Michael Bierut: “How to use graphic design” | Talks at Google

July 31, 2019 posted by

so much for having me here. I’m sort of just warming you up
for Salman Rushdie, I suppose. I’m less significant
in every possible way. But we have a nice, intimate
the little space to talk. I’m a graphic designer. That’s my name,
my Twitter thing. That’s me on Easter Sunday,
1969, in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, which is where I grew up. That’s my mom and
dad, obviously, and those are my
younger brothers, who are fraternal twins. Their names are
Ronald and Donald. They have rhyming names, OK? That explains
everything you need to know about what it
was like to grow up in suburban Cleveland
in the ’60s. My mom doesn’t
understand why that’s funny to give kids–
they’re twins. Was I supposed to give them
completely unrelated names? It’s a naming problem. At a very early age,
I realized I wanted to be a graphic designer. I was good at art, but art
always seemed kind of hermetic to me. Artists went off
to, as I imagined, they went, like to garrets
or studios or closed rooms, then just would do
paintings and things, and then sometimes would die. Then their paintings
would be discovered. Sometimes the paintings would
be sold in their lifetime. But it just seemed
like coming up with ideas for paintings
just seemed really hard. When I realized there was
this other thing called graphic design that, in effect,
was being creative as a means to another end, I thought
it was really exciting. And I can still
remember the first time I saw a piece of graphic
design that really excited me. I was probably maybe
eight or nine years old. I was being driven by
my dad to get a haircut. We were stopped at
a traffic light. And my dad looked over to the
passenger side of the car where I was sitting and
looked out the window, and saw a piece of
industrial equipment called a forklift truck. Do they have those here? They do that, right? And he said, oh look,
that’s really clever. And I looked at the
truck, and I said, what? He said, the way they wrote
the name of the truck. And on the side of the
truck it said Clark. And I said, why? And he said, well, look. It does what the truck does. And so he said, look how
the L is lifting up the A. And I was like, oh my god. Is this happening
all over the place? Are these things everywhere? And so at that moment,
I sort realized that something about
that– it was like art, it was like
creativity, but it had nothing to do with painting a
bowl of fruit, like Cezanne, or some women with their noses
sideways, like Picasso, or just splattering paint
like Jackson Pollock. This is like, our name is Clark. We make forklift trucks. What do you got? It just occurred to me. The L can lift up the A. So I just thought, if I could
do that for the rest my life, I’d be happy. And I have, and I am. So I’m with you today. Here I am at Google. Thank you. So I’m just going to show you
one project that I worked on. And you guys recently
changed your logo, which I like very much, by the way. I was really early out
of the box in Twitter and said something like,
this is really good. And it was one of the few
really impulsive things I’ve ever done on Twitter. And then journalists
started calling me up to get me to weigh in
publicly about the logo. But I’ve designed logos that
other people of weighed in publicly on. And I’m sort of– I don’t think
everyone should be weighing in publicly about logos. And a lot of times I sort of
think if– back in the ’60s, there was a little private
moment between me and my dad. Very private. If my dad was drinking a beer
with our next door neighbor, and he had brought up that
logo with another adult, that guy would have
thought he was insane. You know what I really like? What do you like, Lenny? That logo for Clark
Forklift Trucks. Ever seen it? Like my next door neighbor
would be like, what the fuck? What? So people didn’t talk
about logos in these days. They talk about them all
the time now, don’t they? I mean, you put
out a logo and all of a sudden it’s like
people are analyzing it. I don’t know if you read
“The New Yorker” over here. But some lady in
“The New Yorker” wrote this nostalgic poem about
how beautiful the old Google logo was, which
personally, I just thought that was preposterous. She was saying,
oh, the serifs were referring to centuries
of literary tradition, and now it’s all
been sanded away. I just think the way
that all the O’s line up on in the search thing is
just– it’s all very nice. So at any rate, I’m going to
going to show you something that I worked on. And it’s something that
actually came out very well, but had false starts
along the way. So for the first
time anywhere, I’m showing the first thing that we
proposed, which was rejected. I’ve never shown this before. The thing that was accepted
is, I think, still on view as part of Designs of the
Year at the Design Museum here in London. But the rejected thing
has never been shown publicly outside of the client. So here you go. Oh, this is for this book. And so what I really
find interesting is how design is about solving
problems and doing things. And so it’s art or creativity
for a purpose, right? So the purpose has to do
with how you do something. And when I’m working
with a client, the first thing I try
to do is figure out what they’re trying to solve
and how to solve it, basically. OK. So this was actually the end,
about designing two dozen logos at the same time. So the client is
the MIT Media Lab. You guys know what that is? It’s Massachusetts
Institute of Technology. In 1985, or 19– I’m
trying to do the math here. It was the 20th
anniversary in 1910, so 1990– I thought
it was 1985– celebrated their anniversary. And they had been started
at MIT to sort of explore where media and technology
could all meet up. It’s actually a
couple of buildings that house a bunch
of small research groups, two dozen little
research groups that more or less have free
rein to just explore whatever they want. On the occasion of
the anniversary, this wonderful new
identity system was created by a guy who
was then at the Media Lab named Richard Tay. Then he came to Google. I think he might still be
at Google in California. He’s a great, great,
great designer. And if you don’t know
what that looked like, this is what it was. And the trick with
this was, that thing you see there was just one
permutation of the logo. He had written an
algorithm or something, or someone wrote some algorithm. You guys all know
what algorithms are. I use that word a lot. I really don’t
know what it means. I went to art school
so I didn’t have to take anything beyond
Algebra II in high school. I apologize. You can kick me out
now if you want. So within that system,
there’s a bunch of squares. And then those
squares have colors that extrude off the squares. And then it makes 40,000,
supposedly, different versions of that thing, OK? So it’s really– I
thought was really cool. I saw this thing and I was like,
that’s really, really cool. I wish I’d done that. To my surprise, the
founder of the lab, Nicholas Negroponte,
called me up and said, hey, could you design a
logo for the Media Lab? And I said, but you have a logo. He said, what do you mean? I said, that thing that
Richard Tay did with the 40,000 different versions. He said, oh, you know,
that’s not really a logo. That was a thing
for the anniversary. We want a logo logo. And I wasn’t sure what
he even meant by that. So I went up to
Cambridge, Massachusetts, where MIT is, where the
Media Lab is, and we had a series of meetings. And I finally figured out
what he was talking about. I met with some other
people up there. And yet I sort of
really– I actually met with Richard and
[? Rune, ?] another designer. The two of them had
actually done that system. And I said look, they’ve asked
me to mess with this thing and I don’t want
to mess with it. So give me some advice. So I met with them to
understand what they were doing and to see what the
whole system was. So I’m just going to show
you the presentation I did for the first time we did it. This is the thing I’ve
never shown anyone before. OK. So the Media Lab
actually has a history based on the architecture of
the original building, which is by IM Pei. And then in the IM
Pei building, there was a couple of
art installations that a designer named
Jacqueline Casey riffed on. See all these little
stripey things? So she created this identity
that had little stripey things, see? So that was her idea. So everyone’s business
card had a different bunch of stripes on them. So this idea of everything kind
of being the same but different was already there right
back at the very beginning. It was the 25th
anniversary, not the 20th. The 25th anniversary,
Richard and his team did something based
on a new building that the Japanese
architect Maki did for them that was– in addition to
the Pei building, the IM Pei building. And this shows a little
bit of that in action, if you can see that. So the good qualities of that
are that it sort of extends that original identity in a way
that I thought was thoughtful. It’s a metaphor for
the new building, because the building
had atriums, and it sort of did
stuff like that. And the last one,
it sort of was just a demonstration of how ingenious
and innovative and imaginative the MIT Media Lab was. However, the shortcomings
were– as I finally got them figured
out– it sort of is very– what’s the word for it? It’s a look at me sort of logo. It kind of like
demands attention. And part of the issue
they have is that all these other– they have all
these other things going on there that like to be
the protagonist as well. So here’s this other
thing that really is supposed to just be kind
of signing off or endorsing those things, but it’s very
active and clever for that. And then it has this
entropic sort of thing. And entropy is another thing
I’m not sure I fully understand. But as I understand it, it has
do with the general dissipation of energy over time. So those 40,000 different
versions, I actually talked to the person who
was head of marketing. I said, well, how do you
decide which of the 40,000 different versions to use? If someone says, send me your
logo, what do you send them? She said, oh, I just send the
same one over and over again. So they sort of– it’s tiring to
manage 40,000 different logos. And I said, do
people think, well, this logo is better for this? No. The thing that makes
them great, the fact that they’re all sort
of the same and equal, actually makes
them not work well to distinguish meaningfully any
of the activities of the lab. And then also, it’s really
hard to look at that thing, particularly when it’s changing
all the time, and think, oh, when you see that,
think MIT Media Lab. So it needs a name with it. So we said we would
figure out a way to do something that recognized
the legacy of the lab, make it a little bit
stronger and louder, and come up with a
way that would let it work with everything else. So remember this grid. This is the grid that
underlies Richard Tay’s system. We started with that grid. And then we decided we would
build this alphabet from that. So every one of these letters,
M-I-T- M-E-A-D-I-A-L-A-B, are all based on that
basic configuration. So I thought, this is nice. We’re sort of paying a little
homage to the 25th anniversary thing. And then you get something like
that on one line, or like that. Now look carefully
at that, because this is– when we went up to show
this to Nicholas Negroponte the first time, he said,
oh, you almost got it. And I’m like, what? And he said, oh, this
is all you have to do. So I’ll show you in a second. He said, just take
away those two things. Then it’s a perfect square. And I said, but– and
he said, no, it still says MIT Media Lab. It’s like MIT Media Lab. So this is why he’s the
head of the Media Lab, or the founder of the
Media Lab, and I’m just a vendor, basically. So it almost works, I think. And you can sort of
make it– so but this is the thing I liked the best. You kind of could
take that thing, and then superimpose
the other thing on it, and it sort of seemed
to kind of have the same basic underlying DNA. I liked that part of it. So then we did a bunch of little
animations to show, really, it’s there, right? Or maybe you prefer this one,
MIT Media Lab or something. Or– cute. Or– this is
everyone’s favorite. Voila. OK. So then from those
eight letters, it’s really easy to
extrapolate the whole alphabet. And so then we said, you can
do everything in that alphabet, and hurray. And so see how it
says Mediated Matter? That’s one of those two
dozen research groups they have there. And Molecular Machines, Opera
of the Future, Social Computing, Synthetic Neurobiology
, et cetera, et cetera, all written in
the same typeface. And stationery, business cards. You can have a
square business card. As long as you’re not
going to be practical, why not have a
square business card? Custom roll tape, posters,
presentation slides. So these are just
quick sketches we had done to kind of sell this idea. And you see it becomes like
a pattern in the background. For some reason, I’ve got a
designer who just– I’ve never seen him wearing cufflinks,
but I think he just fantasizes this world of important
people who are always like mafiosa, kind of like
wearing cufflinks that needs logos on them. And then he has that
piece of base art and he knows how to
Photoshop on it, I think. That lady with the button. So that was that, right? OK. So communicates the name,
flexible and neutral, builds on the current symbol. But Nicholas and his is guys
couldn’t– they presented this. I was never there for
the presentations. He said, OK, it’s up to
us to kind of convince all our colleagues, the faculty
and the staff and everyone, and get excited about this. And he couldn’t put it over. They wouldn’t accept it
as the right solution. I actually think
the thing that he saw in it, that crazy thing
where the 11 became nine, just somehow is just one of those
cases where it’s a square peg, and the hole is almost
square, but not quite. And you just think, give me
another hammer, and you go, bang! And it’s still– all you guys
have been in that situation, I assume. And sooner or later you
realize that it just isn’t going to work. And they’re a wonderful client. They’re just so
great to work with. They’re so trusting
and supportive. So they said, you know, let us
think about this for a while. We’re just going
to take a pause. Then about a year later,
they called me back and they said, OK. We want to try again. And we want to do something
really clear and simple. Forget about anything
that came before. What would you do if you
could do anything you wanted? To And I actually
dread that question. You know, I became a
graphic designer, remember, specifically because I
don’t want to do anything. I want people to come to me and
say, I have a forklift truck. Our name is Clark. What do you got? And I say C-L-A, got it! But if they say, we
don’t have anything. We have nothing. What do you got? I’m like, what do you
mean, what do you got? What do you got? So they said, go for it. What do you have? So we came up with
this thing instead. So this was basically what
we presented the second time. So there’s something really
interesting about MIT in that it has two
Titanic figures in American graphic
design, at least, this lady Jacqueline Casey
and this lady Muriel Cooper. Muriel Cooper,
along with Nicholas, was one of the
co-founders of Media Lab. Jacqueline Casey was the lead
graphic designer for decades. Really remarkable. Two women in a
over-the-top, high tech, quintessential American east
coast high tech environment. And they basically
defined the way that MIT looked for decades,
through the ’60s and ’70s, into the ’80s. Interestingly enough–
usually I ask, are there any graphic
designers here, or people who know about design at all? Thank you. So name some
typefaces, et cetera. I’m not going to get
too deep into that. But Jackie Casey, as
much as anyone else, introduced Helvetica
to the United States. Other people get
the credit for it. She actually played
a big role in it. Here’s some of the
posters she was doing back in the ’60s and ’70s. Very influenced by
European design. These are really
visionary, cool things. Muriel Cooper,
this is early stuff she did about manipulating
type and data in 3D space, that she really made the
reputation of her students and the early days of
the Media Lab based on. And so they’re both brilliant,
brilliant designers. And note that thing there. That was by Muriel Cooper. She did that in the early ’60s. If you don’t know it, I
bet it’s in here somewhere. That’s the mark for MIT Press. She did that, I think,
in ’62, I believe. And imagine how hard
this was to sell in ’62. I will now explain to you
why this says MIT Press. M-I-T-P. But it also looks
like books on a shelf. Also, it looks kind of
digital in some vague way. And there are sketches
showing, OK, I’ll put a dot there, cross
that, close that up. Are you happy now? But luckily she talked them
into doing something abstract. And this thing has been
around now since ’62. And they said, we want
something like that. Not 40,000 versions,
not something that has to be blah, blah, blah. We want something
that’s that simple, OK? OK. Easy. Now I asked what you wanted. Now they tell me
what they wanted. Thanks, guys. So first we sort of
looked at the way you could write the name. The full name, abbreviated. Then we looked at–
when we you this sort of work, you generate
lots of stuff like this. I think of some of these
are interestingly bad. Some of them are just bad. Some of them are boringly
bad or predictably bad. I don’t know, they’re
really problematic. We did a lot of those things. Then finally, almost
guiltily, I said, remember that seven
by seven grid we had? Maybe there’s something
we could do with that. So we thought, OK, if we
sort of combined a letter for– like M and L with the
words MIT Media Lab– maybe we could start with that thing. Remember that we were told
not to worry about that thing any more, but I was
still obsessed with it. Underneath it, remember is this
49-unit grid, seven by seven. So if you– remember, we
built all these letters off it before. All’s we need now are two
letters, an M and an L. There’s the M, there’s the L. Makes
an overall kind of L for lab, which is what they
call it for sure. Put MIT Media Lab next to it. So that seemed
interesting enough. And then I remember– I have a
young man working for me named Aron Fay who’s really great. And I’d like to take full
credit for everything you see right now at
the Design Museum, and the Designs of
the Year exhibition. I vaguely remember
saying, you know, it would be cool if we used
the same system to do logos for all the research
groups at the Media Lab. And it was Friday. And I said, have a nice weekend. Then I walked out. And I came in on Monday. Here’s those groups. And Aaron said, I
think I got something. And what he had was a
logo for each of them, built on the same scheme. See, there’s an A and a C
for Affective Computing, a B for Biomechanics, CC, Camera
Culture, CP, Changing Places, Civic Media, Design Fiction,
Fluid Interfaces, all the way through. And what was cool about this was
they all sort of went together. But it was like a bunch
of different logos. They all go together like
the previous schemes. But this time, each
of those groups can grab one of these
things and sort of think they’ve got it made. And not only that, but there
are lots of different ways, once you’ve established
the rule set for how you make these,
the underlying grid, you can rotate the things. Each of these could be a
different version, actually. So then we did this
little animation for it. [MUSIC PLAYING] Voila. So OK. So that one worked. They liked that one. Thank you. The reason it worked
was that I think it struck a balance
between a central theme and the variations. The variations were sufficient
to help each of those research groups engender a sense
of esprit de corps, but the central theme helped
them feel unified that they’re all about one big idea,
which is the innovation that is enabled by the environment
created by the Media Lab overall. And what was really
cool about it– and I think what people miss
when they focus on G-O-O-G-L-E, and the way it’s
written in the new logo, is that that actually is really
an extension and an embodiment of the overall design language,
that material design language that you guys have
been developing. And I think it
all fits together. And I think when
this sort of thing works the best– I don’t know
if Clark Forklift Trucks has a whole design language
that goes with that logo– but I think you guys definitely
have an integrated design language that can help people
answer all kinds of questions, not just where do
I put the logo, or what does it look like,
but how do I solve this? How do I design this little
part of a bigger product? How does that product fit
in with something else? I think good design can tell
you how things go together and give you a characteristic
way to make everything appear. So what was really
nice about this, it gave us this kind of like
coherent design language. I remember when it was
getting ready to launch, people said– we did an
alphabet with it, too. We kind like updated that old
alphabet, did an icon system. So this is the Maki building. See, there’s an M
on that elevator, an L on that elevator. When the elevators
are on the same floor it sort of makes the logo. We redid the signage
in their buildings. So then you can take the
ingredients of the logo and upend it to kind of
have an arrow pointing up. It’s very low tech. It’s like a 49-bit
logo, in a way. But I sort of thought,
the only thing that’s timeless– this is sort of the
equivalent of doing a cube out of marble as a sculpture. It’s not going to change. It’s going to endure. It can’t be made–
it’s not going to look any more old fashioned
than it looks today, because it already looks old fashioned. And so they have a lot of
screen-based communications. It works lovely as a pattern. When different labs
share the same area, they can put a sign like that. And then if you ever go–
anyone ever been there? If you go there, they
sort of– it’s open plan, and they have lots of
tours coming through. And the groups will put up
a sign to say who they are and what they do. Lots of media stuff like this. Kind of simple way of,
like, being inside the logo, if you work there. Boulders, floor plans,
[INAUDIBLE], posters. Oh, and then when two groups
collaborate on something, they can superimpose
their things and get some new hybrid thing. They launched the new
identity at an event they had there for
their community that they titled
“Deploy,” partly, I think, in honor
of the new logo, but because of other
things as well. And so you see it says
D-E-P-L-O-Y on the back there. And so they did a whole
bunch of stuff with that. All these posters
basically say “Deploy” in different ways using
the same language. Black and white. Tote bag carried
by a gal wearing a black and white striped shirt
in front of a black brick wall. That’s how to do it. Little button. Some smaller buttons. This is not toilet paper. It’s packing tape they
actually made, crumpled up. We just made that up. I don’t think it’s
physically possible to have– but they could. And made with a little
bit of love, too. So perfect timing. Thank you. It’s time for questions
now, if you want. [APPLAUSE] MALE SPEAKER: Perfect. So we have at least 10,
15 minutes for questions if there are any questions. You have to shout
out nice and loud, and Michael can repeat it. MICHAEL BIERUT: I will. I will. Yes. AUDIENCE: Do you value rejection
in the creative process? MICHAEL BIERUT: Do I value it? I love it. I really, really love it. I’m so glad you
asked that question. OK. So when I’m
presenting something, the thing that really scares
me, the thing I really dread– and I hate it when
it’s happening– is, you see how this
is– I’m not putting this on just for you guys. This is sort of how I get when
I’m presenting design work. I get sort of progressively
more animated and excited because I’m excited about it. I’m not trying to sell. I just really like–like
I said, I like what I do. And I’ll be behaving like this,
and the people I’m talking to will sort of be like– and
then at the end, they’ll say, you know, well, you’ve certainly
given us a lot to think about. And then I remember the
first time, the first couple times I got really rejected. And I remember going to one
thing where, literally, it was a much smaller group than this. And I was about as
far as I am from you. And I was talking. And I remember this
was the old days, and I think I just– I
didn’t even have slides. I was presenting with
pieces of cardboard, like Don Draper in “Mad Men.” I had boards, right? And I probably had 20 boards
with my designs on it. And about the second one,
everyone in the front row started kind of doing body
language, things like this. And kind of like– and
then by the third one, by the fourth one,
they started, like, literally– I’m this far away. Like you and your friend
there would kind of go like– And I had one of those weird
out-of-body experiences, where I’m still talking, I’m
saying, and then for the logo, we decided– and as I’m
talking, I’m thinking, boy– I had this other dialogue. It’s so odd the way I can
hear my voice inside my head. How is that? Your brain is up here,
and your mouth is there, and you hear yourself talking. And I was having this
kind of like sense of detachment from reality. I was actually
losing track– then I started just getting really
focused on how many boards were left, because I just
thought, as long as– it was like
Scheherazade, actually. As long as I keep presenting,
everything will be fine. And then eventually I have
to say, so what do you think? So predictably,
these guys hated it. And I was young then, and I
didn’t know what to do with it. Now when that happens, I stop
on the third thing, and I say, wait. You guys really don’t
like this, do you? Tell me why. And I have to admit, some of
the best meetings I’ve ever had proceeded from that question. And sometimes I’ll be with
some of my younger designers on my team. And someone will bring
up some objection to what we’re showing. And I think your
natural impulse is to rush to the defense of
the thing you’re showing, the poor thing you’re
showing, which needs to be defended at all costs. And I don’t do that anymore. I just kind of
like, give me more. Give me more. I mean, do you hate it
because of the color? Do you hate it because
of the typeface? Do you hate it because
of the basic idea? Do you hate me? And I really will– and
if one of my designers tries to defend the thing,
I’ll no, no, wait, wait, wait. Go on. And then I’ll repeat
it all back to them. I’ll just make
sure I got it all. And what’s really interesting
is it that every once in a while I’ll present to someone
who just loves everything, and they really do
love everything. But almost every
time, someone has some objection, or
some reservation, or some criticism, or something
they just outright hate. And I just find those things
really much, much more interesting than, oh, I love it. It’s so great. Every once in awhile someone
says, I love it, it’s so great. And that’s interesting
enough for me. I mean, I’ll take it. But people rejecting
you is so fascinating. And in a way, the luckiest
thing we had with this was, that first
idea was not right. It really was not right,
and it was correct that it was rejected. And in a way, if I have
any regrets at all, it’s that I just played
the whole thing through. And had they accepted
it, I would’ve said, congratulations, enjoy
your new graphic identity, knowing that it wasn’t
quite right, actually. So confessing right
before you all, if I had a shortcoming that
I would do over myself, I would’ve said,
maybe you’re right. This isn’t quite right. I’m not sure it’s
going to do it. So in a way, I don’t reject
myself enough, actually. I guess I’m just so hungry to
have other people reject me. There’s some kind of
psychological component to that that I’m not eager to explore
right in front of you. However, that couch
awaits me, and maybe I’ll just lay down and
free associate later. Yeah. There. AUDIENCE: How do you
separate objections based on personal bias? MICHAEL BIERUT: So
the question is, how do separate objections
based on personal bias from ones that are
based on rationales? Well, sometimes I think
that all objections are based on personal bias,
because particularly, there’s part of every– almost
every kind of design expression, every
product you guys design, every decision that anyone
making anything makes– some of decisions are made
because they are answering a functional requirement. And you can actually say,
yes or no, this is right, that’s wrong. We’ll do this just because
this works better than that. But almost always, there’s
still some things left over that someone has to decide. And there is no right or wrong. And people hate to
call that taste. People hate to call that style. But I mean, it really
is a dangerous thing, and it really is taste. And so when someone
rejects something, I sort of will assume it’s
some combination of all those things. I try not to have a
conversation based on taste just because it’s so arbitrary. So I’ll try to ease us back
into something that has more to do with the objective
world that we can all together agree on. You know, you like blue,
but all your competitors use blue, so if what you
want is differentiation, blue may not be the thing that
gets you differentiated, right? On the other hand,
maybe you really don’t want differentiation. Maybe you want parity
with all your competitors, you want to fit in. And then people can have–
they’re almost relieved to have that discussion,
because it makes a lot of people nervous to talk about having
an opinion about a color, actually. So they don’t want to do that. They want to talk
about something you can put on a spreadsheet. So it’s a complicated
thing to work through. And a lot of it is– in the
back of my head, sometimes, it’s like, you really don’t
care one way or the other at the end. Just let me do it my way,
because I really do care. And I think there’s a lot of
designers who lead with that. And it sort of takes nerve
and kind of arrogance. And I’m not sure I have
either of those things. So I usually just kind
of do with a patient, kind of conversational one. Yeah. AUDIENCE: How do you maintain
your artistic integrity when a client is challenging it? MICHAEL BIERUT: OK. So the question is,
how do you maintain your artistic
integrity when you’re working with a client who
might be challenging it? There are cliches about
people from the Midwest, the Midwestern United States,
like Ohio, where I’m from. One of them is that
we’re very polite. And I do think I’m really
polite, and unconfrontational. So I can count– I
don’t think I’ve ever had a meeting where I actually
stormed out in a huff, or even raised my voice. I mean, I just don’t
do that, not at work. I mean, like watching a sports
event– I mean, I just– I’m very
unconfrontational at work. So this idea that– and
also, I have to admit, I don’t value my own
artistic integrity that highly at the
end of the day. I don’t, actually. I mean, someone’s asked
me to do a job for them. And you know, say what you will. But I put this deck
together for you guys. I just looked at it now. But over in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, they look at this stuff
all day, every day. This is their thing. This isn’t my thing,
this is their thing. And as far as I’m
concerned, it has nothing to do that they’re paying me. It has to do with the fact that
I’ve created a house for them to live in. And it doesn’t matter if I
think there’s something really, really fun about having
stairs with no railing because I think that
looks really cool. If my client has
six-year-old twins, they’re going to fall off the
stairs and kill themselves. So it doesn’t matter,
my artistic integrity. I have to hold my
nose and say, OK, I have to figure out a
way to protect your kids on those stairs, right? So usually if there’s– artistic
integrity doesn’t come into it. I do dislike people
that are horrible and mean, or are dumb,
horrible, and mean. If they’re dumb and nice,
sometimes that’s OK. And I actually like–
smart and mean I actually don’t mind that much. It’s dumb and mean that
is just intolerable. So again, there’s a lot
of people– I mean, to me, I just will quietly walk
away from certain things where I can kind of tell
it’s not going to go well. It has much less to do
about me as an artist, and just more to do
with, given that you’re awake X many hours
a day, and you spend this much of your wife
working, how much of that time do you want to
spend really dealing with unpleasant people
who, for some reason, have the energy to make you do
things you don’t want to do? I mean, if you’re
lucky and you structure your life and your business the
right way, you can set it up so you’re in a position
to avoid a lot of that without hurting
anyone’s feelings. I’ve never told anyone,
you’re a jerk, and I hate you, and I don’t want to
work with you anymore. I usually say, it’s
not you, it’s me. I’m sorry. This isn’t working, so if
you don’t mind– so I do. Yeah. Sorry. AUDIENCE: My question is
about the relationship between technology
and visual identity. Does it matter? MICHAEL BIERUT: So the
question is– correct me if I’m saying this
wrong– but we’re at a point now where, potentially,
an institution or an organization’s
identity could be adapted almost infinitely
by not just its users, but by its audiences, to
work in different ways. And is this a good idea? Is this what the
future holds for us? I actually think the
answer to both those things is yes and yes. I don’t think it’s– sometimes
a situation calls for something which is unequivocally
immalleable. It’s not going to change at all. Other times, it’s– what
I’ve gotten really interested in lately is the idea that–
I’ve noticed that some of the brands I admire the most,
actually, have very little– they’ve got a real
kernel at the core. But it’s not that big, and
it’s not telling people that much what to do. We have this store over in
the states called Target. You guys– OK, so Target’s
this inexpensive store that has a reputation for from
being hip and design conscious. And one of the genius
things about Target is their name is Target. And back in the
late ’60s, they went to some really good designers
and said, we need a logo. And these great designers
came back to them and said, we got it. It’s a dot with a
circle around it, and underneath we’re going
to write the word target. Now if that happened today
on social media– like, my five-year-old could do this. How much do these
people get paid? Total fail. People would say, it’s
not clever at all. But because they weren’t clever,
they weren’t preemptively clever on behalf of every future
generation, all these great ad agencies, all these
great designers, all these great marketing people,
all these great business people have done all these
really interesting things with that basic, simple
piece of geometry. And it was enabled not
because– what made it possible was the simplicity of
that original conception, and I would almost
say the humility of the designers who actually
put that forward as the idea. Very recently I did a logo
where I literally was thinking, I really think this
is the right solution. The only thing wrong
with it is that no one will think I’m clever. It just isn’t clever. There’s nothing clever about it. I’m not even sure
this is that clever. The music video
makes it look kind of ingenious and everything. But I don’t think–
inherently, it just is this kind of
workmanlike of thing. What I like about it,
too, is that I remember, there were like
two dozen groups. If I recall, about
half of them liked the logos we did for them. The other have didn’t
like their logos. And I was like, this is simple. I mean, it’s a 49-square grid. And once you explain the
rules of the geometry, what’s your idea? And they would come back
with things, and we’d say, that’ll work if you do this. And then eventually we–
through a very quick series of kind of fun
negotiations– co-designed every one of the remaining
logos with the users. And I don’t remember even
which ones those were, because it was sort of the
system designed it in the end. So I think there’s lots of
different examples of how that’ll happen in the future. I think that it’s partly–
it’s certainly enabled or accelerated by technology. But in a way, some symbols
of world religions, or countries, or the peace
sign, simple things that people can draw in the sand,
or with a piece of chalk on a wall– in a
way, those things are the ultimate
distributed design systems. And it has less to do,
I think– it has as much to do with the
inherent simplicity of the original conception as
it does with the technology that enables it. Is that a long and– Yeah. AUDIENCE: One of the
things I have to do is go and find customers. Now I have three options in
terms of showing them product. Either I go with
the Google logo, or I brand it for
them specifically, or I just use a made
up, fictional company. Which one do you
think resonates best? MICHAEL BIERUT: OK. So some of you guys
must face this problem. When he goes in to a
potential client or customer, he can brand– you’re branding
a prototype or something, I imagine, or– AUDIENCE: Well, no. Just the stuff that you
could tell the customer that they have the ability
to brand themselves. MICHAEL BIERUT: They have the
ability to brand themselves. He can put the
Google logo on it, he can put their
name on it, or he can put, like, Newco or some
other pretend name on it. Which is the best one? You know, it’s funny. I think if Google
were a startup– this is just my opinion, OK? I’ve been here for
all of an hour or two, so just take this as you will. I think if Google were
an unknown startup, it would have a sort of
requirement to kind of really establish its name out there. I think, if anything, Google,
like a lot of other companies, sort of has the other problem. They’re just seen as being–
I think your customers may welcome the fact
that you’re kind of, oh, you put our logo on it. That seems beneficent, in a way. And I think the only
reason not to do it is if their own logo is
so ugly it makes everything look terrible, right? I assume. Or else if you just kind
of set it in your typeface that you use for alphabet
and all that other stuff? That’s another way
you could do it, I suppose, just to neutralize
the whole thing a little bit. AUDIENCE: So you think the logo
resonates well with customers? They don’t get sick of
seeing their own logo? MICHAEL BIERUT: No, no. Customers don’t get sick
of seeing their own logo, you kidding? No, they love seeing
their own logo, particularly if they’re going
in with the fear of thinking that they’re giving something
up going into a situation. To see themselves acknowledged
in that way, I think, is probably reassuring. I’ve done lots– in that book,
you’ll find some examples. There’s some work we did
for Saks Fifth Avenue, where basically we were asked to
do a brand new logo for them. We couldn’t come up with one. Instead, we found a logo
they had from the early ’70s and did this sort
of remix of it. I remember going to that
presentation so happy, thinking, they can’t hate
this because it’s already their logo. They can’t say, we
don’t want that. You can’t say that. You already have it. Ha ha! So you know, I think that
people just really– I mean, logos are weird
because on one level, they’re this weird piece
of commercial marketing– they’re a commercial
marketing tool. On the other hand, people
do take them personally. It’s someone’s signature. It’s the flag that
they fight under. It’s the sign over the door they
go to five days a week or more. So it does mean a little bit
more to them than just colors and shapes, I find. MALE SPEAKER: One more. AUDIENCE: If you
were a client, how would you choose a
graphic designer or agency to work with? MICHAEL BIERUT: The question
is, if I was a client, how would I choose a
graphic designer or agency to work with? That’s a really good question,
because I actually think that that’s– when people are
trying to get good design out of a process, I think. There’s some people
in the movie business who sort of say
the same thing, is once you have the script,
the director, and the cast, and maybe the director
of photography, the movie is 95% done before
anything starts filming. It can only get 5%
better or worse, because those ingredients
are like setting the tone. And I think the same is true
when you hire a designer. I think you’re making the
primary decision about what the outcome is going to be just
through that, because once you do that, you’re already
kind of putting yourself on a certain track, whether
you do it knowingly or not. Just like a lot of
decisions one makes in life. Why did you go to that college? What would have happened if
you wouldn’t have sat down at that particular seat at
the cafe next to that guy? And then all of a sudden
your life is changed, right? Thus it also is with choosing
a designer, I suppose. I mean, I would love to
hire designers all day long. I think there’s so much
good work out there now. It’s all so visible. I just would see things
that you admired, and then find out
who’s doing them, and then meet those
people and see whether you like those people. if you find somebody like
who does work you admire, and you’re someone they like
and you do work they admire, that’s true love, isn’t it? I’ve been married
for going on 40 years now, or 35 years, actually. Dating the same
girl for 40 years. So I know all about true love. Ask me about that sometime. You had your hand up before. I just want to have
one more question. AUDIENCE: So my question
was, how much time needs to be spent
researching the client, understanding their
culture, their DNA? MICHAEL BIERUT: I actually think
that’s really a critical thing. And I think that
it’s something that I imagine– it’s tough no
matter what the situation is. And people usually assume
that researching a client, and understanding
what the situation is, is really necessary
when that situation is kind of complicated or exotic,
or no one understands it. I’ve actually found that
it’s much worse when– the more dangerous thing
is when everyone thinks they understand it already. It sort of is– one thing
that’s nice about designing for, like, the Media Lab,
what I just showed you, is that what they do seems
complicated and mysterious. But everyone– for
instance, I think a lot of the reaction that
came out about the Google logo had to do with,
everyone thinks they know everything there
is to know about Google, because they’re on your
site all day every day. And what else is there to know? They think they know you. They wouldn’t presume to
know that much about a lot of other entities in the world. But they think they
know you already. And I think that
that’s actually, from a designer’s point of
view, much more dangerous. I think it’s because you
assume you know it all already. And the questions always
are, what don’t we know? What do we know today that
isn’t going to be true tomorrow? What do we anticipate is
going to happen tomorrow? What do we have to put in place
for the thing that’s going to happen five years from now? So I think understanding
those sort of factors. And I think, just
as importantly, getting a sense overall of
what the culture is like, and what the spirit
of the place is like. Those are really fundamental
to both establishing the kind of rapport that makes
for a fun design process, and for ultimately coming
out with a good solution. And it’s true for a
really big organization. It’s true for a
really small one. Well, thank you so much.


77 Replies to “Michael Bierut: “How to use graphic design” | Talks at Google”

  1. Daniel F. Smith says:

    I enjoyed this. Prominent company designs in the background: Yamaha, Mitsubishi, London Shard, Apple. A very neutral color throughout, drawing attention to the speaker's face. A steady pace through the talk, always interesting, and almost an art piece in itself!

  2. Doodle Books says:

    Could have taken the 9 letters and changed the "media" to a different color.

  3. Juan Suarez says:

    Michael is one of the best designers out there. Loved this insight to the process of the amazing identity for the media lab.

    Thanks for sharing

  4. Marcus Marritt says:

    Playing this to my year 1 students tomorrow morning in contextual studies, fantastic industry insight

  5. LW Foard says:

    How have we gotten to the point where the guy in the front row thinks it's okay to sit there (IN THE FRONT ROW) and feign interest in Michael Bierut's presentation while playing on his phone for 25 minutes?

  6. John Thorgard says:

    26:10 Great answer to the first question.

  7. marktrask4111 says:

    who is the distracting adhd in the front row? Give the dude a double dose of ritilin…

  8. Jack Robinson says:

    Look at that rude guy at the front playing on his phone

  9. littleatwork says:

    Very informative! Thank you 🙂

  10. biteme says:

    How did the person filming this not notice the audience member's big head obstructing the screen? Hugely distracting! C'mon Google…

  11. Leonidas Grecos says:

    great talk 🙂

  12. Logo Design Guru says:

    Interesting, engaging and slightly humorous talk.

  13. Cristofer Dorante says:

    I LOVE the Q&A

  14. Garfellow says:

    4:00… is that just me or did the audio change?

  15. Karl Adrian Aguro says:

    He is very wise. I really like him. Great job, Mr. Bierut!

  16. Thelonious McCoy says:

    This talk is so essential. Especially the part about dealing with rejection.

  17. Garrett Harris says:

    fat guy in a little shirt

  18. Patrick Evans says:

    This is a really useful talk! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  19. designeract says:

    If you guys like graphic design puns, check out my funny YouTube channel. I interact with random people talking in design language. It will ⌘T your life!

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  21. Nick Sultzman says:

    He gave a similar talk at my design school a while back and blew my mind

  22. Misha Tsirlin says:

    He's using a macbook at a Google presentation

  23. Unknown says:

    4 people dislike the guy in right corner. sorry guy.

  24. Jack Taylor says:

    I don't get the question about using the Google Logo or a made up logo? Anyone?

  25. Blackblaze2007 says:

    eer??? SEPERATE???! wheres the attention to detail?? this is suppose to be a graphic design education…

  26. LateNight Asmr says:

    wanna bomb that guy sitting on the right…He is in the shot and looking at his phone…like wtf?

  27. Edgar Ortiz says:

    Looks like a great friendly person.

  28. craig ernstzen says:

    That guy on the phone needs his ass kicked. If you want to be on your phone during a presso then piss off. Also, why didn't the cameraman move his shot.

  29. Jhoto Jodee says:

    What a lovely guy.

  30. Saljo Joseph says:

    someone just got an iPhone! OMG! he can't wait to check it. 😀

  31. Asyifa Chanel says:

    Tugas ane buat resume video ini 🙂

  32. Deathein Youtube says:

    I want to slap the guy with the phone…..

  33. Phresh Ideas + Designs says:

    That was extremely insightful.

  34. James Cat says:

    Michael Bierut comes across as a very genuine man of integrity

  35. Dylan Davies says:

    9:45 minutes in, typo on slide!! 'demonstraction' instead of demonstration. Shame.

  36. Slobodan Šupak says:

    i've yet to watch a google thing where there isn't a pretentious, obnoxious asshole on the panel or in the audience.

  37. Ric VOC says:

    Shame on the phone guy. It's Michael Beirut talking, you fuck*ng idiot, not your mate at the pub.

  38. derFlorian says:

    Michael Bierut is pure genius.

  39. Christopher Cooper says:

    Your great!

  40. Archana Rao says:

    Very smart audience! great questions

  41. Siyabonga Mtetwa says:

    I love this presentation. BUT the guy with the phone on the front just kills every 'inch' of attention I have.

  42. ijuh22 says:

    I hate this guy in the front row so much it's hard to watch this talk. These manners would've never been acceptable a few decades ago.

  43. ijuh22 says:

    I've been told people think Google employees are arrogant and looking at the guy in the front row I can see why. Can't they be taught some manners?

  44. Anthony Okeiyi says:

    Genius… this guy.

  45. jared says:

    27:36 Goddamn I hate it when clients do that, speak up assholes!

  46. Janae Allen says:

    Only 12 dislikes but the comments are filled with shame …. where is the positivity

  47. tidragos says:

    The guy on the phone has such a punchable face!!!

  48. Bob Bobby says:

    I cannot believe that the dick in the front seat does not care about the presentation by legendary Michael Beirut and keep playing on a phone for the whole time.

  49. Yuri Radavchuk says:

    So many great things come from MIT media lab. Sorry, Google, but they are the dream place to work at.

  50. Mashable says:

    I'm 20, so is it too late that i had that moment that Michael is telling us at this age? Am i too late to be a graphic designer?

  51. Scott Allred says:

    Achieving good design seems so daunting, but somehow Michael Beirut makes it feel more practical and possible.

  52. pose radu says:

    the douchebag in the front with his douchebag face on his douchebag phone… 🙁

  53. big8611 says:

    5 mins in the video I know I can listen to him for hours (brilliant guy) and I am not into design particularly.

  54. Kris Keh says:

    Yea that guy in the front walked into the wrong talk

  55. frazam8 says:

    Hes so right on the just design whatever you want thing being bad

  56. Adrian Castillo says:


  57. Rubanz Hall says:

    Wow awesome ideas and creativity

  58. Tom Laverty says:

    LOVED IT! Hillarious "i actually dont value my artistic integrity that high:"

  59. William Wong says:

    Why Michael Bierut having the same speech everywhere?

  60. شرف الدين الغرناطي says:

    I am the best graphic designer in the third world countries

  61. sunshizzleyou says:

    “Interestingly Bad” (14:44)…. I need this t-shirt!

  62. The NewGeneration says:

    What a legend!

  63. A W says:

    Video title should be: A genius speaking and an idiot on his phone.

  64. Atlantic Film says:

    Funny guy

  65. Ray Sanford says:

    I'm super distracted by the distracted guy.

  66. brackets graphics says:

    very nice

  67. hyacinthdibley2 says:

    THAT IS THE WORST INSULT TO A PRESENTER…..especially to Mr Bierut.
    ….even if he were a reporter looking up questions or a doctor texting life-saving techniques…I DON'T CARE. WTHk?!!

  68. hyacinthdibley2 says:

    I'm putting a sticker on the bottom right of my screen…….Yep, that helps.

  69. Alex Meza says:

    is that bottle floating?

  70. hamid izadpanah says:

    This square guide system which act as a pattern is the flexible pattern that is used in Arabic and Persian calligraphy. They used this pattern to apply scripts and motifs in their building's surface as decoration elements since 1000 years ago. square Kufic calligraphy.

  71. jpat313 says:

    strange noise at 35:41 lol

  72. Thang.Nguyen says:

    does anyone know how they made the animation for the logos at 21:00 ?

  73. Marcelo Abans says:

    @21:39 he enjoys the drop here.

  74. My Instant Search says:

    This was really useful.

  75. creative neeitz says:

    How disrespectful that the guy who is playing on phone while the legend talking???

  76. mediumstudio says:

    all the MIT media lab stuff is awesome!

  77. PDP Tutorials says:

    Fix ur microphone

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