Michael Bierut studied graphic design at the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, graduating summa cum laude in 1980. Prior to joining Pentagram in 1990 as a partner in the firm's New York office, he worked for ten years at Vignelli Associates, ultimately as vice-president of graphic design.
His clients at Pentagram have included The New York Times, Saks Fifth Avenue, The Council of Fashion Designers of America, Harley-Davidson, The New York Jets, MIT Media Lab, the New York Jets, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Walt Disney Company, and Verizon. He has won hundreds of design awards and his work is represented in the permanent collections of museums in the United States, Europe and Asia.
He served as president of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) from 1988 to 1990 and is president emeritus of AIGA National. Bierut was elected to the Alliance Graphique Internationale in 1989, to the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame in 2003 and was awarded the profession's highest honor, the AIGA Medal, in 2006.
In 2008, he was named winner in the Design Mind category of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Awards.
Since the mid-90s, Bierut has been senior critic in graphic design at the Yale School of Art and a senior faculty fellow at the Yale School of Management. He writes frequently about design and is the co-editor of the five-volume series Looking Closer: Critical Writings on Graphic Design published by Allworth Press. In 2002, Bierut co-founded Design Observer, a blog of design and cultural criticism: today, the site is the largest design publication in the world with more than a million site visits a month. His book 79 Short Essays on Design was published in 2007 by Princeton Architectural Press. His best-selling monograph, 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, was announced at Design Indaba in 2015 and published by Thames & Hudson.