Michael Bierut Talks Type

Written by Stephen Coles on January 8, 2008

Michael Bierut talks type for TheAtlantic.com. Nothing quite as pithy or amusing as his performance in “Helvetica”, but this is the first time I’ve heard the tight spacing of photocompositor typography compared to the sexual revolution. Nice. I think he accidentally misused the term “counter”.

See also Bierut’s reaction to the new Xerox logo:

I wish I were dead.

Couldn’t have said it more concisely that that, but allow me to elaborate: I feel certain we’ll look back at this era in 20 years and talk about how bad it was for identity design. The same way we talk about what the ’70s-’80s did to architecture.


  1. On the Xerox logo, Von Glitschka’s comment is worth seeing as well.

  2. David says:

    As someone who is lightly obsessed with Kubrick, I knew exactly what he was going to say, but he wasn’t obsessed with just one typeface. From an awesome interview with Jon Ronson, who visited Kubrick’s estate in 2001 (!):

    I take a break from the boxes to wander over to Tony’s office. As I walk in, I notice something pinned to his letterbox. “POSTMAN,” it reads. “Please put all mail in the white box under the colonnade across the courtyard to your right.”

    It is not a remarkable note except for one thing. The typeface Tony used to print it is exactly the same typeface Kubrick used for the posters and title sequences of Eyes Wide Shut and 2001. “It’s Futura Extra Bold,” explains Tony. “It was Stanley’s favourite typeface. It’s sans serif. He liked Helvetica and Univers, too. Clean and elegant.”

    “Is this the kind of thing you and Kubrick used to discuss?” I ask.

    “God, yes,” says Tony. “Sometimes late into the night. I was always trying to persuade him to turn away from them. But he was wedded to his sans serifs.”

    Tony goes to his bookshelf and brings down a number of volumes full of examples of typefaces, the kind of volumes he and Kubrick used to study, and he shows them to me. “I did once get him to admit the beauty of Bembo,” he adds, “a serif.”

  3. Si says:

    Stephen – there were two related articles in The Atlantic this month, a Gary Hutswit interview and Playing to Type.

  4. What did the 1970s and 1980s do to architecture — I think a lot of fantastic architecture got done in those decades that have had a lot of influence over today. From the rise of post-modernism, to naturist approach of brutalism and eco friendly architecture, to the experiments with ornament and shape that characterize the miami school. Sure run of the mill 1980s office buildings are not appreciated — yet. But there’s some fantastic run of the mill 1970s buildings that show the influence of the sublime where the materials (especially concrete) are allowed (and even designed to) weather.

    The xerox logo is a step. Just like all the steps in the xerox ident over time. The last update (the alleged classic design) was only 13 years old — and even thus it looks vaguely 1980s.

  5. nick shinn says:

    how bad it was for identity design

    I doubt the marbles will be considered representative of this era. Design history generally ignores the mainstream, documenting the “avante garde”, which is more accurately an ongoing “diversionary skirmish”, a parallel narrative of what the trade finds worthy, a consensus best represented by awards shows, and recorded in their annuals. Unless this kind of identity design wins awards, which seems unlikely, it will be relegated to a footnote.

  6. Inaudible – I am speaking of architecture in general, just as I mean logo design in general.

    Nick – I think you’re right, thankfully.

  7. Ricardo Cordoba says:

    Thanks for posting this, Stephen. I’ve already e-mailed it to a couple of people!

  8. Michele Champagne says:

    Nick, maybe you’re right. The marbles would probably end up in the footnotes of history books.

    But that’s assuming publishing and design history will remain the same: locked in this proprietary-design expert-driven-over-strategic-editorial-reviewed-and-expensive-printing paradigm.

    Transparent, de-centralized and inexpensive ways of history writing are gaining ground, without necessarily loosing quality of content or “professionalism” – from blogs (like this one) to wikipedia, and glossy yet cheap DIY printing methods.

    Maybe people who get their hands on this will have a great interest in mainstream “corporate” culture – visual, verbal or otherwise. People “love” this stuff. I’m thinking of projects like Corpoetics and books like No Logo, whether celebratory or critical.

    Who knows what we’ll be writing about in the future, marbles included.

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