Review: Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design

Let’s say this right off the bat: If Michael Bierut isn’t the best writer about graphic design, he’s certainly the most entertaining. 79 Short Essays on Design is a collection of Bierut’s writing, and it is highly recommended reading for any designer of any stripe.

Bierut, perhaps unlike almost any writer on design I’ve ever read, with the possible exception of David Barringer’s American Mutt Barks in the Yard, really captures what it is like to be a working designer right now. Essays like “In Search of the Perfect Client” capture and dissect the day-to-day trials and tribulations of working in the field with clarity and humor.

The book collects Bierut’s essays, many of which can be found online, although reading them all together in book form is a treat. Some of the essays are legendary, like the “Dog Biscuits” essay (“Ten Footnotes to a Manifesto”) in response to the First Things First 2000 Manifesto in which Bierut defends commercial graphic design: “[The public] deserve[s] at the very least the simple, civic-minded gift of a well-designed dog biscuit package.”

And there are others that deserve to be part of the pantheon. “How To Become Famous” deconstructs design competitions. “On (Design) Bullshit” looks at how we justify our intuition. “Designing Under The Influence” and “I am a Plagiarist” analyze the debt designers owe (and don’t owe) to the designers who went before them.

Curiously, this book omits three essays that I think are Bierut classics (they may have been written after the book was published):

Highly recommended.