Media Perspective: At last, here's an art director who is just as good with words

Advertising and media people are supposed to understand a huge amount of material: sociology, economics, semiotics, psychology. And that just gets you through the Monday morning status meeting.

Perhaps the hardest stuff to pick up is all that design gubbins the art directors do. They're notoriously bad at talking about it themselves and most of the books you'll buy are as comprehensible as credit default swaps.

Which is why I would heartily recommend Michael Bierut's Seventy-nine Short Essays On Design. It's full of good sense, good stories, good ideas and nice fonts. And the essays really are short, perfect for the Tube or the ten minutes in a meeting waiting for the creatives to arrive.

Mr Bierut is a partner in Pentagram, so his design credentials don't need listing here, but it's the quality and accessibility of his writing that makes this book so wonderful.

He may be a regular contributor to the Design Observer blog but he doesn't exhibit the horrible habits of we bloggers: hyperbole, using the word "stuff" a lot, tailing off with an anyway ...

His essays are cogent, funny and seem properly planned like you were always taught in essay school - they make an argument and end with a punchy final thought.

The lessons we can draw are to do with his humility about his profession and the range and depth of his references and intellectual curiosity.

He's clearly passionate about what he does: anyone who can write a sustained and convincing polemic called "I Hate ITC Garamond" is properly committed to his craft. But he also knows the limit of his trade and points out the folly of those that try to solve all the problems of the world with design, branding and taglines.

Or even worse, with T-shirts. One essay starts: "When fellow designer Sam Potts first e-mailed me about DOTWHO, the Designs On The White House Organisation, my initial reaction was slightly exasperated bemusement: when the going gets tough, designers have a T-shirt contest."

It's a measure of his generosity that what could have been a piece about designer hubris ends in finding joy in the community around the T-shirt designs.

And, for the non-designer, Mr Bierut's cultural sweep catches more than enough material that you're never bored with the fonts and the horizontal scaling. He tells you why Barthes hated ballpoint pens, how Nabokov invented hypertext, of the design thinking of Wilson Pickett and what it's like to fall off a treadmill.

And along the way, in essay 68, he'll teach you a trick with the Chanel logo that'll help you sell all sorts of understated work to all sorts of demanding clients. Get yourself a copy. Now we just need a book that'll explain derivatives.


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