Design Indaba: Michael Bierut

CR will be blogging from this year’s Design Indaba in Cape Town this week. Co-host and speaker Michael Bierut kicked off the festival this morning with a deft presentation about how sometimes as a designer it pays to be humble…

Library mural design by Stefan Sagmeister and Yuko Shimizu

CR will be blogging from this year’s Design Indaba in Cape Town this week. Co-host and speaker Michael Bierut kicked off the festival this morning with a deft presentation about how sometimes as a designer it pays to be humble…

Pentagram partner Bierut talked us through a project that he did pro bono for The Robin Hood Foundation, titled The Library Inititive (covered extensively by CR in our July 2006 issue), which invited architects to each design a library for a public school in New York. Bierut was asked to be the graphic designer on the project, which he acknowledged that he initially thought would be easy, with “just a logo” required.

“I thought it was the chance to do something nice but also something easy,” he said. “The architects were doing all the work. I could share in the glory without working too hard.”

Despite this, he delivered an intially complex solution, based around the concept that libraries were innately boring, and thus needed to be entirely rebranded. Surprised that this did not receive the applause he expected, he was then gently guided towards a simpler idea by the Foundation, which should just encourage library use (which many of the kids at the schools had had little experience of, due to poor facilities). This resulted in the logo L!BRARY.

“We were trying to say ‘this is a library with a surprise inside’,” he explained. Bierut thought this would be it, but was faced with seeing the logo evolve out of his hands, with it being adapted by each library, to suit its individual needs. As he discovered to his relief though, his simple use of the exclamation mark allowed consistency despite its different iterations across the libraries.

Library mural design by Dorothy Kretz

From there Bierut’s contribution took a surprising turn, as he became involved with the interior design of the libraries, specifically in filling the space that existed in most between the bookcases and the ceiling. He suggested a mural and the first of these was created by his wife, Dorothy Kretz, who photographed the top students at the school and displayed their images around the space (shown above).

Such was the success of this, that all the architects were keen to include murals inside the various libraries – Bierut insisted each be different and now the mural project includes contributions by photographers, designers, illustrators and artists, all taking a slightly different approach. Stefan Sagmeister, Christoph Niemann, Charles Wilkin, and Maira Kalman have all contributed works to various libraries.

Library mural design by Peter Arkle

Bierut ended the talk by explaining what he had learnt on the project, which had evolved to be far more eclectic and involving than he’d first expected. Here are his five lessons learned…

1. Don’t be so darned clever. Don’t try and outsmart everyone, do something responsible.

2. The more power you give away, the more you get.

3.The real opportunity may not be part of your scope of work.

4. Consistency does not equal sameness.

5. The audience is more wonderful than you think. Keep thinking about them.

More info on the Design Indaba can be found here.

 

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