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.”


Logo Design Love – Notes

Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities. Second Edition.

Book by David Airey

Below are my personal notes on this book.


“Work on things that interest you with people you like.” Simon Manchipp


I will just preface by saying that this is my first set of book notes that I’m sharing with the public, so I definitely do not yet have the knack for it. It is a challenging feat to attempt to summarize what already feels like a perfect summary of a broad field of knowledge. I will also note that 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 that information.

That being said, I hope you enjoy, and that you find this content helpful in some way!


Part 1: The importance of brand identity


Tip: Utilizing the language of the brand name in the brand itself: i.e. a company named Glad lends itself to playful branding such as “Glad to be of service.”


Tip: Use negative space within the logo to represent an image or idea.


Elements of iconic design

1. “The simplest solution is often the most effective.”

2. The logo should relate to the business’ identity.

3. Incorporate tradition, avoid trends.

4. Logo should be east to separate from the competition. Just its shape or outline should give it away.

5. Logo should be memorable – you might only have someone’s attention for a moment so make it count.

6. Versatility and scale – your design should work on a tiny business card and on a large billboard.

7. Iconic designs usually have one “trick”. Leave client with just one thing to remember. Don’t try using too many tricks. See first point.


Part 2: The process of design

Tip: Discuss all aspects of a project early on to avoid anxieties later down the line. 


Laying the groundwork

1. Have an in-depth initial discussion, laying out all of the expectation, tastes, anxieties.

2. Set up a questionnaire or a face to face meeting with the client, then when you receive answers, create a design brief, summarizing the important takeaways from meetings/questions.

3. Gather prelim information, such as

  • Name
  • Company Name
  • Phone Number
  • Mailing Address
  • Web address
  • Years in operation
  • Role in the company

4. You will need to go into more detail for the design:

  • What do you sell
  • Who do you sell to?
  • How much does it cost?
  • Goals for the new identity?
  • Specific design deliverables?
  • Who is working on the project from their end – will other figures be involved and how?
  • Deadline for the project, and what is driving it?
  • What are they anxious about in this process?
  • Is there anything they see as an obstacle?
  • Budget range?
  • How many designers are being considered and when is the decision to be reach

5. It is key to know who your point of contact is – this will be who should provide you with any information you need.

6. Once you’ve gathered information, it’s time to research the company and its competitors.

Tip: Ask client what words they want associated with the brand, in order to help guide your design.


Hazards of redesign

1. Understand why your client wants to re-brand. If it’s just to keep up with the latest trends, rethink this job.

2. Consider not forgetting the old brand image entirely. No need to always “wipe the slate clean.” It can even be a matter of lightly refining the old logo.

3. Consider unifying the elements when working on a merger.

4. Show tact when speaking about the current identity – it may be that someone you’re speaking to had designed it.


Pricing Design

1. Speak to your client and determine the scope of work before quoting anything.

2. The amount you quote can depend on:

  • Your expertise
  • Project deliverables
  • Expected turnaround time – rushed jobs should be marked up.
  • Additional service and support – you can ask other designers/professionals to supplement with their work. Negotiate a finder’s fee with that person.
  • Level of demand – you’re getting more and more jobs and you’re getting busier – this is a time when you can raise your price.
  • Current economy

3. Offer clients a set fee – charging hourly isn’t the best move for design.

“It took me a few seconds to draw it, but it took me 34 years to learn how to draw it in a few seconds.” Paula Scher

4. You must receive a down payment before finishing the work, especially if this is a new client. Some designers ask from 30 to 50 percent of the total fee as deposit.

5. Exchange rates are a thing, so factor in currency exchange into your quote. Show both cost in your currency and client’s currency. Consider that there may be changes in the exchange rate from the moment you agreed to work together, to completion.

6. Avoid spec work and avoid competitions. It can devalue your work, as you’re essentially giving it away for free. If you want experience, as a local non profit if they’d be interested in you donating your services.

Tip: Don’t charge too low, as it may come off that your service is lower quality.


Pencil to PDF

  • The logo doesn’t have to be very literal. If you can make it literal without being to blatant, you have a winner.
  • Do not showcase all of your ideas, especially the ones you feel are unsuitable. It might turn out that the client likes the weaker one in the mix, and you’re stuck with designing it. Too many options also make it hard on the client to choose.
  • Always consider form before color – make sure the logo works in black and white.
  • Give the client context – show your work on mockups!


The art of conversation

Having a successful conversation with the client:

1. When you’re ready to deliver your design ideas, try to present them directly to the committee in charge of decisions, as to avoid a middleman in the communication.

2. Avoid letting “the committee” have too much design control by:

  • Conspiring with your point of contact – speak to them about presenting together perhaps
  • Avoid intermediation – don’t allow the middle man to present your ideas for you as that can distort your design intentions.
  • Keep the committee involved
  • Take control and outline ground rules – let the committee know that what you need is strategic input, not micromanagement of font or color, per say. Explain examples of good feedback.

Tip: Under-promise, and over-deliver


Part 3: Moving forward

Tip: In order to be successful, you must be at least four years ahead.

“Don’t underestimate the value you bring to your clients.” David Airey


“I’m convinced that what compels people to become designers is when they learned that they had an aptitude for making something magically appear out of nothing.” Michael Bierut


“Motivation comes from the relentless desire to get back to that briefest pause on the mountaintop. It’s as simple and as hard as that.” Martin Lawless


“Becoming a good designer is, in my mind, directly related to one’s curiosity and willingness to work. If you keep asking questions and deliberately practicing your craft, you get better. It’s that simple. So when it feels difficult and you want to scream, grab a pencil and paper, and just start drawing. With each iteration you’re closer.” Eric Karjaluoto


Tip: Set realistic deadlines and account for unexpected delays.


Q+A (with author)

1. Ask for your client’s thoughts after the project. Try not to use the work testimonial, and encourage them to be honest. Ask what was good and bad about the relationship.

2. How many concepts to present: average is 3. If a client asks, say you’ll present between 1 and 4.


Practical Logo Design Tips

1. Ask the client plenty of questions

2. Clarity is key, as people will be glancing for one or two seconds

3. Overestimate how much time something will take.

4. Logo doesn’t need to show what the company does.

5. Symbol isn’t always necessary

6. Ask client if they have a specific printing budget

7. Match the type to the symbol

8. Always note the contrast

9. Text at a variety of sizes

10. Offer a version of the logo with the colors reversed

11. Make sure logo looks good upside down

12. Exercise cultural awareness

13. Don’t be afraid to show wit/humor

Teaching Myself Graphic Design: The Literature Syllabus

As an aspiring graphic designer, I am teaching myself the technical and theoretical components of graphic design through free online resources, as well as books. I’m starting this off with the list of books itself, curated with heavy inspiration from Karen X. Cheng’s blog post, as well as the generous input of several Reddit posts in the graphic design subreddit, and other blogs floating around the internet, (like this one). So, all credit goes to these folks.

As I go through these books, I will be posting each one with my personal breakdown and what I felt were the important takeaways. My goal here is firstly to have one place where I can look back on the highlights of what I’ve read, and secondly to hopefully help someone out there either gather some information for themselves, or determine if this is the right book for their journey. I would love to hear your thoughts on any of these books, and if you found they were useful in your own journey, or recommendations for other books you found helpful!

Side note: I am trying to be as low budget and sustainable as possible throughout my self-teaching, therefore I have set up a budget for what I’m comfortable spending, keeping in mind how much capital I would put into some programs and institutions if I were to take that route. That being said, I purchased all of these books in used form, and only plan to keep the ones that I can find myself returning to, either gifting or selling the rest.


You Can Draw in 30 Days  by Mark Kistler

Logo Design and Branding

Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities, 2nd Edition by David Airey


Thinking with Type, 2nd revised and expanded edition: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students by Ellen Lupton

General Theory and Practice

Visual Literacy: A Conceptual Approach to Graphic Problem Solving by Judith Wilde

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  by Michael Bierut

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills by David Sherwin

Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman


Meggs’ History of Graphic Design by Philip B. Meggs