Michael Bierut on obvious

“Graphic design is easy, of course, so we kill ourselves trying to make it hard. I should have remembered a lesson I received at one of my first jobs, a summer internship in the design department at WGBH-TV in Boston. I had been assigned a rare design project. Given my status – I was the most junior of three interns – it was probably something like a hallway flyer for the annual blood drive. I labored over this 8.5″x11” opus all day, never forgetting what I then held as the twin tenets of responsible design practice (one, create something absolutely without precedent; and two, demonstrate to onlookers how clever I am). Given my predilections at that point in my nascent career, this probably involved merging the home-grown rigorous modernism of Lester Beall and Will Burtin with the formal experimentation of Wolfgang Weingart and April Greiman. My only inhibition was the lack of a Macintosh computer, which would not be invented for seven years.

Late in the day, the station’s head of design, the legendary Chris Pullman, came by my desk. ‘What’s this?’ he asked. Breathlessly, I described the visionary thinking that informed the yet unfinished masterpiece before me. Pullman stared at the mess for a moment, and then his face brightened. ‘Hey,’ he said, as if a great idea was just occurring to him. ‘Why avoid the obvious?’ He then took away everything but the headline: GIVE BLOOD NOW. ‘Try that!’ he said cheerfully, walking away.”

— Michael Bierut