michael bierut


Paula Scher & Michael Bierut at the Brand New Conference

The Brand New Conference is underway right now, with a few more minutes left in the lunch break. So far the most inspiring and spirited part of the event was, unsurprisingly, the chat between Armin Vit and the Antony and Cleopatra of design, Pentragram partners Michael Bierut and Paula Scher. Here are my unedited tweets from the conversation — I mostly captured Paula’s comments, but there was a lot of back and forth. It’s not a complete recap by any means, but there are some great ideas in here about clients, partners and doing good work.

  • Paula Scher: if you can fake your way through something 3 times, you’re an expert.
  • PS: Pentagram is a place for makers. We don’t want to be so big & overwrought that you can’t make. Always pushing this.
  • PS: @pentagramdesign is backing. You join to do better work. It’s an org of designers who don’t want to be pigeonholed.
  • Michael Bierut: @pentagramdesign doesn’t have a managing partner. No bosses. Everyone has to remain independent. You have to love the mess.
  • PS — client relationship: it’s all about structure and who is god. I want to get to them fast. Get to the decider.
  • PS: my best work has been when a client calls me directly. You can tell a lot about a client in how they get to you & hire you.
  • PS: it’s like dating. If you try to break up with a client, they want you. It’s all about relationships.
  • PS: The longer you design, the easier it becomes. The 34 years is real. It’s getting approval that’s the hard part.
  • PS: I like being scared. Being “too professional”, being pat – you need to fail a bit, otherwise it’s boring.
  • PS: Planning w/ purpose. You enhance the mapping w/ spirit & personality. Bringing something more than the brief to the project.
  • PS: strategy is universal but intuition is what brings character to design. This is why we’re good.
  • PS: reputation vs repetition. The great reputation doesn’t make it easier. It’s the doing over & over that helps.
  • PS: The Met’s in-house team is great but they hired an ad agency & quality went down. What sucks is that’s what everyone sees.
  • PS on partners: what’s great is that there are 17 of then & that mitigates what’s disgusting about each of them.
  • PS on partners: our only business strategy is that new people change us. It’s the most important thing we do.

Some really good advice.

Just came from a brilliant short talk by Pentagram partner Michael Bierut at the SwissMiss Creative Mornings. His slides were great and so very tweetable (on purpose?) — short summary statements in giant type that filled the screen.
The topic was clients.
I was going to tweet during the talk. But because the bits really add up to a good story and a very specific philosophy about the client/designer relationship, I think it’s worth presenting them all together. So here they are. It’s some of the best designer advice I’ve ever heard and I want to share it, but I’m also putting the quotes right here on Soulellis.com so I can come back and read them over and over again. Every day.
Michael Bierut talks about clients.

  • Clients can be the best part of the design process.
  • Clients are the difference between art and design.
  • My clients are the same as yours.
  • The right client can change anything.
  • The best clients love design, or don’t give a damn about it. (i.e., they have confidence)
  • The worst clients are somewhere in between. (i.e., they have fear)
  • Never talk about “educating the client.”
  • What makes a great client? Brains, passion, trust and courage.
  • “You’ll never go wrong when you work with someone smarter than you.” (Tibor Kalman)
  • Warning: Your great client may not be my great client.
  • Great clients lead to more great clients (and more great work).
  • Bad clients lead to more bad clients (and more bad work).
  • Bad clients take up more of your time than they should.
  • Meanwhile, we take great clients for granted.
  • The trick is to reverse this.
  • What do I owe a great client? Loyalty, honesty, dedication and tenacity.
  • Once you find a great client, never let them go.
  • If you can find five great clients, you’re set for life.
  • “You’d better find somebody to love.” (Jefferson Airplane)
  • Good luck.

Why not — let’s call them Bierut-isms.
I can honestly say that I also share Mr. Bierut’s love of the designer/client relationship (point #1) and that I’ve learned many of these lessons the hard (and enjoyable) way during the last 15 years. It’s immensely satisfying to hear it reinforced in such a clear way by someone you have respect for and someone who’s been at it for awhile.
Mr. Bierut ended his talk by saying that he was very lucky — he could name not just five but ten great clients in his career so far (“These people are why you’ve heard of me…”). Moving and inspiring to hear work so closely associated with the designer dedicated to the people who made it possible. He mentioned Fern Mallis (7th on Sixth), the architect Robert Stern, Terron Schaefer (Saks), Laura Shore (Mohawk Paper), Chee Pearlman (I.D. Mag), David Thurm (New York Times), Christy MaClear (Philip Johnson Glass House) and others. Proof that design is best when it’s a collaborative effort.