Looking Outside

Another excerpt from Michael Bierut’s Seventy-Nine Short Essays on Design:


I’ve always liked the idea that as the years go by, you start to realize that not everything has to be about ‘design’ in order to learn more and further appreciate your craft.

Available from Princeton Architectural Press.

“One of the reasons for the movie industry trend away from illustration at this time was the view that it would look like an animated film if the poster was painted. Strange reasoning, since most film posters through the seventies and eighties were painted no matter what the genre.”

— Andrea Alvin discussing the move away from hand painted key-art to photo composites in the early 90s (via)

Bernbach and the Big Idea

From ad-man Bill Bernbach, one of the three founders of DDB.

“I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to choose the plain-looking ad that is alive and vital and meaningful over the ad that is beautiful but dumb.”

“Logic and overanalysis can immobilize and sterilize an idea. It’s like love - the more you analyze it, the faster it disappears.”

“We don’t ask research to do what it was never meant to do, and that is to get an idea.”

“Technique for its own sake can be disastrous. Because, after a while, you’re so anxious to do things differently, and do them better and funnier and more brilliantly than the next guy, that that becomes the goal of the ad, instead of the selling of the merchandise.”

“Just because your ad looks good is no insurance that it will get looked at. How many people do you know who are impeccably groomed…but dull?”

“Design language has disappeared in our time. The rubbish that goes for design conversation is appalling. The lack of observation, the lack of analysis, the institutionalized commonality of everybody’s belief. The disregard for the real intention, purpose and function of design in the culture…it’s absurd. It’s largely a promotional tool. All these events and conversations that occur that are visible to us are primarily to exploit the personalities of practitioners so they can appear on stage, make a statement, and through the vehicle of promotion…get more work. So much of it is intended…the two most corrosive things in the culture: fame and money. And they’re intended, fundamentally to (I know I’m being extremely general now), but to peruse those objectives.”

— Milton Glaser (via)

“The nature of process, to one degree or another, involves failure. You have at it. It doesn’t work. You keep pushing. It gets better. But it’s not good. It gets worse. You go at it again then you desperately stab at it, believing “this isn’t going to work.” And it does.”

— Saul Bass

Promotional Palladino


From Container List, the blog of the School of Visual Arts Archives and Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives, a story about designer Tony Palladino’s attempt at bringing in new business:

“In 1971, Tony Palladino sent out this note to a selected but wide group of media contacts to solicit work. He printed the note in color and ripped each one by hand. The tactic worked! He successfully got work as a result of the mailing, and doesn’t recall a negative backlash.

Palladino made a point of choosing business associates who would get the joke, and would recognize his initials, T.P. He also says he wouldn’t dare pull a stunt like this today.”

Definitely not something that would fly today, although the promo card he cooked up 10 years earlier undoubtably would.



There’s a great documentary on Polish poster art up on Vimeo that runs close to an hour. It’s definitely worth watching, given how little footage is freely floating around out there of designers discussing their craft.

A few quotes from film directors and artists that really stuck out.

“We didn’t interfere. It was their point of view on our films.”

“It wasn’t commercial like nowadays. It was an artist’s point of view. The more personal - the more valued.”

“It’s a new censorship. Something is commercial or isn’t. ‘That’s very nice, but it won’t sell. We won’t do it.’”

“There’s no patronage, only advertising.”

Behind the Poster can be seen here.

Unknown Pleasures

Cover art by Peter Saville for the Factory Records release of Joy Division’s  Unknown Pleasures

Cover art by Peter Saville for the Factory Records release of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures

A fun anecdote from Peter Hook, co-founder of Joy Division and New Order, on founding member Bernard Sumner’s influence in the creation of the band’s first album cover, from Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division:

He was always on the lookout for images to put on our stuff; and looking through a book, The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Astronomy, he saw a diagram of a pulsar, showed it to [designer] Peter Saville, and that was it. Bernard doesn’t get nearly enough credit for that, because he couldn’t have made a better choice: that image is now forever associated with Joy Division and Unknown Pleasures the record. […] Either way, Peter went off, applied his magic and turned it into Unknown Pleasures, putting all his great little touches on it: the textured paper, the text on the reverse and the light and shade of having the outer sleeve black and the inner sleeve white. 

Stories like this are one of the big reasons why I enjoy books that give space to process over those that simply reproduce and catalogue images. Nothing wrong with them, of course, but for students especially, a little bit of context goes a long way in demystifying the job and showing how collaborative even the most celebrated design work actually is.