How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things… – Notes

How to use graphic design to sell things, explain things, make things look better, make people laugh, make people cry, and (every once in a while) change the world

Book by Michael Bierut

Below are my personal notes and excerpts from this book.


Disclaimer: The highlights that I note are not, by any means, all of the highlights of this book. I am certainly missing many important points, but the ones listed below were the ones that stood out to me and were relevant to my personal career. I am also using this space as a place to reiterate what I’ve read, in order to better process the information. 


On the importance of well though out graphic design:

Bierut notes how a confusing ballot in Palm Beach County issued during the 2000 elections had caused a schism in the votes, making the point that poor graphic design can affect our society on a much larger scale.


“Content is more important than form.”


On the brand identity of BAM being a single choice of typeface and letter cutoff styling:

Bierut mentions Tibor Kalman providing an identity for a museum by handing the client a book of typefaces and telling them to choose one. If they use it long enough, it would become their identity.

“I’m convinced that me most important characteristic for a great brand is consistency. This is different from sameness. Sameness is static and lifeless. Consistency is responsive and vibrant. Working with, yes, just one typeface, BAM is a model of consistency.”


“Every graphic design solution must navigate between comfort and cliche. Pentagram founder Alan Fletcher admired this ‘ability to stroke the cliche until it puts like a metaphor.’”


On the rebrand of Saks Fifth Avenue:

“When seeking the new, the question is: compared to what? Deconstructing the vintage Saks logo signaled change more effectively than inventing a new one. The jumbled puzzle was solved on each package by the inclusion of the whole logo in the bag gusset or on the underside of the box lid.”


On the rebrand of the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine:

“Organizations seeking an identity often think that what they want is a logo. But this is like acquiring a personality by buying a hat. The way you look can be an important signal of who you are, but it’s not the only signal. More important is what you say and how you say it. And most important of all, of course, is what you do.”


Poster for the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine

Note on the New York Times project:

In order to preserve the history of the original building that the New York Times inhabited, as well as the events that occurred in their time there, Pentagram used a series of 800 signs for the new building, such as restroom and meeting room signs, that used images from the Times’ photo archive, “rendered in exaggerated opt pattern as an homage to the presses that once rumbled each night beneath the reporters’ offices.”

*Wonderful way to use graphic design to preserve the old while moving into the new.


Note – artists to look into:

David Byrne, Bonnie Siegler, Emily Oberman, Milton Glaser, Maira Kalman.


On convincing people:

We must not only come up with the right solution to the problem, but we must learn to convince other people that your solution is the “right one.” You must learn to persuade a group, understand that the correctness of a design is subjective and relies on “intuition and taste,” and any good design decision requires a leap of faith.


“The best graphic design will fail if it doesn’t connect with the authentic core of the organization it represents.”

Quote from Dolly Parton: “Find out who you are, and do it on purpose” – also applies to branding.


On how to save the world with graphic design:

“For design can’t save the world. Only people can do that. But design can give us the inspiration, the tools, and the means to try.”


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