6 Short Essays on Design

After reading 6 (of 79) Shorts Essays on Design by Michael Bierut, I find myself wanting to read the other 73.  Bierut’s writing style is very readable, with a hint of humor at times, and a very “down to earth” tone (which helps me as the reader to better relate to the content).  I found it very interesting, his distinction between fame and wealth of graphic designers, and how one does not necessarily coincide with the other.  Even more interesting was Bierut’s formula-like instructions for how to become a famous graphic designer (there is a lot more careful planning and preparation that goes into becoming famous than sheer brilliant design).  As almost anything in the art and design world, graphic design competitions are subjective, and in order to win, you must design to your audience (in this case the judges).  But does designing for the purpose of winning really unveil the best graphic design/designers?  I’m sure a lot of the winners of these competitions are great designers, but maybe a different setup for these competitions could yield even better designs.

Just like Vladimir Nabokov (the father of hypertext) jumped the reader from idea to idea (or at least page to page), I am going to jump from how to become famous to information design as a placebo.  It’s a little amazing and a little frightening that we have come to rely so heavily on the use of technology to guide us through our everyday lives.  We have made amazing strides in the development of technology to help improve our lives, but we also have come to trust technology to give us truthful information.  Bierut brought up a very interesting point when he discussed crosswalk buttons that only work part of the time.  We come to rely on the fact that what we see is true; we trust that the information being given to us is correct. I think Bierut is giving us the great reminder to question information that is presented to us, even if it looks trustworthy or familiar.

Massimo Vignelli’s 1972 New York City Subway map is beautiful…the colors, the simplicity, the use of a grid.  The only problem was that it did not fully solve a problem.  The fact that his map was not used for an extended period of time goes to show the importance of good information design, and that aesthetics fall second to accuracy of information.  I’m sure it wasn’t easy for Vignelli to create his final subway map design, which just goes to show how difficult great information design really is because it involves a combination of accuracy and aesthetics, clarity and clever design.

I love how passionate Bierut is about ITC Garamond.  This was the first time I have seen the legibility of a typeface being compared to the consistency of dog poop.  Quite descriptive, but he got his point across. I don’t necessarily care for Garamond as a typeface, but I don’t really share Bierut’s burning hatred towards it either.

The last essay made me really stop and think about design as a form of plagiarism.  I looked up the design Bierut said he had subconsciously borrowed from Willi Kunz.  If this is plagiarism, then I think most designers are guilty of it.  Ideas for design come from so many different avenues, but a large number come from past designs.  Limiting designers to only create completely new designs and ideas is almost impossible if he/she has been exposed to other designers’ works, because these designs and ideas are already stored in his/her brain for possible later inspiration.

P.S. I copied this text and pasted it into a word document where I could change the font to Garamond…I quickly changed it back.

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