Skip to content
September 16, 2009 / Kuan

Michael Bierut: My Life as a Font

Design is an elegant presentation that allows complexity within simplicity, says Michael Bierut, partner of Pentagram in New York City.  “Everyone can relate to typefaces, ” he said, “Just as Bodoni is always related to sophisticated romantic comedies.”

26 projects in 26+ years presented via 26 alphabets

A for American Institute of Graphics Arts (AIGA) logo

Typeface: Akzidenz-Grotesk

001 AIGA

(Updated image from Michael Bierut.)

B for Brooklyn Academy of Music

Typeface: News Gothic

Picture 1

“When you crop the bottom off, you can still recognize the letter. But you crop out the top, you can’t,” says Michael Bierut. This logo starts the design trend of cropping out the bottoms of the letters.

C for Celebration, Florida. logo, city signs, everything.

Typeface: Cheltenhan, designed by Bertram Goodhue, an architect in 1896.


D for Downtown, New York City, street signs and everything else.

Typeface: Interstate, designed by Tobias Frere-Jones, based on the highway signs of U.S. Department of Transportation.

E for Eero Saarinen, logo and interior

Typeface: Eurostile, designed by Aldo Novarese in 1952

Picture 2

F for New York Fashion Center, logo and the architecture

Typeface: Akzidenz Grostesk, Bold Extended.

The logo looks like a button, indicates fashion, sewing and it also shapes an “F.” Beautiful.

The idea for this information booth architecture design comes from Michael Bierut as well.

G for General Dynamics

Typeface: Dynamic

The logo is inspired by a series of post-war posters by Eric Nitsche named “Atoms for Peace”(ex. below). Designers from Pentagram took the typeface out of the poster and polished it. I am not sure how exactly the logo came out, but Eric Nitsche definitely designed it originally.

H for Harley-Davidson, logo and branding

Typeface: Knockout, designed by Hoefler & Frere-Jones

I for I Want to Take You Higher exhibition in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, banner

Typeface: Cooper Black, designed by Oswalk Cooper in 1926

015 Higher

Exhibition opened on 10 May 1997 Partners/Designers – James Biber, Michael Bierut. Cheers to Michael for the image.

J for New York Jets, logo and branding

Typeface: Jets bold, designed by Hoefler and Frere-Jones.

006 Jets

Michael Bierut provided this image again, thanks Michael. This is the branding stuff he and his team did for “J E T S jets jets jets.”

K for KNOPF publications, book cover design

Typeface: Felix, designed by Felice Feliciano in 1463. This is the typeface of this particular book.

God: a Biography by Jack Miles. book cover.

What I think is more interesting is about this book cover, which he didn’t show during the lecture. He talks about designing another book of Miles named Christ: a Crisis of Life of God in Futura. He said that he noticed that Future’s letter “t” has straights bars and stem, like a cross. How brilliant! He originally wrapped the word “Christ” around the book cover, and the letter “t” will be in the middle of the front cover. But the publisher said why not just leave the “t” and take everything out, so they did. And this is what the book finally looks like:

Picture 3

Isn’t that beautiful/amazing/astonishing?!

L for Lever House, logo

Typeface: Lever sans, designed by Hoefler and Frere-Jones. This typeface is inspired by the shape of the Lever House building.

Picture 4

L-shaped building of Lever House.

M for Museum of Arts and Design, logo and branding

Typeface: MADface, designed by a Pentagram designer. Here is an article from the Pentagram about this design project. Good reading.

Picture 5

The article linked above talks more in details about the process of designing the logo. Where this logo comes from is quite interesting, and I think this is one of the best logo I’ve ever seen. Because Michael Bierut inspired by the location of the building. It is located at Columbus Circle in New York City and it’s a squarish-looking building. So the typeface comes from combining a square and a circle.

It is a usual approach in designing logos. Connect with its location, physical environment and start thinking what’s unique about it. Brilliant work. Pentagram later expanded the MAD font into a typeface.

N the New England Journal of Medicine, wordmark

Typeface: Quadraat, designed by Fred Smeijers in 1992.

Picture 6

The journal is about 150 years old and the wordmark reflects it.

O for Op-Ed and T for The New York Times, logo/wordmark

Typefaces: O is Bell Gothic designed by C.H. Griffith and T is Fraktur designed by Matthew Carter in 2005.

Now that we know what typeface this infamous T is.

What’s more is that Michael Bierut and the Pentagram crew chose to use the New York Times’ file photos as part of the signs throughout the building.

For example, they will use a file photo that represents a balcony in the sign.

Just imagine, there is writing next to the photo, says “Balcony.” So there will be a file photo of men hanging outside of men’s  bathroom, with “Men’s Room” on it. How clever and fun!

P for Princeton Athletics, logo and branding

Typeface: Memphis, designed by Rudolph Wolf in 1930.

Picture 7

Picture 8

R for Robert A.M. Stern, logo/wordmark

Typeface: Trajan, designed by Carol Twombly

Picture 9

Originally, I don’t really like the typeface. But I think Michael Bierut showed me that all caps in Trajan can be pretty nice.

S for Saks Fifth Avenue, wordmark and branding

Typeface: Saks Cursive.

This well explains how the branding works. Every square of this logo present a sense of beauty and elegance of the logo.

Picture 10

Picture 11

Packaging examples. Every bags are slightly different from each other, and there are about 57 variations. I like the approach very much, it provides an insight into the logo and creates something news without adding anything new. It’s like the zoom on a camera lens, you can see the beauty of details.

U for University of Cincinnati

Typeface: Bell Centinnial, designed by Matthew Carter

It is an anniversary piece, which I can’t find. Sorry.

V for Voting Booth Project

Typeface: Agency, designed by Morris Fuller Benton, 1932

This project is created by Parsons in New York City, which represents the conflict of democracy and art. The image is created by Michael Bierut. He and his partner rented a machine to roll over a voting booth, then Michael Bierut put an icon for republican on top of it. Clever, isn’t it?

W for George W Bush, poster (there is no link for Bush)

Typeface: Constructa, designed by Elizabeth Cory Holzman, 1994

“NO” is placed on top of a huge “W.” Look like a “now” which reveals everything the designer is trying to say.

X for Museum of Sex, logo and branding

Typeface: Helvetica designed by Max Miedinger in 1951

Here we go. Helvetica means Swiss, you know that? Because the designer is from Zurich.

Y for School of Architecture in Yale University

Typeface: No standard font, any shapes of Y.

Z for American Center for Design, Call-for-Entry poster

Typeface: handwriting of Elizabeth Ann Bierut in 1992

The obstacle to design this poster is whether the design choices such as typefaces, images, styles will influence the entries. So, when Michael Bierut can’t come up with something and the deadline for the poster was approaching, he designed the back of the poster using the Center’s statement. And the Center called him saying, “This is good, why don’t you just use that?” And, here it is. A perfect solution to the design problems.

“Good design is always something more to. The something  more is what brings people to study, to work every morning. Wonderful adventure.” —-Michael Bierut

Q for questions?



Leave a Comment
  1. Juli Watt / Mar 3 2010 8:09 pm

    it is sites like these that make my 8 hours at work bearable –

    • Kuan / Mar 18 2010 5:54 pm

      Thank you for the kind words! :D


  1. Keep an Eye on the Backward Clock « Amid Design, Writing and Rhetoric

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: