The Definition of Design: Michael Bierut

September 11, 2015

Michael Bierut has an ability to connect design to everything and everything to design. bierut200He’s compared the ITC Garamond font with leisure suits and expounded on the role of design in the Ebola crisis. Consider the title of his forthcoming book: How to use graphic design to sell things, explain things, make things look better, make people laugh, make people cry, and (every once in a while) change the world (Thames & Hudson, 2015).

This knack for taking knotty or high-concept ideas and expressing them in a way anyone can understand has made Bierut, a partner in the highly regarded design firm Pentagram since 1990, a star in the creative world. Next month, the designer, critic and educator will be in the spotlight at SVA as the 27th annual Masters Series Award honoree. A retrospective of his work and career, held in conjunction with the award, will feature everything from logos and graphics to exhibition designs and personal works from his own collection.

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Bierut’s colleagues hold him in high regard for the intelligent contributions he has made to the design field over the years and for his expertise as a cultural critic. He’s a co-founder of Design Observer, the go-to resource for design professionals that features essays, news, commentary and podcasts (including MPS Branding Chair Debbie Millman‘s influential “Design Matters” series). A protégé of the late design giant Massimo Vignelli, Bierut is also widely admired as a generous mentor and educator, frequently lecturing at SVA, the Yale School of Art and elsewhere.

The SVA Masters Series Award is the latest among many honors that Bierut has accumulated throughout his career, including an AIGA Medal and a National Design Award, presented by Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. His work is part of the permanent collections of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art. He is an Art Directors Club Hall of Fame member, served as president of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts and is president emeritus of AIGA National.

In 1988, SVA founder Silas H. Rhodes instituted the Masters Series, an annual award and exhibition honoring the great visual communicators of our time. The Masters Series brings greater exposure to those whose influence has been felt strongly and by many, but whose names often go unrecognized by the general public. “The Masters Series: Michael Bierut” will be on view at the SVA Chelsea Gallery October 7 through November 7.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of the Visual Arts Journal.

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