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Michael Bierut of Pentagram in Tulsa


This past week I was lucky enough to go and hear one of America’s top graphic designers speak in my home town of Tulsa. Art Directors Club of Tulsa and the Philbrook Museum of Art were responsible for bringing such an established person to come and speak.

Of course once I heard he was coming to town, I was on the bandwagon and very anxious to hear his lecture. I have always liked his snarky character and down-to-earth responses in numerous interviews, magazine articles, and videos such as Helvetica.

He started off by mentioning how nice our venue and surrounding areas are, stating ‘If I was giving this speech in New York, we would be in a dark and dingy old warehouse or building. You have it so nice out here, great lighting, high-res projector…’ Micheal was more humble than most people would imagine. In fact, he mentioned his first kiss, which was his wife and high school sweetheart, and he quickly spout out the exact date and time of the event.

One of the portions of his speech I valued most was his sharing an experience with a difficult client. It was one of those ‘I got this!’ moments when they landed the identity process for New World Symphony. In his mind, he had the solution already planned out. Everyone in the office agreed that it was a great identity solution and was sure that the client would love it. Michael, of course, displayed these proposal identity graphics to us, and they were indeed, very elegant, precise, and perfect logo solutions. But, as we all know, it does not matter how awesome, balanced, or aesthetically perfect a design is UNLESS the clients loves it themselves. This was the case for MANY revisions until some many moons later when he received an email from the client. This photo email was a picture of the client’s desk with six post-it notes attached. Each post-it note had a very simplistic line drawing of his vision of the identity. Like most designers, this was a little difficult to accept on a Friday afternoon after trying for weeks to gain an inch on this project. It greatly discouraged Michael Bierut. He mentioned going home and talking with his wife, and he said his left-brained wife just couldn’t understand why it was affecting his overall mood throughout the weekend. We all, of course, could relate and shared a laugh. He went on saying that, ‘Isn’t it funny how people can look at other people’s professions and say, I can do that, there is nothing to that.’ He backed up this statement by relating his late Friday post-it note email to the job of being a Symphony Conductor. ‘That looks easy; anyone can wave a stick around!’ Michael went on to show us the art and precision of a conductor, and how the manuals and form of a conductor are not to be discounted. ‘There is a lot of process, practice, and study that goes into being a conductor.’

Coming back to work on Monday, Micheal expressed that maybe he was looking at it too selfishly and should consider another point of view. That client is super busy yet had taken the time to sketch, to the best of his ability, a concept of the logo. The client wants it just as bad as Pentagram wants to finalize its identity. So Micheal started considering his conductor research and the six post-it notes to make connections and similarities. Carefully inspecting the six line drawings, Micheal derived a perfect connection from the client drawings, music, design, and Symphony Conductor and finally delivered a winner to the client. It can be seen here: The client really wanted a connecting acronym with the three letters NWS. Micheal mentioned that the conductor manual gave some insight on the shape and formality of the design. It was like the end of a conductor wand leaving traces in the air.

I guess the moral of this particular section of his talk was that research is key, as well as keeping your pride aside, and be willing to step back and consider several points of view.

Hearing someone as established as Micheal Bierut and Pentagram having clients send them example ideas on post-it notes make me, as well as every designer at the lecture, sigh with relief. Everyone is human, no one is perfect, and patience is perseverance.

I was lucky enough to sit very close to the front in the main lecture hall; there were so many people that they used another lecture hall with live video/audio feed to accommodate the extra people. I was also lucky enough to get a signed poster that he designed for the event. Can you tell what it says?

(Source: Skynet Solutions)

By Clint Smith

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