actually using it in
a book that I’m doing, because I love the way
it looks, I love the way it feels, but also, you got rid of that politically-incorrect
Native American. – Yes, so for years, Mohawk paper company located upstate in Cohoes, New York had a very nicely-drawn, if you ask me, profile of a Mohawk tribesman, kind of in profile, like almost on a coin, and it sort of, I guess,
they actually have a good relationship with the Mohawk tribe up there, who still kind of populate that area in New York state, but it was, as much as anything else, as much as the political
correctness was an issue, and it was, as we’ve
redesigned their identity three times, and the one before this also didn’t have any
Native American imagery, but this one was really supposed to say this paper company is
equipped to deal with the digital age. And so the way that’s an “M” and it sort of is simultaneously supposed to be invoking big rolls of paper but also the connection between various points and as one does, electronically or digitally. – [Michael] I’m glad you said that, because that’s what I wrote
with that archetype, yeah. – [Steve] Oh did you, really, okay, good, it worked. – [Steve] Now I feel better. – [Michael] Good. – [Steve] Next one is environmental. – [Michael] Yeah, and this an example of a long-running project that I worked on, that was sponsored by the
Robin-Hood foundation, which some of you may
know is a philanthropy here in New York City,
they started this very ambitious process of
reassigning public school libraries in neighborhoods
that were really underserved and resource
disadvantaged, the theory being, if you couldn’t redesign the whole school from top to bottom, at least if you could fix the library, you
could create kind of a oasis within that school that would real tender loving care there. And our real job I thought
was to design a logo for the program, which we did, but then I thought, put some signs up, exit, enter, and you know, history, math, label the sections of books, and then one of the architects, Richard Lewis asked us if we could do decorate the space above the shelf in the
ceiling, and that wasn’t in our scope, but we were doing it for free anyways, so it was a little bit of a moot point, it just was what can we do to help, so I said,
“I’m not Diego Rivera, “I’m not a muralist,” but then we sat down and came up with this idea of installing this freeze of kids from the school, a little bit oversized,
looking down at themselves and the library. And this proved so popular
with the librarians, who all visited each
other’s libraries that they started insisting that they have similar installations,
so we ended up doing 30 of these, and then enlisted
a bunch of collaborators when we quickly ran out of ideas. My wife took those photographs, but then ultimately, Stefan
Sagmeister, Myra Coleman, a bunch of different, Peter Arkle, all these different illustrators and artists contributed to that mural program. And so again another thing that I liked to do because I’m lazy is do a Tom Sawyer type of thing and instigate the painting of a fence, make it
look like fun, and then talk people into painting the fence, because it’s just such a riot, while I chew tobacco, or– – [Steve] Chew tobacco, right. – [Michael] Yeah, exactly. – [Steve] Smoke lemonade. – [Michael] Smoke lemonade, yeah, exactly. And so this was definitely
a case of doing that. – [Steve] And the next one
speaks for itself, somewhat. – [Michael] Yeah, exactly, this is is a, actually, I really enjoy writing, and when I was writing
this, what was I thinking? – [Steve] You wrote a
whole series of these. – Yeah, a whole series of these, but basically, this is on the grounds of the Cathedral Church
of Saint John the Divine, we had come up with a program for them that the premise of which was, because if you’ve been up there, it’s a beautiful and beautifully restored Gothic cathedral, right? People go in it and
gawk at it because it’s just awe-inspiring, but they can miss the idea that what happens there are contemporary exhibitions,
contemporary performances, contemporary concerts
as well as really active community outreach program, and it’s also the seat of the Episcopal
Church here in New York, so it has all these different functions. But it’s so intimidating looking that what we thought we would do is combine, we took a Gaudi black letter, kind of repointed it, and then made that the official typeface for the church, which is called, the
typeface is called divine, and then we write unlikely things with it. So they called up an said that on their grounds people
were walking their dogs and failing to clean up after it, and we could just put
up a sign about that, and then Jesse Reed and I came up with a whole series of these. He had one that was more dignified, I think it was, “Collect
what you receive,” right, “collect what you receive,” and I said, “Well, that’s
nice, but let’s just “drive home the point, so.” – [Steve] So this is the modern scripture. – [Michael] Yeah, exactly,
the modern scripture for your grace-seeking canine. So we’re in the political season now, so this was a poster that I did in the wake of what some of you may know from your history books, those of you may recollect having lived through it, the recount in Florida
that was provoked in at least partially, not
just by hanging chads, if you remember what those are, someone named Chad here, I think. But also, the fact that
this is not laid out really well, it’s like, if you look, you’re supposed to punch
the holes at the bottom, first name at the top, George W. Bush, first hole at the top
corresponds to his name, that’s easy, second name down on the left is maybe would have wanted
to vote for Albert Gore the Democrat, but if you
punch the second hole down there, you’re
actually surprise voting for Pat Buchanan, who’s hiding over there on the right, what a surprise, by the way. And so about they,
estimate that maybe as many as 2000 people inadvertently voted for Pat Buchanan in Palm Beach County Florida, George Bush squeaked by, and didn’t really actually officially carry the state, the recount of those disputed ballots were shut down by the Supreme Court, he lost the popular vote anyway, because of typography and layout perhaps, the course of the world was changed, so. – This was a competitor
of Pentagram, right? – Yeah, we bid on that job, but I kept saying, “Does
it have to be a ballot,” you know that was my, so. (laughing) That was a designer joke, I apologize. But it just goes to show, there are no little jobs, it’s a crummy little job, government job, one color, boring, too much type, not enough space, but
if you mess up those– – Change the world. – Yup, changed the world, exactly. – There would be country
in the Middle East, if– – Yeah, exactly, right. – So now it’s time to hear about the early Bierut. – Well, I mean, I keep
clicking these things? – Excuse me? – I just keep clicking? – Yeah, in a moment. – It’s not quite Kim Kardashian tell-all, but it is a reveal that I find gives a rounded picture of you, you are cute. – Thank you, in the back, in the back. – So now you can guide us through these formative years. – Yeah. So I’m from the suburbs
of Cleveland, Ohio, I was born in a place
called Garfield Heights, and later moved to slightly classier, – [Steve] Can I say it, Parma? – [Michael] Parma, Ohio. – [Steve] The home of Bodoni. – Yeah. We didn’t know from Bodoni and Parma, believe me, trust me. It was like regular suburban neighborhood, probably middle-class at best, and what, they didn’t know nothing about graphic design there, I’ll you that much, back in the ’60s. This is Easter Sunday 1969, I’m the older kid in
the back, in front of me is my mom, Anne Marie, my father Lenny, and my two brothers,
who are fraternal twins named Ronald and Donald. (audience laughs) – And now we know where
your wit comes from. – My dear departed mom gave me my wit and my propensity to rhyme, but I think when she would come, and she
saw me speak a couple of times, and I often show this picture,
and say, “My brothers,” then she would say to me afterwards, “Michael, why do people laugh when “you say your brothers’
names, they’re twins, “they’re twins.” (audience laughs) Like, name a Marvin and Jebediah? I mean, you know, it has to rhyme. I forget, if they were girls, I forget what that? – Fern and Dale. – Fern and Dale, I guess so. So I was lonely, nerdy little kid, and then I discovered
had miraculous God-given art talent, and my mom, God bless her, enrolled me in Saturday
morning art classes at one of the greatest
institutions in the world, the Cleveland Museum of Art. This is my drawing that I
did at the age of seven, it’s a copy of Turner’s Burning
of the Houses of Parliament. On the back it says, “The Burning of the Houses of Parliament” by
Michael Bierut, so yeah. So if anyone in this
audience who works for me thinks I ripped off your designs ever, or anyone else thinks so, believe me, I started at the very top with Turner. – [Steve] And you could have done the poster for V for Vendetta. – I could have, I could have, yeah. That’s right. But what’s appealing about that of course with seven year-old boys is it’s all about explosions and fire, and sort of easier to draw than a Davide
would have been, I suppose, so I picked up on it. And then this another work by me from, I was in the sixth grade. This supplemented, it wasn’t required, but it was an added kind of like, extra point bonus submission, of the big sixth grade
social studies report that I did on a topic of my choice, in this case, the sinking of the Titanic, way ahead of James Cameron on this one. And the only thing here I’ll point, I’ll call your attention
to is the loving attention that I paid to the iceberg, and then the casual dismissive way I drew the drowning victims. (audience laughs) They were really not of interest to me, I just loved that iceberg
though, I just loved it. (audience laughs) And so I sort of, and I got an A plus on this paper, and I think
that plus was because of this drawing, and actually, I think put it over the top. The rest of it was good, but this drawing was really great, Bic pen by the way. And you can sort of tell how lonely I was, right? You know, there’s no one really coming around to disturb me, while
I cross-hatch the skies and the sea. – It sounds like you
wanted to drown the people. – Yeah, sort, of like,
die, die all of you, put more drowning people, yeah. (audience laughs) – You wallowed in your loneliness. – Exactly, yeah. Then I had an electrifying experience in the three years later, having kind of consolidated my reputation
as a good artist, I was asked to do the
poster for the school play, that we printed in the silkscreen shop in the basement of the
half vocational school that I went to, and oh, sorry, I forgot that I had this anecdote, this is the logo that changed my life,
my dad pointed at this while I was getting my hair cut, and said, “Look how clever that is,” and I said, “What?” And he says, “Well,” and
it was on a forklift truck, and he said, “You see how the L is lifting “up the A, just like the truck does?” And I was like, thunderstruck by that, I was like, oh my God, oh my God, is this happening everywhere, where else is this happening? (audience laughs) These little surprises, these delightful little visual surprises
all over the place, if so, where can I find them, and further, how can I learn to do them? And I didn’t know that there was some way you could learn to do it, I just knew from Turner and the other people in the art museum, and this increasingly lonely thing I came to associate with doing art, where you would just draw the Titanic, and cross-hatch the iceberg, then die, and then someone
would discover you, and you’d be in a museum then, you know– – And you’d be copied by
somebody like Michael Beirut. – Copied, by some younger
version of yourself, the final insult, right? But I thought, that’s cool. So this logo was on every forklift truck in the neighborhood, it was fantastic, and I used to point out out with glee, I said, “Check it out,”
and some people would be impressed, other people would be like, try to punch me, you know, I had a very punchable face, I think, so. – Well, you did say you were a nerd. – I still may now, actually. But then finally, I sort
of hit the big time, and designed this poster
for the school play, Wait Until Dark, 1972, I didn’t know where type came from, I didn’t know. They gave me the play, they read it. Some of you may know,
it’s a thrilling story about a blind woman who’s being tortured by three thugs, and she uses her, in a way, her sightlessness,
to kind of actually outsmart them, so you have those scary
eyes and everything else, and the kind of weird
lettering at the bottom, but the key thing was, I
arrived in school having submitted this piece
of artwork on the back of a piece of cardboard that came with the laundry or something,
that I’d done with a felt tip pen, and it
was all over the school, it was like everywhere. There was like in every hallway, on lockers, everywhere, like, my name’s not on this at all, but I was thinking,
I’m famous, I’m famous, my art is like everything now. And I became like addicted, like to me, even to this day, if I open a box of
something, and there’s more than one of something designed in it, I get like, really excited, I think, I’m famous, I’m famous. – I don’t think the people in the audience can see the sweat dripping
down your sideburn. – Try to calm down. (audience laughs) So I mean, I have to admit, there was something,
and there was more than that too, it was that, I got to hang out with the drama kids. I was so nerdy that the
drama kids represented a cool step up for me, can you imagine? (audience laughs) Then from there to the
band kids, you know. – And AV, where did they? – AV was like, they were
in a booth somewhere, you know, as we are here, so I wasn’t qualified to go there yet. But it was just like a social thing, I got to read the play, and then like, the drama kids would say, “That poster was “cool, Beirut,” and they
made a small version of it on the program,
they gave the program to everyone that sat down to see it, and I sort of felt like I was in show business sort of, you know? And to this day, part of
the joy of putting the sign on the outside of the New York Times, fiddling with the Jets logo, even doing those school libraries is that part of the day where I
can go visit libraries and talk to librarians,
or insinuate myself in the locker room of a
professional football team, ostensibly because that will help me kind of understand the brand better, or go to the meeting
where they’re deciding what’s going to be on page A1 of the New York Times, ostensibly so I can do the bathroom signs better. But to sort of insinuate yourself in all these different places is one of the joys of being a graphic
designer, and I think anyone who does it, if you work
in publication design, if you work an any field
at all, involved in graphic design, it’s a social activity, you need other people to do it. You need collaborators,
you need people helping you generate what the
content is, and ultimately, you need an audience who
can see and appreciate it or not, you know, so
that’s what makes it fun. – You’d be a great
recruiter for some design school like we’re in. – Yeah, exactly, so. SVA worth every penny, you students. You have a wonderful,
wonderful career ahead of you, as long as you don’t focus too much on the typefaces and the PMS colors, ’cause that’s sort of the least important part, if you ask me. – So let’s continue. You learned your craft somehow, you didn’t just fall in. – Yes, I had my turning
point was discovering a book that you know as well, this amazing book called Aim
for a Job in Graphic Design/Art by S. Neil Fujita, a fantastic
underappreciated designer, who designed, as I found out later, the cover of the book The Godfather, which originated that logo, which you know from the
movie, if nowhere else, and the Columbia Records logo, what a guy. – [Steve] And a lot of
Columbia record albums. – [Michael] Columbia record covers, – [Steve] And books jacket. – [Michael] Yeah, and
book jackets as well, so I found this book in
our high school library, back in Parma, Ohio, and
it sort of gave a name to that thing I wanted to do. I picked it up ’cause it had art on it, but actually that graphic design, which I would have guessed would have something to do with printing, my dad was a printing salesman, and
anyone he knew that did, anytime he’d see anyone
doing commercial art, they were in the back of a print shop, pasting up a church bulletin,
or a bowling score sheet. And so it never occurred
to him to steer me into that field, he had
higher hopes for me, actually, but then I had this
book, and it was called graphic design, and inside
were all these profiles of what real graphic designers,
the young Lou Dorfsman, the young Ruth Ansel,
I think Archie Boston was in there, and was
really an amazing book. – It was an amazing book. – It was an amazing book, and I remember just being, it was like going to the doctor with some ailment, and you know that sense
when he says, “Well, “I know what’s wrong
with you,” it has a name, and it has a cure, and
the fever I had described it on was like doing graphic design, but it was just a relief to know that what I wanted to do actually was a real thing. And so I’ve always called
myself, since then, a graphic designer, I’m
not one of these people who sort of seeks to
kind of wriggle out of whatever straitjacket that’s supposed to create by limiting you
to just graphic design, I think you can navigate so
much and in so many areas by doing that, that it’s really fun. So I got my training at the
University of Cincinnati, oh, these are some of the other options, had I picked up the wrong book. (audience laughs) You guys would all be talking to, a room full of bakers or
barbers or civil servants or something else, but I lucked out. – [Steve] But whatever you picked, you would have been onstage somewhere, so. – [Michael] Somewhere
actually being recruiting for it, as you say so. I went to the University of Cincinnati, where I had all of this
stuff kicked out of me by very rigorous professors, who– – [Steve] They were very modernist school. – [Michael] Modernist
school, Swiss-trained, many of them, Yale-trained, many of them. Very, very serious about graphic design. I actually have a Bachelor
of Science in Design, so I’m like a design scientist, actually, as opposed to a? – A BS, as they say. (audience laughs) – I always assumed the
“S” stood for science, maybe it stands for
something else altogether, now that you mention it, Steve. And so I studied there, but it was in the heyday of this period, where this was a party invitation I did in 1980 that we xeroxed and hung up in
the hallway of the school, I did it myself this time, but it shows sort of all the bad habits that people do in this sort of work, or could indulge in at that time. – [Steve] Before we go to the next, I’d just like to mention, if we read the explanatory panel in your show correctly, you were born, went to school, and then worked for Massimo and Lella. So what did they give you, and what did you bring to them? You obviously didn’t fall totally in line with Helvetica and Bodoni. – No I didn’t, but from nine to five I did. You know, I was a really
enthusiastic mimic. I would like, after I got that Neil Fujita book in graphic design, I studied that, I looked up graphic design in the card catalog of
the regional library, and they had bizarrely
enough, Graphic Design Manual by Armin Hoffman, this
is in suburban Cleveland, the one copy that perhaps existed in the state of Ohio, I was the one person who took it out for months on end, and I was doing like, you know, recapitulating the course of study at the Schule für Gestaltung
in Basel, Switzerland, for a while there in high school, to the chagrin of like,
the football coach, who just wanted me to
do a fall sports program with a football player on it, instead I was saying no, it
should be a abstract leaf with like a you know, so
he was unimpressed by that. (audience laughs) And then I said, “Mom, I want
this book for Christmas,” and she called up and found out, yes indeed, there was a
book called Graphic Design, newly on sale, and it turned out to be Graphic Design by Milton Glaser, and then I just started
copying Milton Glaser, so I had like, really become almost like a ventriloquist or a chameleon or whatever you want to say in the hands of these better, inspirational designers. – Sounds like Zellig. – It was very Zellig-like, actually. So I had some things in my portfolio that were like Vignelli-esque, Massimo saw them, and instead of thinking, oh, this guy copies me, he thought, oh, this guy
has a lot of potential, he could be a great designer. (audience laughs) Which for Massimo, is sort of one in the same thing, actually. ‘Cause Massimo actually, his ideology, and he’s very ideological, one part of it was the role of a designer is to create work that actually was repeatable, that could be repeated by, copied by many people, and in so doing, you could improve the way the world looks, the more people you’d get to copy your style, sort of. That’s putting it really
bluntly and meanly, a former SVA Master
Series Honoree as well, Massimo Vignelli, he’s a
brilliant designer, but. And I came there, I think,
thrilled to work there, it was like a good job in New York in the middle of a
horrible recession in 1980. – When I met you there, you were the only one that wasn’t
wearing a colorless jacket. – Yeah, exactly. Well, I never sort of felt like I could pull it off, Massimo
and Lella Vignelli, his wife, were both the consummate image of glamorous Northern
Italians, great taste, great accents, great personalities, warm, talented. Everyone that came through that office, all the clients, all the visitors, most of the other employees all were just elegant, and I think, I remember I was, that was
me on a really good day. I cropped it so you can’t see the tie dangling almost down
to my knees, you know, or what kind of shoes I was wearing, which may have been like, hiking boots or sneakers, or something. But I was just so happy
to be working there, I really was, and I just loved them, they were like the mom and dad that I needed at that moment in
my life in New York City. And I sort of famously
now, I’ve given this advice to many students, I had a period in my
life when I first moved to New York with my new bride, Dorothy, my girlfriend from high school, we had an apartment that
was three blocks away, we lived on East 65th, the office on was on East 62nd, I had a 45-second commute, if I really hustled. I could go in really
fast, I could wake up, it was Italian, you could wander into work between 9:30 and 10. I would wake up at 9:15, 9:20, do what guys do in the morning, which is next to nothing
and go get a donut, and walk into work. My wife worked in the World Trade Center, actually, on the sixth floor of Tower One, for what was then called,
New York Telephone, I believe, and she, that was like, in that Working Girl era, where she had to like, wear a big bow tie and have a padded jacket, and like, a pleated skirt, and
she would wear sneakers to work, then have her heels there. And so she had to be at work by 8:30, so she would get up at like,
15 to six every morning, or 5:30 to start getting ready and putting on all her armor, then
would take this long commute to the tip of Manhattan, right? And so she got up like, three and a half hours earlier than I did every night. So I would come home from work, she’d come home from work, we’d have dinner together, I would
kiss her goodnight, I’d wash the dishes,
and then after awhile, our apartment was so cockroach-infested and claustrophobic that it was actually an unpleasant place to
be up alone at night in, ’cause I don’t wanna get into the details, but the cockroaches, there
were a lot of cockroaches. But so, I sort of thought, Dorothy would be snoring by then, and so I would just quietly lock the door and walk three blocks south and I had the key to the office, I would just turn on the lights and
work for three more hours. So I had this second
shift I was doing there, and I became enormously productive, just because I didn’t wanna be hanging around my own like, ’cause I’d be in the office more than, – You didn’t mind that she would be eaten. – The cockroaches never actually, they stayed in the kitchen,
as far as I could tell. – So what was the one thing, and I’m sure there were more than one, but what was the one
thing that you remember Massimo telling you that has stuck? – I’ll give you a quote from Massimo, and I’ll give you a quote from Lella. – And do it in accent. – I will if you want, yeah. (audience laughs) – Well Massimo said, I remember, so first, I started
there when I was nobody, I like, did things that
students in this audience wouldn’t even recognize
as like, a design-based graphic design-based activity. My job was like, mixing rubber cement, putting thinner and rubber cement, you know, was more like,
working in a kitchen or something, it involved
like, liquids and stirring, you know? (audience laughs) And they had like, mess,
and it would fall over, and it would go everywhere, then you’d cut yourself with a knife,
and you’d start bleeding, the whole thing was really very physical. And I remember I sort of
started at the bottom, in service to all the real
designers that were there, and finally, I sort of
like, worked my way up, and a few years on, I started getting little projects and finally, I was like, allowed to talk, allowed to be seen by, maybe not be seen, but
talk on the telephone to clients, and so I
would have conversations with clients, and then Massimo would have a client, and then his
underling would work with me, and sometimes
the underlings would get demanding, and they’d
say, “Move this here, “move this there,” and I started getting really excited about the fact that I could like, sort of be
right on that, Chief, and I would do it, then
they’d say make it bigger, then I’d make it bigger, then he’d say, “Make it bigger and make it “even more red,” and I would, Massimo would approve of all those things by the way, make it
bigger and make it red, so I was taking a lot of client direction, the deadline was the next day. Massimo came by my desk and he said, “What is this?” In a cheerful pleasant way, he always always really nice to designers, no matter how badly they were behaving, or how badly they were messing up. He said, “What is this?” And I said, “You know, that thing that’s “due tomorrow for so and so client.” He said, “Why it’s like
this, this is not right?” And I’d say, “No, no, bu they said “they needed this phone
number to be bigger, “so people would call in,” He said, “No, this his horrible,” that was his favorite
thing, “This is horrible.” (audience laughs) And he said, “No, we can’t
do this, this is bad.” And I said, “But it’s due tomorrow, “if it doesn’t go out
tomorrow, it’s gonna be late.” And he said, “No, I make a phone call.” And then at my desk, he
called up my client’s boss, and said, “Listen, this
thing, we just need “more time, it’s not good, you won’t like “the way it is,” and the he
said, “okay, terrific, bye.” And he said, “Now we have another week, “we will fix this thing.” And I was kind of like, oh, which I was like, I
really was literally like, what just happened, and then he said, “Look, kid.” He never called me “kid”,
Lella called me “kid”. He said, “Look, Mike, if it’s on time, “if it’s on budget, no one will care “if it stinks. “If it stinks, no one care if it’s on time “or on budget, it doesn’t
make any difference.” and so it’s only the work in the end that matters, no one will say, “You know, that thing, it didn’t look very good, but you know, it
was really on time.” (audience laughs) And so I remember, sort of thought, and people actually respect you if you make that call, we can make it better for you, we just need more time. Doesn’t work every time, but it would work for him. So my quote from Lella is, Lella as you know was Massimo’s partner, at Vignelli, so Massimo kind of portrayed himself as a creative fountainhead, and Lella like, tended to
the more practical aspects of things, although I think that whole dichotomy was exaggerated and overrated by people who describe it
that way, including me. I don’t think Massimo
was any more practical, but Lella was much more creative than she gets credit for. And I think after I’d really been working there for a while and was
going to meetings regularly, and was running the
graphic design department, Lella actually was really nervous about the combination of me and Massimo going to meetings together. And I remember the one
time the three of us, me, Lella and Massimo
were going to a meeting and Lella said, right outside the door, I remember her saying, she stopped and said to me, she said, “Listen, if they “bring up money, you
keep your mouth shut.” (audience laughs) “And you make sure Massimo
says nothing either, “okay, just don’t say nothing, okay?” And I said, “Right, right, right.” And so the job was designing a shoebox for Anne Klein shoes, I remember that. And it was the initial interview, but we had the job somehow, so were sitting down the famous Vignellis,
me, Mike from Ohio, and the assignment was
design this shoebox, and then finally, the client says, “You have any idea what this sort “of thing is going to cost?” And I went, and in my head I was thinking, Okay, shoebox, it’s got six sides, there’s nothing on the
bottom, so there were only five sides. It was the top, big
moment, miniature poster. There’s that end that just has that stuff, like what size the shoe is, there’s the two long ends,
they’re both the same. Then the back, you never look at. So, 45 hundred dollars, that’s what I thought. And Lella says, “Probably something like “36 thousand dollars.” (audience laughs) And the client said,
“I’ll check our budget, “but it sounds like that will work, “and when will it be ready?” And so you know, I was like… (audience laughs) And so we went out, and the first thing Lella said to me as the door
closed was, “How much would “you have said?” And I said, “45 hundred dollars.” And she said, “You see? “You just made 30 thousand dollars “by keeping your mouth shut.” (audience laughs) (audience applause) So Massimo used to give a speech, I use this quote a lot, Massimo used to give speeches, and he
would say, “I’m the engine, “and Lella’s the brakes.” And I always thought, well, you know who you wanna
be, the engine, right? I mean, that sounds like the fun job. But then I remembered, what do they teach you in driver’s ed, right? You don’t die ’cause the car won’t start, you die ’cause the brakes fail, right? So Lella kept that office alive all those years, and you know who Massimo Vignelli is
because of Lella Vignelli, that’s my view. – I think we should give people a chance to tweet that one. (audience laughs) – You know so, tweet it at your own risk. So this is what I used to do at Vignelli, this is something that Massimo did, this is what I did, okay. So Massimo would say it’s this client, there’s horizontal stripes,
there’s black and red, and I sort of got it, and I sort of didn’t think this was an opportunity
for self-expression on my part, I assumed it was just carrying on a program. We had one assignment, a client that we did everything in black
and red and Bodoni, and a client had asked us to design an invitation to an exhibition
of avant garde furniture. Then they called and
said, “We need another “invitation, it’s for
a lecture by scientists “from NASA about how they design things “like the space shuttle, the Skylab.” And so i was really frustrated, then they said the two
things had to be combined, so I designed something that had this piece of furniture on it with a pot of flowers on the
top, and if you turn it upside down, it’s a rocket ship. And I remember thinking, this is, Massimo would never do
something like this, ’cause he would say it was corny, and too cute, or just silly. I took it home and I showed it to my wife, and I said, “I make a breakthrough, “this is the best thing I ever designed,” and then she said, “Who did this drawing?” And I said, “Me.” She said, “Who are you gonna get “to do the drawing?” And I said, “I think I’m just gonna “go with this sketch.” She said “It has a kind
of naive vitality to it,” and she’s like, “oh,
whatever you say, dear.” (audience laughs) And so, but still, what was funny was, the Vignellis were consummate modernists and consummate formalists. And in fact, when I came to New York, I admired that very much, but I also admired the tradition I came to associate with Fletcher, Forbes, and Gill, with Brown, Johnson and Geismar, with people that actually brought ideas into the work. I can’t say this is a brilliant idea, but what was interesting was, it was red, the typeface is Bodoni, and but what people who
saw it remembered about it, if they remembered anything was just the ingenuity of that
drawing, such as it was. – They thought Massimo
must have been stoned. – Yeah, they thought he must have lost his mind, or something. But he was so patient, he let me get away with it, so God bless him. – Well now we’ve come
to a point where we’re gonna look at your process, so to speak. You have lots of books like this, I went to the Michael Bierut
section of the Duane Reed to buy my own, and they’re
not exactly the same. And I have a handkerchief
actually that matches, I had it made especially for me by the guys on my team. – If you get the poster that’s outside, you can wrap your Christmas presents. – [Michael] As much as
you need of that pattern. – [Steve] So Bierut can follow
you into the spiritual world. Why don’t you talk briefly about the use of your books and how
you started with them. – I have them going all the way back to number one, which is dated 1982, so I started a couple of years into my employment at Vignelli, I realized that I remembered things better if I wrote them down, so I started carrying one of these notebooks with my everywhere, at least everywhere in my business life. And when I use them, a lot of times they’re just filled with phone numbers and I’m writing down notes of what people are saying, so I remember them later, and I it’s really important to me. I’ve seen designers sketchbooks that are just filled with creativity
and drawings and things, and people who see these
are always a little bit kind of surprised and disappointed that there are so many pages of just, phone numbers and
columns of figures, and– – And Post-It notes. – The occasional Post-It
note, is yeah, in there. But I remember very
distinctly, the boring meeting I was in, and I had gotten an assignment from the New York Times to do one of their op-ed illustrations from Nicholas Blechman when he was there, and the essay was by George Canan from
the Princeton-educated– – [Steve] Economist. – [Michael] No, not economist, he was a public, he was
a foreign service guy. – [Steve] Foreign service, okay. – [Michael] And he wrote
this editorial opposing the expansion of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and I was asked to do this black and white drawing
that would accompany that editorial, I was in a meeting with some famous
architects, whose names you recognize in a second, who weren’t paying any attention to me at
all, so I just thought, I’m going to work on the
New York Times thing, and they’ll think I’m being
diligent, taking notes, so I worked out all
those versions of that, and the one on the bottom one, and there it is in the New York Times. And I got 125 dollars for that, I believe, so yay for me, and I defrayed some of the costs of being in that meeting with those architects, so. And so a lot of times there’s something in the books that’s a drawing on the left, and you’ll see it finished here in this poster that I did for Yale. The one on the right, which is kind of cooler, in a way, just didn’t really seem to be as apropos. It was more fun to sketch though, somehow. These were the drawings that we did for the Brooklyn Academy
of Music back in 1995, that eventually turned in the program that they still use today. So I cherry-picked the ones that really make it like I do drawings in these books and they turn into things later, it ain’t necessarily so, though, you know. This is the library
project, that’s the logo, it simply has an exclamation mark where the I and Y in library are supposed to go. And there it is in real life. This is an early drawing for the bags for Saks Fifth Avenue. – [Steve] You did those? – [Michael] That’s exactly what, when my mother-in-law used to have a Saks bag in the house, and my wife, would say, “You know,
Mike designed those.” And my mother-in-law, she was just like, couldn’t understand
what that sentence meant in relationship to those shopping bags. (audience laughs) First she’d think there were things in the shopping bag that I had somebody do; no, it’s the bag itself. Has a handle on it, has indeed, five sides no top, so, and
how much did we charge, do you think? No, I’m just kidding, let’s not go there. (audience laughs) But you know, those turned into this, so she, and I think partly, actually that reaction
is one of the things that was really satisfying. I remember two things, I remember several things about this project. One was it took us a really long time to figure out that it would be okay to take their old logos, a logo that Massimo had used indeed in the late ’70s, he designed a packaging program for Saks, designed by Tom Carnesi, if you’re keeping score at home. And we took that logo, cleaned it up, and then did this fragmentation of it, which was stolen almost directly from Norman Ives, who some
people in this audience will know, he did this all the time, but not on a shopping
bag and not for Saks, so. And what they wanted was someone like the Burberry pattern to be able to identify right away as theirs, and I said, “You need to do a lot of stuff for that.” Then finally we realized
this would be okay, and it was so exciting to realize that this would work, and I remember thinking, this works no matter how
you arrange the squares, it still looks like Saks. – Were you playing with Rubik’s Cube at the time? – No, but we made one of
those of little things that’s actually, that’s in the exhibit, – Oh, those things, yeah, yeah. – Those things where one square’s empty and you move them around till you form the whole thing. But I remember the other
exciting thing was, I was in a restaurant with Dorothy, and someone walked in
carrying one of these bags, it was the first time
I had seen a stranger holding the bag, and I can’t tell you how exciting that is, and like, did I say anything to this poor lady? “Hey”, I didn’t say a word to them. – You didn’t jump up and down
and clear the restaurant. – I jumped up and knocked over the table, and got stuff all over Dorothy, and vaulted over her unconscious form, no I did nothing like that– – I love your enthusiasm. – No, I didn’t do any of those. No, I just kind of went, (gasps) and I sort of (groans). “Saks bag, Saks bag!” She says, “What, Heimlich maneuver?” I said, “No, no, it’s the lady’s got “that bag I did for Saks.” And she’s like, “Oh, it’s
nice, it’s nice, so.” (audience laughs) My wife is not a designer, she started out working of New York Telephone, and then she raised our
three wonderful kids, then went back to school and got an MBA, and then she got an MSW, and now she’s a psychotherapist, so. She said she had practiced at the amateur level on me for years, and she decided to go pro, actually. (audience laughs Or maybe I say that,
it sounds right to me. So we struggled for months to do a logo for the Museum of Arts and Design on Columbus Circle, and then finally when we realized the direction we had been pursuing wasn’t working, came up with one that did worked, and in turn basically into that, which the logo they still have today. We did this logo system for MIT Media Lab, and this is a drawing that I worked out with Aron Fay, who was actually the mastermind of this, and
kind of figuring out how the levels of connections would work between the various entities there, and it ended up looking more like that. – [Steve] And before you turn this slide, we’re gonna come to something else, something that has garnered
considerable criticism, perhaps you’d like to talk about it, and maybe show it. – Well, there’s a bunch of notes here, another client on the right. On the bottom you sort of see some drawings that represent the logo we did for Verizon, or maybe I’m blocking it with my body, maybe (mumbles). So my wife worked for New York Telephone, she actually worked for Bell Telephone, but then New York
Telephone was a baby Bell they had to get rid of, that turned into NYNEX. NYNEX merged with Atlantic Bell, I think, or Bell Atlantic, then
Bell Atlantic merged with GTE, and when they merged with GTE they formed Verizon, and then Verizon at that point had a logo that had Helvetica bold italic, had a Z that was big, and the tail went under the thing and faded out at the end, the above it was– – [Steve] Was the Zorro. – [Michael] Was yeah, like Zorro. Then above it was a V-shaped thing that again faded out. And it wasn’t one of my favorite logos in the world, then we got a call, would we like to get involved with perhaps changing it,
and their brand pillars were and are something like simplicity, accessibility, and reliability, and the problem with that logo was it was complicated, inconsistently used, and no one quite understood what
all those things meant. – [Steve] Just like their service. – [Michael] You know, I’m gonna say something really honest,
I am a Verizon customer and I have no complaints,
and I have Fios connection at home, I need a lot
of customer assistance on the phone, and I’m well, well satisfied with the level of
customer assistance I get, and that was even before
I had any relationship with them, so I vouch for
them as a service provider, but I would say overall, telecom companies are not among most beloved capitalist enterprises in our country. – No, those and oil companies. – Yeah, everyone says I wanna be loved like Harley Davidson, or Apple Computer, and you know, like no one
gets tattoos with Sprint. (audience laughs) At any rate, so we actually went through this process of reducing things to get as simple as possible,
as clear as possible, and basically, just
kind of ended up boiling it down to the word
Verizon with a check mark after it, the idea being that you check something
off, and that’s handled, I got that, everyone
sort of understands it. – New logo, check. – Yeah, new logo, check. So there it is, that’s what,
if you wait long enough, you’ll eventually get
an iPhone that has that on it instead of existing logo on it, so. – [Steve] Do you get the same chills, when you see it? – Oh, you know, in Grand Central, I really got a massive brand takeover for Fios and it sort of is like I think to myself, I never yell out, “I did that” and people might say, “You did that, “what does that mean? “How much do they pay you to do that, “just some lettering
with a check after it,” but all I can say I like, 4500 dollars doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but Lella Vignelli wasn’t
there, so you know. This was a case where I
actually felt really strongly, unlike say, MIT Media Lab, which is really narrow casting to a audience that’s operating
at a certain level. This is a a really ubiquitous brand, and with any luck, its logo will be around for a long time, and
it will be manipulated by different people other than me for many years to come; ad agencies, different designers will do things with it; and I’d spend a lot of time thinking about how
the Target target works, you know, that was in fact fact designed by Unimark,
Massimo Vignelli’s company in the late ’60s and if
it was launched today, can you imagine the Twitter
storm that would ensue? You know, this is all they could come up with, its name is Target, and the logo is just a target? – What do you think accounts for this constant Twitter storm of logo-bashing? – You know, I really don’t quite, I mean, I actually think
it’s a little bit baffling, I think it’s something
about having funny negative opinions about things is sort of what the internet is made for. Again, just as people
don’t get tattoos with the names of telecom
companies, no one ever says, loving the new Verizon logo, that new Google logo’s so cool, love it. Like people just sort of say, or they come up with things
they think are clever, but they’re just sort of like, my four year-old could have designed that. “It looks like it was
designed in PowerPoint”, that’s like a big thing. Like no, I used the Hadrian
Collider to design it, are you impressed? You know, what the, who cares? I did this thing with a pencil that anyone could own, but maybe I’ll use like a ruling pen– – Well, have logos become a
substitute for something else? – Well, in some cases. People have these
feelings about the things the logos stand for, and
then they’ll kind of, they’re behaving as
they should, that’s what symbols do, right? Symbols represent things, and they become the placeholder for our
feelings about them, so I don’t feel like it’s a bad thing that people have these feelings, so. – Well there’s no logo
there, but here’s one. – Yeah. I worked on this one, and I remember I had the same feeling, I was– – [Steve] This one is what again? – [Michael] This is for
the next President of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton. (audience applause) – [Steve] Okay, we’re not politicizing. – [Michael] We’re not
politicizing this evening. I got called by them– – [Steve] But I noticed that there wasn’t a lot of applause. It’s almost like saying Ted Cruz. – [Michael] Oh, come on, Ted Cruz, please. Or Lincoln Chafee, give it up, no one, so. (audience laughs)
(scattered applause) Bernie Sanders. (scattered applause) – [Steve] They don’t care. – [Michael] They don’t
care, they’re apolitical, they’re here for the
designs, here for the shapes and colors, not for the politics. – [Steve] It’s only America. – [Michael] So I got
called by some people at the campaign, asking me whether I would do this, and I said immediately, it’s pure volunteer work. I put together a small cadre of people in the office, Jesse Reed, Julia Lumley, who’s right there, we all
worked on it together, under the cloak of secrecy, no one else knew we were working on it. And this is exactly the logo we wanted them to do. We weren’t forced to do this, this is we wanted to
do, because we had this big idea, the big idea was a logo that would change all the time, and it would be a really simple form that would change all the time, a simple form that indeed, four year-olds could draw. And I remember seeing when she put out her launch video, at the very
end, this animated thing on, it was my logo, and
I did jump up and down. I was like, I can’t believe it, that’s really the logo,
they really did it, I can’t believe it. And I was so excited about it, and then, like I swear
to God, I went online, and you know, it was like
this, “Lucky third-grader.” This is Ben Schott, who I think is a smart guy. “Designed in PowerPoint,” okay, so we used Creative Suite Five, or
I don’t know what we use, but at any rate, no, we use
fancy things, not PowerPoint. – The wave of interest amongst the journalists was high. And the depth of criticism was deep. So were you prepared for it? – [Michael] No, I wasn’t, actually, and in fact, I wasn’t
prepared, and I had a a philosophy, this at the bottom, it shows our Vice President, it says, “I worked for “months developing the Hillary logo, “and this is the thanks I get?” He’s so sad, right? But actually, it was kind of pain, the worst thing about it was, I sort of vowed to
myself, and I had a tacit agreement with the campaign,
that’s sort of like getting into some sort
of argument about the logo was really unhelpful,
and the only thing you could do was just lay low and
think this too shall pass. And I have to admit,
because they launched with the red and blue logo,
and I kept thinking, no, it’s gonna do all these cool things, why can’t it do the cool things? And I remember like, saying to someone at the campaign like, “Why
don’t we kind of show “those variations?” And they said, “Chill
out, it will be okay.” And so, but yet. – [Steve] Do you have a
favorite takeoff on it? – [Michael] Oh no, I have several. That’s not my favorite, that’s terrible. This is definitely not my
favorite, that’s terrible. “Hillary’s logo is awful,
it looks like a sign for an ER department at a hospital”. At the bottom, Internet Musings says, “When I see this, I
wonder what Paula Scher “of Pentagram would have done instead.” I ask myself that question every day, about every single project that I work on. I laughed out loud when I saw this, this may not mean anything
to you, you get it? Thank you, Charts and
Maps, and Laura Kurgan. And “Design experts trash
Hillary Clinton’s new logo” that’s for the record, there. So this came out, and I have to admit, this was cool. Some guy actually took it and made a whole alphabet with it, and called it, he called it Hillvetica. (audience laughs) And so I remember thinking that was cool, and someone else actually
put in Fontographer or whatever you do nowadays, and turned it into a real typeface, and
then the Hillary campaign did this, and I remember, I sent them a note that said, “That
is so cool, thank you.” And they said, “Oh, we
were afraid you wouldn’t “like it,” and I said, “No,
I think it’s fantastic, “it’s exactly what should be happening.” And then we started like, Felix Sockwell was a friend of mine and said his kids did this at the beach, and
he sent me this picture, I sent it on to the campaign, and then on Memorial Day, they put this out there. You know, have a good
Memorial Day Weekend, and that’s what I like,
like it’s simple enough for a kid to do. But then finally the turning point was the day they argued marriage equality in front of the Supreme Court, and the campaign and Hillary turned the logo everywhere, on their Facebook page, on
their Twitter feed, everywhere, to this. And it made the New York Times, it made the Washington Post, it’s like, “Hillary changes logo
to back gay marriage”, it sort of was like
really big news, you know? And the idea that changing a logo could dramatize a policy
statement was really kind of, was what we were thinking
might happen all along. – [Steve] And that’s what
the Obama “O” was doing. – [Michael] But almost
inadvertently; this thing had this cooked into the beginning. And then finally, “It’s
official, Hillary logo is “actually perfect” in case
you needed reassurance about that, so. (audience laughs) So it’s still people,
someone just tweeted, it’s like the biggest
piece of vulgar hackery they’ve ever seen, but now. And then my wife said, “You know Mike, “I’m not sure this is
really all about the logo.” I said, “It isn’t?” So, but I think people
have these feelings, and they get projected onto things, so. I’m really proud of this
work, I’m really proud to be associated with a candidate I really think is smart and wonderful, so. I just didn’t want to do any harm, and I think in the long-run it may have actually helped the campaign slightly. – Well, we’re getting close to the end, but I’d like to know something about how you teach, because when you talk, it’s like a great Don
donning his great robe. – Oh, really? – Yes, it’s that’s voice of yours, the– – The nasal Cleveland accent, commanding– – Seductive, yeah. – Oh, I’ve never heard it
called “seductive”, believe me. I’ll phone call you later tonight, yeah. – I want to give you a hanky, but. Talk a little bit about
your 100-day project. – I’m not a good teacher. You need to be, I’m not as patient as you need to be to be a good teacher, I don’t have the stamina to be a good teacher, and I’ve had an association
with the Yale School of Art where I’m a visiting critic. And at the beginning, 15 years ago, I used to actually try to teach courses, the way that I thought
they should be taught at an Ivy League school. – [Steve] “Teached”? – [Michael] Wait, now I’m getting kind of George Bush-yin my
elocutions, and I apologize. I try to teach classes the way I thought they should be taught
at an Ivy League level, and I’m just not good at it. And another fellow instructor there, Paul Ellerman said, “Why
don’t you just be yourself? “Be a guy who works nine to five down in “the city, then he’d come up New Haven, and he’d say, ‘Here’s
this thing I’m working on, “‘and like, knock yourself out.'” So I used to give different assignments, I used to have Nicholas Blechman in fact, give me assignments
from the op-ed page and just give them to this class to do, and then take them back to Nicholas, and he would run them,
actually, it was really great, and pay for them, by the way. But then I got it to the point where I was only going there once in the spring and once in the fall to formally teach, and Sheila Levrant de
Bretteville, the department head gave me the two dates,
and for some reason, I sort of had this weird Rain Man-sense about these two dates,
and I counted in between, I saw they were exactly 100 days apart. And I said, “Okay, here’s the assignment,” and I just typed up the assignment, so it looked kind of like a
formal academic assignment. – Wait a minute, you actually realized in your brain, they were 100 days apart? – No, no, I had to count, I had to go lie, one, two, three, and I’d
count them several times– – But you had that instinct? – I sort of sensed something
funny was happening. – Scary. – Yeah, I’d do card counting with you at a casino anytime, if
you’d buy me a nice suit. – And toothpicks. – Toothpicks too, yeah. Wapner, whenever I get like that, Dorothy starts saying,
“Time, for a Wapner,” if you saw that movie, you’ll know what she’s talking about. I get like that sometimes. So they’re 100 days apart, and I sort of came up
and I said to Dorothy, “I think I’ve got this idea, “I just want to like,
give them something to do, “and say, ‘You just do
it over and over again “‘for 100 days, and I’ll
come back in 100 days, “‘and you show me what you did.'” And that’s what happened,
and so this was a poster that was done several years into the assignment, I did
for six years in a row, then I took a year off,
then I did it some more. And when I would do it,
just amazing things, I don’t have any things to show, but a lot of them are
online, and now different people are doing that. Debbie Millman does an
amazing version of it, and she’s really a good teacher. And so I did it as like, a way to cover up the fact that I sort of like, my idea of teaching is just do this 100 times, get back to me when you’re finished, or you know. We were able to have colloquies in between but Debbie really does this here at the School of Visual Arts,
so MFA Program and Branding, she does great, great
stuff with her students, and different people now do this on different levels, around the world. People have always done stuff like this as kind of a zen-like discipline. But I think kind of giving yourself the magic number of 100 is really interesting. You do six, and you think this is fun, and then people freak out at around, not at 49 or 60, it’s like
17 is the magic number. You’ve been doing for
two weeks and suddenly you think, I’ve been doing this forever, and it’s like, I can’t take it anymore. And then if you can get past like, the 20s, you’ll finish it
the whole way, generally. And then so people have done
all these different things, film themselves doing a dance everyday, tortured a little plastic
figure a different way every day, done a hundred versions of, Jesse Asphenson, who worked for us for a number of years did a 100 versions of a single Muller-Brockman poster. (laughs) It sounds hilarious, but it was amazing, it was an act of virtuosity, it was like Bach doing the Goldberg Variations, like the same song all
these different ways, it was incredible. – Could you hum the Goldberg Variations? – Sure, (hums) – See, I told you you could have been a musician. – Yeah, right, exactly. A singer, too. – Let’s talk a little bit about your book. – I put off doing this
book for a long time, ’cause I sort of, people nowadays, if they do one of these
monographs showing their own work, there seems
to be this requirement that you subvert the genre,
and you do it in some way that just upsets people’s
expectations about what a kind of book like
this could and should be, and I’m sort of not a
subversive kind of guy. And I sort of agreed to do the book, and then I was frozen for a month or two, ’cause I couldn’t figure out how to start, or what form it should take, or what tone of voice it should have. And I swear, I went back to the books that I loved when I was in
college, Graphic Design by Milton Glaser, The Art of
Advertising by George Lois, Thoughts on Design by Paul Rand, you know, and these
were books that you sort of felt that person, that Lois or Rand or Milton Glaser was actually just sort of sitting patiently with
you, showing their work, and talking about how
they came to do this, or how they came to do that. And I just thought well,
that sounds like a cop out, ’cause it’s just not done anymore, but I’ll try it, and see whether it works. And it ended up being
the thing that works, so the book is called How
To, because I basically just show things, and everything’s couched in how to do this and how to do that, and it’s sort of slightly tongue-in-cheek, but not in a subversive way, and then the cover, the hardcover wrap is a homage to these notebooks that I have this fetish about. And then inside I basically just take three dozen projects,
and it could be like, Saks Fifth Avenue, and I just basically, because I happen to be a little bit of a pack rat and we have
very good archivists at Pentagram, we’ll show sort of some of the studies that have led up to it, we’ll explain the mechanics behind how the things came to be
made, and sort of just talk about you know, what
the thing looked like when it was all done. – [Steve] What’s the one you had the most fun writing about, ’cause the writing is clearly quite good. – [Michael] Oh thank
you, from Steve Heller, saying the writing was good. And I’m sure he clapped, Steve is like, – [Steve] Over whelming.
(audience laughs) – If you get a compliment from Steve it’s serious, thank you. Thank you, I’ll clap for you. They were all fun, there were certain ones that were very personal, they were very fun to write, but there were some that
were actually confessional, the like the one for the
Museum of Arts and Design, where I was really doing it wrong for half the time, or this
notorious thing that I did for New World Symphony in Miami, where I was so lost, I was
designing progressively more horrible logos, then finally, the artistic director of the symphony sent me a sketch and
said, “Please, just do “it like this.” (laughs) And you guys probably would think that was like, offensive, and I kind of like, pretended I was offended by it, but then I realized, it was literally like
doing a crossword puzzle and looking it up on Google, oh, here’s the answer. But it sort of wasn’t exactly the way he sketched it, but it ended up being the prompt that I needed
to figure out actually how to do like, where I think it’s a good logo for them. So I think sort of the
failures and the difficulties and the struggles were
more fun to write about. In effect, there were projects I was proud of that I left out of the
book, because I didn’t think the story was interesting enough to justify a chapter, so I think that, – That’s very restrained. – It’s big like this,
but it’s not, you know. – Well let’s, before we end this and go to the audience, what is the piece that
you are most happy about? And I use the word
“happy”, not proud, happy. – This one actually
does make me very happy, partly because it’s one of those stories of near-failure. I got what for me is a really unpleasant, unpleasant assignment, I was the chair of a competition run by an organization no longer with us, called The
American Center for Design, it was a design competition,
and they asked me to be in charge of the design competition. One of the responsibilities of the person in charge of the graphic
design competition was to design the call for entries, the mailer that would be
sent out, asking my fellow designers to submit designs to be judged by me and my jury. So I can imagine there
are certain designers that that would be the dream project, think about it, completely open brief, I could do whatever I wanted. Two, the audience isn’t like, regular people, it’s like
designers, people who can appreciate the
excellence of my work, right? And then finally, it was all about me, and so like, what’s really not to like in that combination? I like the all about me part, but I hate the other two parts. (laughs) Like, I just hate not having a brief, I like it when they say,
“This is the zoning ordinance “for this part of
Manhattan, the sign has to “be so big, this is the working,” you know, it’s no fun
doing a crossword puzzle if there aren’t any squares or clues. You need the clues and
you need the squares and boxes, that’s what makes it fun to do. And so I didn’t have any of that, and not only that, but
thinking this is going to be embarrassing,
because everyone else knows that I could have done anything, and then he does that, this was before Twitter was invented, so the humiliation was kind of lower-grade, you would suspect people hated it, but you wouldn’t actually know immediately, the
way that you know now. And so I remember, I just kind
of was panicking about it, and what a great gift to get, to be able to do something so cool like that, and I’m thinking, I have this gift sitting in front of me, and I don’t know what to do with it. And so they called me and
said, “How’s the poster going?” I say, “I’m working on it.” They said, “You have to
write a judge’s statement, “can you write the statement that will “go on the back,” with
like, the judge’s statement about the nature of the competition was supposed to be this year. So I sat down to write that, and it ended up being this
stream of consciousness kind of like, spew rant, that was just sort of
like, about how befuddled I was by kind of having to pick a style, kind of figuring out what something should look like without any context, and trying to decide what would look cool, when I just don’t have it, and so I just wrote this thing, and I said, “Here’s the
back,” and they said, “This is great, why don’t we just print “this on the front, really big?” And I was like, “Oh, that’s
write, in all type solution, “I can do an all type solution.” And so then I thought but, what typeface should it be? Helvetica, or Bodoni, never got over working for Massimo,
Helvetica, modernist boring. You know, some trendy typeface trying to be very trendy, unsuitable. And so I was sort of thinking, I don’t want to make a
typeface, stop making me make a typeface, and
then I was thinking, how could I do this, what instrument could I have where it would
be like, just come out without the intersection of like, all this crap in my head,
and all the design stuff floating around me, and just have it come out in this pure form? So luckily– – Can I interrupt? – Yeah. – I think we should leave it there, and let them guess what
kind of typeface you used. Let’s just be silent for a minute. – Any guesses? No one. – [Man] (mumbles) – Ah, no, that would be bad too. – [Man] Typewriter. – No, typewriter, bad guess. Only handwriting is closer. Should I? – Yes, now. I need to see it. – So my daughter Liz was four years old, she knew the alphabet,
but not how to read. And I said, “Liz, can you write down some “letters for me,” so I just spelled the essay out to her letter by letter, and this is what she wrote. So it’s, “What is good
design, is it problem-solving, “or is it the coolest thing you can make “the client buy?” “Is the type reversed out of an oval, “is it little books bound with twigs, “old clip art, xeroxed stuff, 800 percent, “franklin gothic and a
lot of different sizes “all jammed together, what if one letter “is a different color? “Or maybe some emigre type above a picture “of a chair, should we layer in a quote “from Foucault, or maybe Groucho Marx, “is this good design, or
is it something more?” And I swear to God, using
my lovely daughter Liz as like, an innocent,
utterly innocent instrument of what was going on in my mind was a way of like, purifying, it was like laundering ideas, sort of, and it just came out like that. By the way, when I had this idea, I mocked it up myself, and I did my best kid’s handwriting, don’t
even try to do that, you want kid’s handwriting,
find a four year-old they do kid’s handwriting, adults just do things that they think look
like kid’s handwriting, don’t do it. – You can get them from Behance. – From Behance, that’s right, fonts for a dollar or whatever it is, freefonts.com. But there was something about this that actually, not only was it
something I really believed in, but it was actually a way of making kind of universal by out of
the mouths of babes, I guess, was the thing. Liz by the way, is 29 years old, and she’s a lawyer up on Ropes and Gray up on 6th Avenue, now, can you believe it? – And this is what got her the job. – This is what got her the job. If you google Liz,
you’ll get one Google hit for her law biography, and like, lots of one for this,
“Lettering by Liz Bierut,” they think well, how can I get Liz Bierut, I need lettering that really looks like a kid did it, is this Ropes and Gray, can I speak to attorney, Liz Bierut? No, that doesn’t happen, no. I’m very proud of this, partly because collaborating with my
children doesn’t happen often, but when it does, and
it’s happened several times. It sort of is, I collaborated with, you would actually use the
word “exploit” instead, but they seem to be happy enough to participate, so. – So it’s time for some questions from the audience, either our virtual audience or our living, breathing audience. There’s a question there. – [Man] Do you still have
that notebook piece of paper that Liz wrote on? – Oh my God, that’s a
really good question, do I still have the
original notebook piece of paper, I think I probably still have it somewhere. I haven’t seen it in years
though, it’s buried deep. I wouldn’t have thrown it out, and I remember, I just made a photostat of it, and I took it. So I’ve got it somewhere,
and she only made I think, she made one mistake that I had to fix with Wite-out,
and everything else was fine, including, she did this great thing where I said “800% made,” she made the zeroes really small, then when she was writing oval, she said,
“This is almost like “love, isn’t it, except
it’s sort of backwards.” And she said all these,
just beautiful things, that were kind of taking
my supposed writing and really making it much more poetic, so. I don’t have it, she might have taken it with her, actually. It wasn’t a work for hire
job, she actually retained rights over the artwork. (audience laughs) – But she didn’t make any money. – She didn’t make any, none of us made any money on that one, I don’t think. – Question over here, I think. – [Woman] I have a question, Michael, could you talk about the limitation of typefaces that you used at Vignelli, and how that affected you when you got out of there? – Yeah, well Massimo was famous for using a limited number of
typefaces, and in fact, his exhibition at the
Master’s Series here at SVA was built around that idea, and he wrote a rant that he wrote himself that he said in the typeface he designed himself, his version of Bodoni,
said something like, “There’s a proliferation of typefaces, “and they’re horrible, all we really need “is a few basic typefaces, and throw out “the rest,” and so he basically organized the exhibition just around, I think, five typefaces, Helvetica,
Bodoni, Garamond, Futura, and maybe? – Century? – Century, yeah, Century Expanded. And so there would be all these things he designed in Futura, all these things he designed in Helvetica, all these things he designed in Garamond,
and he was able to build and fill a huge
space just with typefaces that worked on using those five typefaces. It wasn’t quite as
stringent as the legend was, but I remember one time, I used a typeface and I used Franklin Gothic on it, and I did a poster, I
used Franklin Gothic, and he literally came to my desk and says, “What is that typeface?”
(audience laughs) I said, “It’s Franklin Gothic.” And he said, “Why use that?” And I said, “I don’t know,
Ivan Chermayeff uses Franklin Gothic, but the MOMA logo
was Franklin Gothic.” It was printed already, thank God, or else he would have changed it. But I mean, he’s sort of like, even Franklin Gothic
as like, why would you use that when you have
Helvetica or Futura, what’s the point of this
other typeface, you know? So I worked there for 10 years, and when I got out,
(scoffs) when I got out, (audience laughs) yeah, the Shawshank Redemption, SVA-style. I burrowed through, – You grew your hair. – I grew my hair, yeah – And you used a lot of typefaces. – No, I went through this binge of what I called typographic promiscuity, where I just like, was
using all these typefaces that I’d been deprived of all along. My lovely wife Dorothy, who was dating in high school, I’m still married to today, who figures large in all my stories, she went to a school
called Saint Columbkille, and she always was marveled when she went to public school. She went to elementary school
called Saint Columbkille, transferred to my high school, and always marveled at
how, it was always the Catholic school girls who had to wear these prim uniforms through eight grade, when they got to ninth
grade at Normandy High, they would be the ones who would be wearing the most outrageous
Britney Spears-type outfits, because they were just
so happy to be liberated from that, and she
said, “You’re like that, “except with typefaces, aren’t you?” And I said, “Well you’re
saying I’m sort of, “a typographic slut, that’s
like slut-shaming, isn’t it?” And but I really binged for a while, but binging is not good either, and I finally hit bottom,
and then acquired a little bit of sobriety
and sort of came back. I still find typefaces
and the moment where you choose a typeface so fascinating, and so interesting. It’s funny, the typeface of this book, I was fretting about quite a bit. Liz is no longer available for lettering the whole thing, and so I remember, I went around the office,
and I remember asking Luke Hayman, one of my partners, what typeface should this be, and he says, “Well,
let’s see,” and he pulled a book off the shelf, and it was a book of posters for MOMA that was done in about 1978, all seven Helvetica, designed by Massimo, and he’s said, “This looks pretty good.” (laughing) And I said, “Really, Helvetica?” But we had designed
this special version of Helvetica for the
Department of Transportation that has all the tittles, the square dots over the I’s and J’s, and the periods, and the semicolons, and
the colons and everything, were redrawn to be
round instead of square, because dot, D-O-T, get it, Steve? – No, explain it. – Okay, talk to me later. But at any rate, we did this custom version of that, and the
Department of Transportation in monotype gave us permission to use it in the book and in the exhibition, and so you think it’s Helvetica, but it’s this very rare,
barely seen anywhere typeface called Helvetica D-O-T, known only by the fact that it has round dots over the I’s, and
there’s the German edition, there’s the big panicky call I got, where they realized they didn’t have rounded umlauts, so we had to go back and get those worked into the thing, so. – I would have just not
had a German edition. – Exactly, I just can’t
handle it, exactly. But it was interesting,
the are people here still in school, people
here at the beginning of their careers, and mid-career, and it’s very funny how
you go through these periods of exploring something and then pulling back from it,
then trying something new, or hitting a plateau, it
isn’t one steady thing, at least it wasn’t for
me, and one of my partners in London, John Rushworth,
when he saw the book said I was really kind
of becoming Massimo now, and I was like, really? And he says, “Well,
that’s what it looks like “to me,” and I took a deep breath, and I said, “Well thanks, I guess,” but he was paying me a compliment, I think. – He was probably paying you a compliment, but we know it will get worse when you take off your collars. – Yeah, exactly, and
wear a priestly outfit. – Another question? – [Man] Thank you, hi Michael, when you’re working with a corporation, yeah, I’m in the back, it the shadows. (audience laughs) – I see you, yeah. – [Man] That creepy spot. When you’re working with
a large corporation, like Verizon or a million of these ones, do you encounter a lot of resistance, given the fact that you’re
coming from one side of things, and you’re
dealing with a large company? I would imagine that
varies between company, and if so, you have any
tips or tricks on how to sell an idea? – Yeah, for well one
thing, I like resistance. I just came from a
meeting with Angie Foster, who’s sitting over there,
and this is a client who we actually almost,
they had almost bought a logo, and then they
had decided they didn’t like the logo that they almost bought, and they wanted something entirely new, based on an entirely new brief. And they offered to pay us
a little bit more money, and I have to say, it
was really discouraging, but we came back with
something that not only do they like better, but that I think is better than the first thing we did. And I said that to them, and I said, “But don’t let this get around, “or else everybody will be rejecting “everything that you guys
do, that all of us do, “just because the next
thing is always better, “it isn’t always like that.” The biggest problem with
the big organizations isn’t so much resistance, it’s that people with passion and conviction become harder to find, and people who are just doing their jobs
become easier to find, that’s just the nature
of large organizations. And each of my clients,
up to and including Verizon and other big organizations I work with, have someone there, and sometimes multiple
people, occasionally, lots and lots of people who have passion and conviction, not necessarily taste, I don’t ask them to be designers, I don’t like selling things to people. But I just want them to really care ab the work that we’re doing and have have it matter to them that it be done right. I’d rather have someone, the worst kind of reaction that I get
when I’m presenting work isn’t, I hate that. ‘Cause actually, I find
it really interesting, you know, whoa, it’s like being a dentist, and you find out what tooth hurts, by sticking a needle into it really hard. (audience laughs) Oh, you hate this, how about this! (laughing) No, and I really draw them out. And your tendency is to sort of like, go on the defense, and say, well, let me explain to you why you should like it, instead I say, “Oh really, tell “why, is it the color,
how much do you hate “the color, do you hate
the color more than “the typeface, or the typeface more “than the color, you hate both of them?” So I really will draw them out, ’cause you really learn that most clients are defensive, what they’re really afraid of is that you’re not
gonna listen to them. They’re afraid somehow that they’re gonna buy something from you, and that it’s not gonna work, or their friends will make fun of them, or it’s gonna be wrong in some weird way, right? So the way you get trust,
the way you develop trust is by acting like you’re
listening to someone and responding in real time
to what they’re saying, and if you don’t do that, if you just are constantly in selling mode, they’re just gonna
eventually put a tarp over themselves just to protect themselves from the spit that’s issuing from my mouth as I’m talking to them. And what I try to do instead is, you just find the people
with passion and conviction, make sure that you just stick with them as tightly as you can, there are clients that I’ve worked with, there’s Jodi Freedman, who
is here in the audience somewhere, I worked with
her back in the ’80s, and worked with her at
three different jobs that she’s had, and if
she called me up and said, don’t do this Jodi, if she called me up and said meet her at Times Square with 500 dollars in a bag tonight, I would do it, I wouldn’t
ask why or what time, or what denominations, I would just do it, because I’m really loyal to those people I’ve connected with, who I think we have mutual trust with. So I think that’s sort of the trick, and the whole thing about
educating the client I don’t do that. I think that if there’s any education, it’s almost my part that I do something I don’t know about, what the situation is, and the more I can
know, the closer I am to kind of figuring out
how I can build a bridge from what I do to what they do, and selling, I try not
to do that too much. Of course, I don’t read these
how to pick up girls books, or websites, but I
understand this whole thing, you’re supposed to act
like you just don’t care, I just don’t care, you know. – No, you’re supposed to
ask certain questions, like how you’d make a leg of lamb. – Really, what does that mean, it’s nothing erotic, at all. – I don’t know, I read that when I was in my teens, you know. – Really, how’d that work out for you? – It was hard. (audience laughs) – So by the way, I think that finally, students, this is
actually the dirty secret of doing graphic design,
like I said before, it’s a social thing, it requires a village to make graphic design
happen, some of those villagers are gonna be
clients, clients will pay you to do the work, clients, who more importantly,
will bring an interesting problem to you to solve, and understanding how to talk to them, how to listen to them, how to make design understandable for them and what’s really complicated and intuitive
and arbitrary sometimes process, you don’t learn in school ’cause you can’t learn in school, and it can be really shocking when you find out what a complex world it is, but. If you appoint someone was your mentor without telling them, and then just watch how they do it, and
watch how others do it, you eventually can figure
out a way that you can do it. I can do it the way Massimo did it, because Massimo would just say, he’d bound into a room
with so much enthusiasm, he’d say, “Wait till you see this thing we “designed for you,” and
everyone would go like this, then he’d say, “You ready?” I literally heard him do
this a couple of times, exactly like this. He’d sort of have a bunch of boards that had the design on on it, and he’d go, “Are you ready? “You see this thing, it’s so great, “you’re will die,” he said, “You ready?” Then he’d he go like, (mimics explosion) (audience laughs) “Can you imagine what it’s like “when your logo looks like this, “can you imagine, people are gonna, “everyone will freak out, it will be “so fantastic, look at all this, “look at this one!” “This thing is huge on
the side of a truck, “ca you imagine this huge
truck coming through!” And people would just be like, (gasping) (audience laughs) And at the end, literally
every presentation, a standing ovation, people would be crying during these presentations.
(audience laughs) And like, you know, we’d do these things where our things were
all like, buttressed by the brief and the
rationale and everything, and Massimo would, I actually don’t remember
doing anything like that, it just was always like,
the thing would sell. It was always the thing would sell itself, but actually, that wasn’t true, it was Massimo’s enthusiasm
and his passion for it would sell it, and
people would just think, well, who am I to second-guess
this guy, you know? But then in the elevator
going down they’d say, “Why was it red, did he say?” And then they’d call me up, because they were afraid to ask Massimo, and I’d say, “Red is the most powerful
color and represents “urgency and blood, and the
lifeblood of our business.” Or I’d make up something, that’s why I became really good at that, by the way. (audience laughs) – It just dawned on me because I’m trying to get out of this field an start a new chapter of my life,
I wanna produce you doing Massimo the monologue. (audience laughs) – I could, I could do that, I could be like Hal Holbrook for Abraham Lincoln – I bet a hundred dollars we could do this very easily on stage
here and get it for free. An audience as big as this, maybe larger. – He was one of a kind, and I’m giving you the merest suggestion of what he was like in real life. – But you’re like the
Bill Cosby of Massimo. Sorry.
(audience laughs) – What? I don’t know where you’re going with that, but trust me. – I wasn’t sure either, it just came. – Do we have another question? I can’t see a thing. – [Man] Hey, question from online. There’s a couple of questions that– – The voice of God. (audience laughs) – [Man] Have to do with
design and art direction, and the question is,
how would you describe the transition from graphic designer to art director, is an art director an inevitable next step for a designer? – It’s a next step that
I’ve yet to achieve, so its inevitability
is obviously overrated in the case of my life. (laughs) But I think if I’ve interpreted
the question correctly, it has a little bit to do with what you consider your ability to navigate progressively larger fields of work and larger kind of
resources, a wider range of resources, in a way. And I think what I did with the library project in the end, I designed my little logo for it, but I really functioned as sort of an art director for it. I just would think, Raphael Asuer would be great for this library, or Peter Arkle would be great for this
library, and in doing that, we sort of like,
be able to put together a bunch of different people, each working from their strengths,
and actually making a a contribution to the central thing. And it’s something that
I really like doing, but I always feel like
I’m lazy when I’m doing it, ’cause I know really
talented designers, some of whom are in this
room, who actually can not just design, but draw
and create typefaces, and doing all those things. – Are you saying a prerequisite for art direction is laziness? – I just know my own
motivation is sort of, I’ll Christoph Neimann
to do it, and that seems to work every time, and it would work for you too, you know. So I highly recommend it as a career move. – Hope that answers the question. Any other? – There was another one? – There’s a question here. – [Woman] What do you think
about (speaks off mic) – Oh yeah, so the question
from the audience is, the question is, what about those online sites that purport to give you inexpensive or free typefaces or templates for doing design, or crowdsourced logos for 35 dollars, and stuff like that? I think those kinds of
things are inevitable, and they’re just in a way, I think, I’m baffled by this, ’cause I can’t look at the Target logo and say, “Someone should have
been paid 100 thousand “dollars for that, or a million dollars “for that, or 50 thousand for that, “or even 45 hundred dollars
for that,” you know? Because I’ll tell people,
logos aren’t that important, they’re really not. The lady who did the Nike swish did it, she submitted I think like,
five options for 60 dollars, and so the Nike swish cost 12 dollars. So you do the math on that, they made it up to her later, is a Carolyn Davidson, I understand, but like I think that in the long run, clients aren’t buying the work product. As important as it is, as important as Massimo would say it is, the work part is only meaningful if it is
embodying a thought process, and you’re not buying a thought process when you crowdsource
a logo for 35 dollars, you’re not buying a thought process when you buy a template to do things. Now, Massimo would have said the templates are nice, he would
rather have people using good templates than doing bad things with their own imagination, he
may be right about that. So I think it’s very
mixed bag, and it’s not all bad and it’s not
all good, but the great thing about it is, it
forces people in this audience who want to be designers to figure out how they’re gonna get better at what they do and
figure out where they’re gonna add value. When I came into the field, and I share this with Steve and some other more senior people in the room, you couldn’t set something in type unless you went through me, basically, or went through Steve. Like, normal people,
if they had this vague idea that there was a typeface that they didn’t even know the
name of, like Helvetica, they had no idea how
they could get something made into that typeface, and then even what they would do with it, you know. So no one knew the names of typefaces, if they knew the names of typefaces, they didn’t know how to order them, where to get them, what would happen with them after they got them, and so the whole thing was like this mystical thing, and I remember thinking, I really felt when I graduated from college that I know this secret body of knowledge, almost like a magician, or somebody doing black magic, I know the incantations and the spells, and I have the secret
ingredients that normal people do not possess, now everyone knows the names of typefaces, and everyone feels qualified to comment on
logos, so is that a bad thing? I actually don’t miss those days where, I think it’s better, I think it’s fun if a client says, “Is that Helvetica,” and I say, “Well, it’s Neue Haas Grotesk, “it’s a redrawing by Christian Schwartz “of the original Helvetica,
do you have time?” And then they’re always
sorry that they asked, they say, “No, let’s just move on, “I just thought it
looked like a Helvetica.” “Well, it does look like a…” So I think believe me, your expertise will still be appreciated
by those who appreciate that sort of thing,
but I think it frees us up to move on to more
important matters, that’s all? – What would that be,
more important than that? – I think thinking in the long-run about what the impact of our
work is, thinking about really what the needs of the audience are, spending more time listening to people and figuring out how we can actually have an impact when
we’ve got an assignment, what’s the nature of the assignment, what good can we really
do, as opposed to just thinking, hey, I’ve got
a typeface, you know. – You said you like using the term graphic designer, as Paul Rand liked using the term commercial artist. What has changed in your graphic design world in the last 15 years? – Well, certainly everything related to technology, I think everything goes back to technology, basically. Like I said, more people are aware of it, everything happens much more quickly, when I started at Vignelli, we didn’t have a fax machine. FedEx didn’t exist, the only reason something would have to be delivered the next day to another city was that someone would
have made a gargantuan, costly mistake that they would pay for. You know, you waited till the night before to send that thing to Buffalo? Are you crazy, you had to out to like, JFK and negotiate with Lufthansa Cargo to like, get the thing to go to Buffalo, and then all of a sudden,
FedEx made it okay. – Or a conductor on the train, – Yeah, the conductor on the train, I never did that, you did that? – I did that once. – Wow.
(audience laughs) Is that even legal, did you
have to slip him something? – I slipped him a lot. – Wow.
(audience laughs) At any rate, but that’s how it used to be. And I remember we got this fax machine, and were all like wow, this is gonna be such a time saving device, now instead of sending messengers to Queens, we just fax some things, but then they had to get a fax machine too, but then
we both had fax machines, then everyone had fax machines. – And then the world fell apart. – Yeah, then no one has fax machines. – But, what in addition to technology, what about the form content of design, has it changed in terms of what you do, in terms of dimension? – Yeah, definitely, just in terms of, I mean, speaking of fax machines, when I used to design
logos, the question was like, will this fax, how will this look if you fax it, meaning, how would it look in a low-resolution situation where you don’t have gray scale,
and it’s all reduced to one color, black? And nowadays, people say, who will this look as a Twitter icon, or how will this look on an Apple watch, or how will this look when it’s moving,
or how will this look when it’s starting up, they
ask different questions, and those questions are good questions, it’s much more exciting, and it requires a level of virtuosity of designers that I’m amazed that people possess in such, I think the designers that
I interview, the ones that I hire, the ones that get
hired by other people, these days the young designers are so unbelievably talented, I look around at people that are doing all the different kinds of work, and it’s a moment in time where there are some of
the best type designers in the world are alive
today, some of the best lettering artists in the
world are alive today, some of the best
illustrators are alive today, some of the best graphic
designers are alive today, and even, some of the
best book designers are alive today, so it’s like a Golden Age for graphic design, and normal people really appreciate it, I mean, civilian, whatever you wanna call people
who aren’t graphic designers, civilians, or normal people, whatever. – Unlucky. – Unlucky people who
aren’t graphic designers, or maybe married to one,
or know one or whatever. But I think there’s so many good people doing so much good work
right now, and that it really belies the idea that there are these existential
threats to our profession represented by online
templates and things, let’s have more online templates, as far as I’m concerned. The more that seems to happen, it seems to just make everyone better, if you ask me. – Let’s have one more audience question, then we’ll have to come to a close. Anybody have that elusive microphone? – Is there someone there, yeah? Oh here it comes, the microphone is being passed to you right there. – [Man] How did the emergence of the computer change your process? – I’m 58 years old, I’m the
youngest person probably, maybe, who has never
designed on a computer. I’ve never designed on a computer. What I do is, those notebooks, that’s why they’re so important to me, that’s like, where I do my work. And every once in awhile, I will say something like, did I say it tonight? Like I say things like, “creative cloud” or something, or Photoshop, I say these words. – Creative Suite, I think. – Creative Suite, CS? – Five.
– Five. – Six, or,
– Six, at any rate, I throw these words around,
like when I’m at Yale I say, – Photoshop. – Yeah, like when I’m at
Yale, I say things like, Derrida and Foucult, the
same thing, the same thing. And every time I’ve sat down at a computer or even sometimes when I’m working with designers and I point at their screen, it’ll freeze and the
whole file was destroyed. (audience laughs) And so I just, I think
there will indeed come a time when no one will wanna work for me, and I won’t be able to hire any workmen, and I’ll have to go back and
teach myself painstakingly how to work in CS27 or whatever it’ll be by then. – Dreamweaver, perhaps. – Dreamweaver, or Electro
Set, Ready Set Go, remember that one. Man, I was the best and
fastest paste up artist in Manhattan, I would put my T-square and my X-acto knife, and my
ability to do perfectly, exactly, 7/8th in crop
marks, with the triple, – Did you use the two coats, or one coat? – Two coats, of course, like, you know. And no wax, two coats. – No wax? – No wax, two coats, rubber cement. – Shit. – And all the cut lines were
square, it was like so– – And you didn’t have to use one of those rubber things to get a little rubber cement off, because you always would leak? – Oh, I would do that,
everybody does that. But at any rate, no one does that anymore by the way, but I really
good at state-of-the-art production in 1980-whatever,
six or something. But even when computers
started getting introduced right at the end of that decade, I already, I wasn’t doing
mechanicals anymore, I was like, hustling around in suits and kind of having ideas and stuff, and so when I got to
Pentagram, I had a computer upon which I still, can I convert a Word document to a PDF, yes. Can I take PDF file and make it into a ZIP file, yes, can I send it to someone by WeTranfer, yes, I
can do all those things. – And I got a few of those. – You got few, you got one today. – They were in an old
program, but they were– – They were in an old
program, so you couldn’t open it, and you tried, but
it crashed your computer, I bet, but I can do all those things. So I can do a lot of stuff, but on the other hand, I will say that I was never the kind of person where kind of, where I thought
that the means of production was actually informing
the way the design looked. I always said, you know, if you look at that book, half of it’s in black in white not
because they were trying to save money on it,
because my lovely publisher Harper Design and Thames
and Hudson spared no expense in the production
of this book, trust me, but there’s so much
black and white work in it ’cause the work I do
is in black and white, ’cause I sort of will
resolve it in one color, and then I think well, that looks good, I’m just gonna let it go with that. And so sometimes I’ve
told people I have ideas that are like one pixel deep; I don’t like layering and complexity,
I just don’t do it. My favorite thing is just
something really simple, and the simpler it is, the more I like it, and it’s getting worse, not better, and so, all the discoveries
that I’ve watched other people make using
computer technology with graphic design, and
I’ve watched and admired with awe, is just like anytime I’ve tried to even simulate it,
it just is embarrassing and horrible. I’m just happy being like, – Being you. – Being me, being me, happy being me. – To end with are there any metaphors or analogies that you
haven’t used tonight, that you would like to get out? – Well Massimo had one that I adapted, Massimo said we’re like doctors, they should trust us. Right, you like that one, designers? Very self-flattering. But I expanded that, and I said, this is about listening, actually. I say, you go to the doctor, he or she doesn’t take you to the pharmacy and start asking you what color pill you like, or do you like these
oblong ones, or I have some square ones here, and
these ones are pink, you know. What does the doctor do? The doctor says, “What’s wrong,
where does it hurt,” right? And if you just kind of have a good bedside manner and you ask where it hurts, then you can start figuring out what the diagnosis, then you can figure out what the cure is, then
you can go in the back and take out a nice pretty pill, and then people say, “But
I can get cheap medicine “from Canada, that’s gonna put everyone “out of business.” No, it’s because what
they’re buying from you isn’t the pretty pill,
they’re buying from you the experience that
actually makes you feel like you’re gonna be okay. – You know something, that’s brilliant. – Isn’t that brilliant,
I just made that up. (audience laughs) – And it’s been a joy, because I watch too much television,
and this real life thing is kind of cool. (laughs) – I know what you mean,
I know what you mean. – Thank you very much. – Thank you. (audience applause)
(audience cheers loudly)

7 thoughts on “The Masters Series: Michael Bierut in Conversation with Steven Heller

  1. I'm a Web developer and Bierut inspires me so much to learn graphic design. He explains things so simply and I love how his designs are just so obvious thanks for uploading.

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