30 Years, 30 Posters: Milton Glaser, 2×4, and Michael Bierut Celebrate AIGA/NY

How do graphic designers say “happy birthday?” By making posters, of course.

In 1983, Michael Bierut was a young graduate working for legendary designer Massimo Vignelli in Manhattan. He got involved with a cadre of designers who wanted to start a New York chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Artists, and when the chapter launched, he was in charge of creating a mixtape for the party. The cassette, labeled “New York City, by Michael Bierut, on 9/26/1983,” was a carefully curated list of New York-themed hits, starting with Ella Fitzgerald standards and ending with a Ronnie Montrose jam (I made a rough facsimile on Spotify, if you’re interested in listening).


Today, Bierut is a design legend in his own right, as a partner at Pentagram and cofounder of Design Observer, while the New York AIGA chapter he helped launch is turning 30. As part of their anniversary celebrations, the chapter invited Bierut and 29 other notable chapter members to design birthday posters promoting their 30YRS benefit campaign. Bierut, for his part, simply dug through his archives and scanned the yellowing cassette, labeled in 30-year-old ballpoint scrawl.

It’s a great poster, even if it’s not the real cassette, and it’s one of many funny, smart pieces for sale on the AIGA/NY Etsy page. Other participants include the venerable Milton Glaser, New Yorker illustrator Maira Kalman, 2×4, and Project Projects. The posters range from meditative (Debbie Millman’s dreamy We The People) to, quite frankly, delicious-looking (Ken Carbone’s pizza themed joint). Younger designers like Triboro pay tribute to early ’80s movies like Tron and Blade Runner, explaining that “circa 1982 we were more focused on things like naptime and chocolate milk than design.”

IDEO’s Sam Potts’ contribution may be the funniest: A chartreuse Post-it note reading “Does it have to be a poster?” refers to this old standard amongst designers:

Q: How many graphic designers does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Does it have to be a lightbulb?

Explains Potts, “questioning the assignment itself is to designed to convey a point of view that’s essentially graphic designer-y.” It being New York, he elaborates with a hint of Woody Allen neurosis: “Now that I think about it the whole thing might have been a huge mistake. But then…”

All 30 posters are for sale (signed or unsigned) on the AIGA/NY Etsy page.

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.