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Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design [Kindle Edition]

Michael Bierut
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design brings together the best of designer Michael Bierut's critical writing—serious or humorous, flattering or biting, but always on the mark. Bierut is widely considered the finest observer on design writing today. Covering topics as diverse as Twyla Tharp and ITC Garamond, Bierut's intelligent and accessible texts pull design culture into crisp focus. He touches on classics, like Massimo Vignelli and the cover of The Catcher in the Rye, as well as newcomers, like McSweeney's Quarterly Concern and color-coded terrorism alert levels. Along the way Nabakov's Pale Fire; Eero Saarinen; the paper clip; Celebration, Florida; the planet Saturn; the ClearRx pill bottle; and paper architecture all fall under his pen. His experience as a design practitioner informs his writing and gives it truth. In Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design, designers and nondesigners alike can share and revel in his insights.

Editorial Reviews


Bierut is a writer who balances equal dose of optimism and skepticism to draw readers in and let them find their own way out. Each of the 79 essays is printed in a different typeface, and though a reader could probably do without Bulmer and Danubia, reading the changing text is part of the enjoyable adventure as Bierut looks at ordinary circumstances of design that have the ability to create extraordinary consequences in life. -- Communication Arts, August 2007

Highbrow and brilliant. -- New York Magazine, The Approval Matrix, August 2007

I was rewarded every time I dipped into this elegant, thoughtful compilation of stand-alone essays. -- Adage, November 2007

In this lively collection of previously published essays, Michael Bierut provides a compulsively readable guide to all things design. While fonts and logos receive their expected due, so too do Eero Saarinen's TWA terminal, treadmill tripping, and enormous wild geese. -- Dwell, January 2008

Topics range from design-related discourses on how to become famous or deal with a client to art, economics, history, war, politics and books. Even the redesigned Food Pyramid gets a section. Regardless of the topic, Bierut's sometimes-bemused voice and peircing intelligence illuminate the central role of design in our lives. -- STEP Inside Design, August 2007

"A very well written, witty book that should find its way into any truly nerdy Dwell reader's bathroom." --Dwell Magazine

About the Author

Michael Bierut is a partner at Pentagram and a 2006 AIGA medalist. He is a design critic for the online journal Design Observer, the Public Radio International program Studio 360, and the Yale School of Art.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1723 KB
  • Print Length: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press; 1st edition (March 20, 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007N1DLAK
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #486,721 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Insiders Perspective November 15, 2007
Michael Beirut has collected many of the essays he has written for the Design Observer, a blog he founded with other designers with a focus on graphic design practice and process.

Michael's seasoned perspective on the education of young designers, the events and experiences he turned to his advantage as a young person are enlightening and entertaining. He all but pleads to get young designers to recognize that design revolves around life, rather than the other way around. This book may present a challenge for someone not familiar with the personalities, and particularities of graphic design's inner workings. It is a fascinating and well written perspective on the professional's life, which is notable in that Michael is highly successful designer and a partner in the estimable multinatiional design firm, Pentagram.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
What an annoying, disappointing waste of money "Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design" by Michael Bierut turned out to be! Nearly all of the 79 essays are smug, self-congratulatory pap dressed up as profound insight.

In their original context the essays would have been targeted at a specific readership and perhaps those readers liked this stuff and were used to it. But when published as a collection, specialist "occupational" essays like these reach far broader audiences who may find the material and style not to their taste - if not downright silly.

Individually, the essays might be worth casually browsing if you have run out of soup can labels; but as a collection read through as a normal book they reveal their shallow superficiality only too graphically. Frankly, after reading the first five essays I already felt cheated.

Take the essay "How to Become Famous", for example. It is basically semi-humorous, insider nonsense that includes exhortations like "when in doubt, make it big. If still in doubt, make it red." OK, that's worth a knowing chuckle the first time you read it, but the humour palls after reading endless injunctions in the same vein.

Here's another example of the pretentious claptrap sprinkled throughout the book: "our traditional conception of graphic design history reduces what is actually a complex and ever-shifting melange of incident and influence to a falsely organised canon of images."

Some of the essays (eg essays 6, 7 and 11) are abbreviated book reviews; but book reviews used as a platform for the essayist to expound his own ideas. In fact, many of the essays seem to be more about their author, the pronoun "I" appears early and frequently, rather than about the subjects themselves.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The first time I saw Michael Bierut was two years ago at Moore College of Art and Design as part of a lecture series hosted by AIGA. I believe Bierut's lecture that night was titled "Ten Mistakes I've Made as a Designer." Not only did he give excellent insight on the things he's done, but he was super funny. This first impression of a live Michael Bierut pressed me to go ahead and order this book. I have to say, although the book isn't as funny as I thought it'd be (though this impression may change once I read the rest of the essays), it's definitely brought up times where I've nodded my head or said "Mmhmm" out loud in agreement. So far the essay on the "process schools" has resonated with me the most because as a student at a prestigious arts institution, I can definitely say: "I am studying at a process school." He goes on to explain what a process school is (a design school based primarily, and sometimes solely, on Swiss design) and the entire time I was reading, the graphic design department at my school stayed in my head.

This book is worth a read, and the writing makes sense even if you've not seen Michael Bierut at one of his lectures (there's YouTube for that). It's just easier to read if you imagine him saying the words aloud. :)
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book May 9, 2010
As an avid reader of Design Observer, I rushed out to buy a copy of Michael Beirut's essay collection "79 Short Essays on Design." Almost four years later, I think I have finally finished reading this collection. Beirut's collection, though not the most conducive to reading all in one sitting, is continually surprising, and entertaining.
What surprises me most is the depth to which the book reaches on a wide variety of topics on design--from a discussion of t-shirt designs, to falling off a treadmill, it seems that Beirut can find the design in almost anything. That quality in his essays challenges the reader to do the same. Each time I re-read the essays in the book, I come out with a different thing to mull over, a new idea to try in a design solution, or just a funny line to make me smile for a day or two. Few other books I have read rival the long-term rewards of this book.
Perhaps the most fitting way to describe Beirut's mastery of finding the design in the everyday is that same quality he discusses in the essay "What we talk about when we talk about architecture." He begins describing the radio program "Car Talk" where conversations about car troubles can range from philosophy to relationship advice--almost anything, excluding, of course, car trouble. Beirut challenges that design lacks that same kind of community where talking about design can lead to, and connect with, other things.
In this collection of essays, I think he may have found an answer to that.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars held my attention
I hate to read, however I had a hard time putting this book down. It's one of the few books I've read front to back since finishing high school 34 years ago. That says allot.
Published 6 months ago by Rebecca L Hagemann
3.0 out of 5 stars this is like critiquing a book on physics without a knowledge of ...
I'm not a creative person or knowledgeable of graphic design. To be fair to the author, this is like critiquing a book on physics without a knowledge of science. Read more
Published 6 months ago by
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 7 months ago by Kenneth Lundgren
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read
Short, easily digested essays from one of the smartest designers working today. Great for a quick read during commute or on the can.
Published 10 months ago by J.D. Walker
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
I bought this on a whim as a Kindle bargain. It turned out to be an interesting book. It was worth the purchase for his Arnold Newman story alone.
Published 23 months ago by Walter B Turner
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, entertaining, easy-to-read
Great book for designers with short attention span. Besides from being a great designer, Bierut is a great column writer.
Published on February 1, 2013 by Pablo Gonzalez Nicolini
5.0 out of 5 stars Michael Bierut, what more could you ask for??
This is one of my absolute favorite design books. The essays are fantastic - informative, fun, relatable! It really is a great collection of the best designers out there. Read more
Published on May 6, 2010 by Reviewer
5.0 out of 5 stars Great, essential read for the modern graphic designer.
This book provides great insight into design thinking. The hopping movement between stories creates a great motion in learning about typical situations in design. Read more
Published on February 2, 2010 by YnairB
5.0 out of 5 stars Great
Love the humor. Theres a lot of content, I love how the subjects of essays vary. I must say that when I bought this book a year ago (senior year in high school) I will say I have... Read more
Published on January 17, 2010 by Fabricio Farias
3.0 out of 5 stars Hit and miss
I love a lot of the essays in here, but I don't think I would buy this again. It was good to read in short bursts, and I think some of the individual articles were amazing. Read more
Published on April 23, 2009 by R. Roche
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