Review: Now You See It

Design “hoaxes”, Hillary Clinton’s logo, and a bunch more design insights from the inimitable Michael Bierut.

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Our Verdict

A delightfully wide-ranging collection of well written and inspiring design essays.

For

  • Revealing collection of essays
  • Engaging, meaningful and witty writing style

Against

  • Few illustrations

In his introduction to Now You See It and Other Essays on Design (published by Princeton Architectural Press, RRP $35/£25), Pentagram New York partner Michael Bierut speaks of the “intimate connection between graphic design and language”. 

Bierut notes that “Writers are inevitably participants – active or unwitting – in the graphic design process… Words are at once the designer’s raw materials and reason for being, simultaneously a means to an end and the end itself. I am suspicious of any graphic designer who is not an enthusiastic reader.”

And with that, he seems to have neatly summarised the raison d’etre for his very own new title (clever), a collection of more than 50 short pieces by the man himself that tackle all manner of design issues, from how to draw, to celebrating the work of Alan Fletcher and Massimo Vignelli, to listicle-type pieces like “13 ways of looking at a typeface” to “the cult of advertising personality.”

It’s very much a book of essays about design, rather than a 'design book'. The cover is purely typographic, with bold all-caps lettering struck through with red – a clever play on “now you see it,” because, of course, we really only partially see it at all. The focus is on the “and other essays on design” part. “Seeing” here means reading: there are very few illustrations at all.

The vast majority of the essays were previously published in Design Observer, with the odd piece from the AIGA Journal, such as a charming 1989 missive in which Bierut discusses his early days discovering that he had drawing talent while at school. And even more poignantly, the importance of 1950s TV show Learn to Draw with Jon Gnagy, and the accompanying instruction book of the same name. 

There’s a beautiful honesty and sincerity about Bierut’s writing style in pieces like this, which mix personal remembrances with universal lessons that could be picked up by anyone working or interested in creativity. 

In drawing these writings from the last 25 years or so together, we see that maybe Bierut’s writing is at its best in these quickfire, to-the-point essays: they’re engaging, smart, meaningful and witty, and refreshingly never veer into unnecessary jargon or design doublespeak. 

"Design is a way to engage with real content, real experience," he writes; and he certainly practices what he preaches. Who else could manage to combine musings on baseball; lessons on client relationships from The Sopranos; seven-piece horn band Chicago; and Miami Vice, and wrangle them through a convincing design lens otherwise?

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The Verdict

7

out of 10

Review: Now You See It

A delightfully wide-ranging collection of well written and inspiring design essays.