Michael Bierut + Jessica Helfand | Audio

East Meets West

A recent trip to the Bay Area reminds Jessica that design can mean something very different in technology companies than it does for “classically trained graphic designers of a certain generation,” i.e. her and Michael.

 Her experience of the design culture there took her back to a visit to an early computer lab:
The children working, who were maybe 6 or 7 years old, grabbed the mouse interchangeably. And I remember coming home and thinking, if anybody grabbed my age the mouse from me, I’d smack them. Right?

And it was the beginning for me, my first indication of a culture of transparency that I really had to will myself to understand. Because it was not—to your point about the signature, the imprimatur of the artist—the idea that creativity or creation came from a level of authorship and one voice…

Culturally, what has shifted is that they work in teams and they don't have the same kind of understanding of one person making one thing at one time.
Jessica also visited the Facebook Analog Research Lab, where she participated in a workshop with students from Alternatives in Action, an Oakland high school.

Michael connects his fondness for analog machines with his father, who sold printing presses in the 1960s:
If you wanted to buy a Heidelberg or a Miehle or even a linotype machine in northeast Ohio, you probably had to go through Lenny Bierut.

Also mentioned:

  • Errol Morris’ typeface credibility experiment
  • Bradbury Thompson
  • A video about Erik Spiekermann, the German Letterman and his Galerie P98a
  • Letterpress printing at the MOO booth at HOW Design Live

    Thanks to MOO for sponsoring this episode. Learn more about MOO Letterpress business cards.

    Subscribe to The Observatory on iTunes or your favorite podcast app, or follow Design Observer on Soundcloud.

  • Posted in: The Observatory

    Comments [2]

    Perhaps it is a good thing that so many are into "design" but I fear that techs desire to data-tize design will strip it of its meaning. It's similar to the gap between religion/philosophy and science. It's two sides of the same coin, but it's a very different way of looking at the work. The West seems bent on remaking design in its own image: the engineer + marketing.
    Kevin J. Hogan

    Another great podcast too, btw. Your last one on the Whitney and modernism was very very good. You have your fingers on the pulse of some very weird things going on in design right now.... There is something lost when the designer becomes a team. The same thing happened in architecture when it gets watered down into a million SOMs and HOKs... They do good work, but it's not FLW or LeC.
    Kevin J. Hogan

    Michael Bierut + Jessica Helfand Jessica Helfand, a founding editor of Design Observer, is an award-winning graphic designer and writer. A former contributing editor and columnist for Print, Eye and Communications Arts magazine, she is a member of Alliance Graphique Internationale and a recent laureate of the Art Director’s Hall of Fame. Jessica received both her BA and MFA from Yale University where she has taught since 1994. In 2013, she won the AIGA medal.

    Jobs | June 24