Wise and Interesting Words

Peter Merholz of Adaptive Path interviewed Michael Bierut of Pentagram Design.

It sounds like it boils down to having fun, remembering to enable imagination, and staying interested in the world around you and having the ability to get interested enough to make that real for other people. Sounds good to me.


MB: Being able to make vivid counterfeits is one of the joys of being a graphic designer, and one that we don’t take enough pleasure in. One of my partners in London once mocked up a whole issue of Fortune to help a client see his business differently.

One of the hard lessons I had to learn as a designer starting out was that good design is not a self-evident imperative for most people. I tell students that they are spending time and money in design school acquiring an abnormal sensitivity to design that most regular people should not be expected to share. Yet various groups of these ‘regular people’ are usually the ones who initiate our work, fund and approve it, and ultimately are the audiences for it. So the biggest challenge we face is figuring out how to meet people on their terms, not ours. I never talk about educating the client. I hate that phrase. Almost always it’s the designers who need the education, not the client, not the audience. Yet designers and clients both tend to recede into their areas of expertise, and it takes work for us to wrench each other out of it. Making prototypes that help people imagine the effects that design decisions will have in the real world can be a very potent tool. Those fake Wall S
treet Journal articles were supposed to do exactly that: remind a client who had spent six months showing themselves PowerPoint presentations that there was a real world out there filled with people who didn’t share their fascination with their business strategy or, actually, care at all whether they succeeded. It’s a good reality check, and it helps to shift the design work from an internal exercise that’s done for management approval, to work that’s done because you’re seeking results with real people in the real world.

So of course—to get to the other part of your question—dealing with the real world means being as interested as possible in stuff that’s not about design. All of the work I’ve done that I’m proud of somehow emerged from the fact that I’ve gotten really interested in that other part: the subject matter of a book, the business of a client, the content of an exhibition. Luckily, I can get interested in nearly anything. And I have learned the hard way that there are a few things I’m just not interested in, and can’t seem to do good design for: I avoid these projects now.

Read the whole interview/newsletter.

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