Michael Bierut was born In 1957 in Cleveland, Ohio. During the time in Ohio, Graphic Design wasn’t promoted to young adults. His love of fine art, music, and drawing that united in the form of album covers led him to the only two books in the library at the time on design, the Graphic Design Manual by Armin Hofman and Milton Glaser: Graphic Design. He didn’t need any more convincing and studied graphic design at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning. While in school he did an internship that allowed him to study under Chris Pullman, another AIGA medalist. They worked together at a Boston public television station, WGBH. Michael Bierut graduated in 1980 from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning. Before becoming partners with Pentagram in 1990 he worked ten years Vignelli Associates, as a vice president. When he was working for Vignelli Associates he had serious industry clout but it also implanted a keystone principle of his career. “Probably the most interesting thing I learned is that a lot of the things about design that tend to get designers really interested aren't that important,” Bierut once said to Steven Heller. Bierut acknowledges that people might not actually read the annual reports and corporate brochures that designers make. So he strives to make things that people are able to read and want to read. Pullman has even stated that, “He has a quality that I have much respect for in the kind of work that we do” and “He's a person who's very easy to understand, both when you talk to him and when he's doing his work. He's accessible, humane, funny when it's appropriate, and witty almost all of the time. And that's a very important quality for someone who wants to be a communicator.”
In an article on AIGA, Bierut states that when he graduated from Ohio he started working for Vignelli Associates in New York. He says that there was not a computer and that the office didn’t even have a fax machine, making design in an office in those days very different. Spending most of his days putting thinner in rubber cement and taping tissue paper over mechanical boards, he would on occasion get to do a mechanical himself. He was able to get an apartment that was three blocks from the Vignelli office. He had a key to the office and would go work another shift after tucking his wife into bed. This shift lasted from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. and this went on for four years. He credits his achievements to those four years. While at the office he would design things like invitations for his friends' parties, packaging for mix tapes, one-of-a-kind birthday cards, and freebies for non-profits. After Massimo Vignelli noticed that Bierut had extra time he started giving him more work. The extra work that would normally take two days took one day because of the night shift. The more work he got, the faster he became and better he became at doing it. His advice to any beginning a career in design is to stay while you can.
While at Pentagram Bierut has had numerous clients such as Alliance for Downtown New York, Benetton, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Alfred A. Knopf, the Walt Disney Company, Mohawk Paper Mills, Motorola, MillerCoors, the Toy Industry Association, Princeton University, Yale School of Architecture, New York University, the Fashion Institute of Technology, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Library of Congress, the Museum of Sex, and the New York Jets. Michael Bierut has done projects like “I Want To Take You Higher” which was an exhibition on the psychedelic era for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and even serving as a design consultant to United Airlines. Dwell turns to him for design book recommendations and Fast Company gets his opinion on corporate branding. Recently he has developed a new signage and identity for the expanded Morgan Library Museum. He has also developed the environmental graphics for the New York Times building, as well as designed for Phillip Johnson’s Glass House and redesigned the magazine “The Atlantic.” Along with that he has created marketing strategies for William Jefferson Clinton Foundation and developed a new brand strategy and packaging for Saks Fifth Avenue.
Contributions and Achievements
Recently he has developed a new signage and identity for the expanded Morgan Library Museum. He has also developed the environmental graphics for the New York Times building, as well as designed for Phillip Johnson’s Glass House and redesigned the magazine “The Atlantic.” Along with that he has created marketing strategies for William Jefferson Clinton Foundation and developed a new brand strategy and packaging for Saks Fifth Avenue.
With over a 100 awards won his work is in permanent collections in various museums in New York, Washington D.C., Germany, and Montreal. From 1988 to 1990 Michael Bierut served as president emeritus of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) and is president of AIGA national. He is presently serving as director of both Architectural League of New York and New Yorkers for Parks. Bierut in 1989 was elected to the Alliance Graphique Internationale, and in 2003 he was named to the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame. He received highest honor in the profession in 2006, the AIGA medal, which recognizes his illustrious achievements and contributions to the field. In 2008 he received the Design Mind Award that was presented by the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
He has published a book called Seventy-Nine Short Essays on Design, which was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2007. Bierut is a senior critic at the Yale School of Art in Graphic Design and co-edits the anthology series Looking Closer: Critical Writings on Graphic Design, published by Allworth Press. Bierut is the co-founder of the blog Design Observer and his commentaries about graphic design can be heard nationally on the Public Radio International program Studio 360. In 1998 he co-edited and designed a monograph Tibor Kalman: Perverse Optimist. His signage that he created has helped millions of tourists navigate the streets of Lower Manhattan.