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If Lovin’ Michael Bierut Is Wrong, We Don’t Want To Be Right

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Now that we’ve been informed we’re not on the verge of instant dismissal, we’re shaking things up over here. Our more teutonic side craves structure, authority, limits. With that, we bring you our first regular feature: the Proustberg Questionnaire. First up, Pentagram partner Michael Bierut. If you don’t know who he is, maybe you should catch up on one of the starter sites. Or click. After the jump, Michael thinks about who’s inspired him, being a cocktail pianist, and the thrill of co-ordinated rollerskating.

Unbeige: When did you first realize you wanted to be a designer?

Michael Bierut: I was the best artist in the ninth grade so I was asked to do the poster for the school’s production of “Wait Until Dark.” I created the artwork using a felt-tipped pen and a shirt cardboard, and turned it over to the print shop on Friday. Monday morning, the poster was all over the school. I get the same thrill every time I open a box of samples fresh from the printer, and I bet there isn’t a graphic designer in the world who doesn’t know what I’m talking about.


UB: What is your favorite color?

MB: Yellow, specifically PMS 123 uncoated.

UB: What is your favorite city, and why?

MB: My first visit to New York was a field trip in the junior year of my Ohio high school. I had just read “The Fountainhead” and I stood on upper Sixth Avenue surrounded by these soaring skyscrapers — Time Life! Exxon! McGraw-Hill! Celenese! — and I knew that I had been delivered to that very spot to find my destiny. Later, I discovered that everyone hates those buildings, but I still love New York.

UB: What’s the first thing you think about when you’ve been contracted to design something and you’re faced with a blank page/computer screen?

MB: A boss at an otherwise dreary internship used to ask the same question about every design project: “What’s this for?” It was a good lesson. It may be 4 x 6 inches, it may be set in Gill Sans Bold, it may have a silhouetted duotone photograph, it may have a logo placed exactly .25 inches up from the lower right hand corner, but the most important thing is that it’s an ad to try to get people to sign up for tuba lessons. Or whatever. I find if I keep asking “What’s this for?” I can usually come up with an answer sooner or later.

UB: Who has inspired you, and why?

MB: I’ve worked with a lot of inspiring people (and married one of them), but in my professional life I’ve been inspired by the story of man I never met, William LeMessurier. He was the structural engineer for the Citicorp Building. After the building was completed he realized that he had miscalculated the windloads and that the building was in danger of collapse. Instead of concealing this information or committing suicide, he simply went to the client and said he had made a mistake. They let him fix it, and he survived with his reputation not only intact but enhanced. I think of him every time I screw something up.

UB: If you weren’t a designer, what else would you like to do? Why?

MB: My best friend from elementary school is, among other things, a
cocktail pianist. This seems like the perfect job. You exercise creativity while giving other people pleasure, without the burden of things like of cost proposals, conceptual presentations, or punchlists. Just play a nice Johnny Mercer song and watch everyone sway back and forth. Perfect.

UB: What natural gift would you most like to possess?

MB: I wish I had enough physical coordination to do things like dancing, skiing, or roller skating without embarrassing myself and my loved ones.

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