Michael Bierut, legendary US graphic designer, design critic and educator, was at the Design Indaba Conference 2016. Oliver Roberts asked him ...
1. What do you consider the most significant developments in design in recent years?
The rise of social media has had unexpected outcomes. First, everyone online is now required to think like a publisher: the pictures you share, the stories you link to, the personal information you broadcast — all these are ways of constructing an online identity. Second, from platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and emojis, we communicate more through images. Finally, the more people communicate in the virtual world, the hungrier they seem to be for things you can touch and hold. Books are stubbornly refusing to go away.
2. Favourite product or brand designs from the past 20 years?
I have tremendous admiration for what Apple has done, from product design to retail design to graphics. I was stunned by the way Barack Obama used logos and typography in his 2008 campaign for president. His people set the template for not just political communications, but for the way new products have been launched ever since.
3. What are the most important things you learnt from working with Massimo Vignelli?
I worked with Vignelli for 10 years and never saw him cynical. He had absolute faith in the power of good design, and it was infectious. I am much more of a selfdoubting pragmatist, but at my lowest moments my memories of his example inspire me to go on.
4. Intuition vs technicality – what importance do these factors play in great design?
The great soul singer Wilson Pickett had a saying: “Harmonise, then customise.” He meant you should be able to read music, sing a scale, and know what note goes with what other note. But a great performer adds something that is entirely intuitive, that’s not written in the score, and that’s what makes Pickett different from James Brown or Marvin Gaye. We ’re all working with the same 12 notes. It’s what you do with them that makes the difference.
5. What work are you most proud of?
I like aspects of almost all my projects. I am enjoying the ways that people are using the logo we worked on for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It is satisfying and humbling to create something that becomes part of daily life.
6. One thing that you love about design in 2016, and one thing that you don’t love?
It is great that more people talk about design, and distressing that so much of that talk is uninformed and mean-spirited.
7. Your opinion on the emoji?
Emojis are stupid and childish and kitschy… and irresistible.
8. Is it right to say that a great designer has a desire to make the world a better/easier/more beautiful place to live?
Everything we do as designers makes a contribution to the public life we all share. And each one of those things, no matter how small and inconsequential, has the capacity to create a moment of ease or intelligence or wit or beauty.
9. What would you like your legacy to be?
To stay on the shelf and out of the recycling bin.
10. Please suggest the best fonts to use for the following:
a) A résumé
Garamond No. 3. Classic, faultless.
b) Business card
Helvetica. It just works.
c) Manuscript for a novel
Courier. It was good enough for Hemingway!
d) E-mail to a loved one
Turn off the e-mail and write a note by hand.
e) E-mail to someone you’re trying to seduce
Bodoni Book. Everything sounds sexier in an Italian accent.
f) E-mail to someone you don’t like but want to make your feelings known to in a subconscious kind of way
Comic Sans isn’t very subtle, but more people I don’t like aren’t very perceptive, so why avoid the obvious?
g) If you want to come across like an alpha male
Futura Extra Bold Italic WITH THE CAPS LOCK ON.
h) If you want to create an air of mystery about yourself
i) In e-mails to Michael Bierut
Baskerville, of course!
Design Indaba 2016 takes place in Cape Town from February 17-19. Visit www.designindaba.com for details and tickets.