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Why Pentagram’s Michael Bierut Is Obsessed With Black And White

Co.Design has partnered with the Brooklyn design studio Hyperakt to bring you Lunch Talks, a video series of conversations with smart, creative people.—Eds

Michael Bierut, a partner at Pentagram since 1990, is one of the 21st century’s preeminent graphic designers. In this eight-minute lecture, Bierut reveals his thinking behind a a variety of high-profile branding and design projects. His typical strategy is to deconstruct and transform graphics into unexpected micro- or macro-versions of themselves, whether it’s slicing up an old Saks logo and turning its abstracted fragments into the mainstay of the brand’s new identity, or turning the New York Times wordmark into a massive environmental graphic made up of 860 little teardrop-shaped pieces.

Curiously, all of the projects are predominantly rendered in black and white. He swears he’s not colorblind (though people have spread rumors), and that his spare use of color isn’t because he’s “limited or stupid,” but simply that he has a “passion and obsession” for stark contrast. It’s a preference Bierut inherited in part from his 10 years of work with modernist design legend Massimo Vignelli, who would start most projects in black and white, and then occasionally add red.

Despite all his success, Bierut is adorably humble: When describing the creation WalkNYC, a wayfinding signage system for New York City’s five boroughs, he quips, “To the degree that changing the dots on Helvetica from square to round is power, I would say [designers] are as powerful as gods.”

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