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Typo London: Michel Bierut

This one was always going to be good, and it did not disappoint.

Michael Bierut, the legendary New York Pentagram partner, has long been a design hero to many of us here at The Potting Shed so the opportunity to see him in the flesh was not to be missed and immaculately suited and booted, Michael cut a very different figure to most of the speakers over the three days of Typo London.

Pentagram is the world's largest independent design consultancy. The firm is owned and run by 16 partners, all leaders in their individual creative fields. Working out of London, New York, Berlin and Austin they design everything: architecture, interiors, products, identities, publications, posters, books, exhibitions, websites, and digital installations. Each of their clients works directly with one or more partners. This reflects their conviction that great design cannot happen without passion, intelligence, and personal commitment, which is demonstrated by a portfolio of work that spans five decades.

Bierut was the final speaker on the first day and while everyone was tired from the relentless bombardment of speakers, his work and delivery was so incredible that we left feeling inspired and energised. He took the audience on a journey from his earliest forays into design at high school all the way through to his ground breaking work for Pentagram.

After training in Ohio he then went to work for the legendary Massimo Vignelli where a rigorous education in type and grid were instilled. Michael showed us ten projects, that fitted the conferences theme “Places”. As well as Michaels own theme for his talk “The Only Important Decision”, about how picking a typeface can be the major part of a designers job. The projects he showed were a visual style for the Disney town of Celebration, Identities for the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), a wayfinding system for lower Manhattan, signage systems for the Lever Brothers building, General Dynamics offices and The New York Times building in Times Square as well as super-graphics for the Harley Davidson museum and the New York Jets training facilities.

It was fascinating to hear from such a design luminary about the processes and stages each brand went through before coming to fruition and comforting to know that Pentagram encounter the same issues and hurdles as all designers do on a day to day basis. The most striking example of this being the work Bierut did for the New World Symphony Orchestra. They were to be housed in the newly constructed and distinctive Frank Ghery designed concert hall, which Bierut used as the basis for his initial designs before being rejected by the client. He talked of his frustration and how he struggled to come to the eventual eureka moment when a clients sketch gave him the direction he needed. The final work which you can see here (along with a description of the project in his own words) is a tour de force of narrative brand design that elegantly depicts the movements of a conductor to form the letters.

Author Potting Shed