To know the designer Michael Bierut, you have to understand his way of working, his way of thinking, and his way of designing. it is all a prosses and these are five rules the man who designed Manhattan lives by.





I’m sitting there with a completely empty head and I’m dying for them to say something, anything, that I will be able to use to come up with something that in that moment is completely allusive to me.

First rule is to Listen First, Then Design. An example of how Bierut did this would be with his re-branding of the MIT Media Lab. The MIT Media Lab team come to Bierut with the question:  could a single logo combine the two traditions of timelessness and flexibility?


From listening to what the client wanted  Bierut sketched some ideas. There were some false starts, but things turned around. Using a seven-by-seven grid, he generated a simple ML monogram. This severed as the logo for the Media Lab. Then, using the same grid, he extended the same graphic language to each of the 23 research groups that lie at the heart of the Lab's activities.




I feel like I am a doctor and I can’t just practice medicine on myself. I need patient, the sicker the better.


The cartoons of the family used in the packaging for

Second rule is to Not Avoid the Obvious. An example of how Bierut did this would be with his re-branding of was Newark Nut Company. Jeff Braverman, the grandson of the founder of the company set up a website for the company. The name was then changed to Nuts Online to match the domain name.


Almost immediately the company took off. Will making up to $20 million a year Jess finally bought the name he wanted, and asked Bierut to redesign the packaging for the company.


Jeff told Bierut and his team that because he didn't have to compete on store shelves he wanted the packing to be like a "big event" in the mail for his customers. Also, didn't do any advertising; instead, their shipping cartons functioned as courier-powered billboards.


The previous packing featured the incongruous name “Nuts Online”

Bierut took inspiration for the design for the brand from Jeff and his family. Sitting in a 60,000-square-foot warehouse overseeing a multi-million dollar operation, they were as informal and funny as if they were still running a cart in the Mulberry Street Market. From observations like this Bierut decided there would be no typesetting. He used hand-lettering and turned it into a custom typeface called “Nutcase,” which was used used to cover their packaging with snack-riddled exhortations, all surrounding cartoon portraits of the Bravermans.


I am not creative

The Problem Contains the Solution is the third rule you should live by. The most interesting example of this would be the New York Times building sign.


Renzo Piano designed a new building for the New York Times in 2001. This new building was located within the a district that is governed by signage restrictions that are unlike any in the nation. Created to preserve the cacophonous character of Times Square, instead of minimizing the size and quantity of signs, they mandate more, bigger, and flashier signs, signs that by law must be attached to buildings rather than integrated into their facades.  But where could a sign go on a building that was glass from top to bottom? This was Bierut's and his teams problem to solve.



Architect Renzo Piano and the New York Time’s building before the sign.

The solution came from all the metal bars around the building. The solution was to install the paper's iconic name plate, 110 feet long, on the building’s Eighth Avenue facade. The sign was made of 959 small teardrop-shaped pieces, each applied precisely to the grid of ceramic rods. The two-inch projections that form the tail of the drops make the sign seem opaque when viewed from below. Viewed straight on—from the inside the building—they are nearly invisible.



Simplicity, wit, & good typography.

Indulge Your Obsessions is the fourth rule and one of the most important. To be passionate about something makes you want to do it the best way you can and make sure other people understand what you are doing.


Bierut became obsessed with the typeface he created for MAD, or Museum of Arts and Design. He tired to change the name of the Museum to A+D for a logo design he had based off the building’s architecture. The problem was the owners were not happy with it.


He realized MAD would face the only complete traffic circle in Manhattan. The building was square. Squares and circles. He looked at the three letters of the name. Could squares and circles be found there as well? The answer was yes. The simplest geometry solved the problem. No longer necessary were straining machinations and feverish salesmanship. Here was a that rare thing:  a solution that sold itself. it was approved unanimously the next meeting.



MAD logo.



The square and circle idea for the logo.




No on loves authenticity like a graphic designer. And no one is quite as good at simulating it.

Love is Always the Answer. With Bierut and his team, they showed their love by doing pro bono design work for The Robin Hood Foundation's Library Initiative.


The Robin Hood Foundation had taken on the big challenge:  of transforming the quality of education at public schools in some of New York’s toughest neighborhoods by focusing their attention on a single room, the school library. Architects were asked to design the libraries, while Bierut and his team designed the logo and sign to show what school were apart of the program.


Bierut’s team was almost done when the architects asked for help fillinf the space between the kid-size shelves and the high ceiling. Bierut invisioned a modern  version of a a classical frieze along the top walls, celebrating not the ancient gos but the kids themselves. Dorothy, Bierut’s wife and high school sweetheart, took all the pictures. It was such a hit, that every school wanted a mural.



“One day, we took a tour of the completed libraries. It was thrilling to see them filled with kids that might discover their futures there, as I had so many years ago in my own school library. Our last stop was at the end of the school day. I t was getting late. As the librarian was closing up, she asked, ‘Would you like to see how I turn out the lights?’ Slightly baffled, I said, sure. ‘I always turn this light out last, ’ she explained. It was the one that lit the mural of the faces of the school’s students. ‘I like to remind myself why we do all this.’”


I understood only then the real purpose of our project:  to help this librarian and the dozens like her to do their jobs better. In a way, this is the only purpose my work has ever had. For design can’t save the world. Only people can do that. But design can give us the inspiration, the tools, and the means to try. We left determined to keep trying.