RGD Book Club Review: How To by Michael Bierut
A world renowned designer’s first monograph displaying and discussing a wide range of projects throughout his lifetime. Michael Bierut's How To is the latest read in RGD's Book Club.

Title: How to use graphic design to sell things, explain things, make things look better, make people laugh, make people cry and (every once in a while) change the world

Author: Michael Bierut

Publisher: HarperCollinsPublishers

Publishing Date: May, 2015

No. of pages: 320

Written & Designed by: Michael Bierut

Reviewed by: Austin Mateka Prov. RGD



Michael Bierut’s book (or first career monograph) called “How To” travels through many projects that will help us discover the answer to this absurd question above.


Now, before we dive into this heavy statement about design, we first need to discuss the designer’s journey, and the wide array of how design can—and what seems to be—do everything. From making you think with your hands, be fashionably timeless, make a mark, be who you are, to survive on an island and so much more. Bierut creatively organizes his monograph and work through the past five decades into each of these unique approaches and answers.


Naturally, he introduces himself at the beginning of the book to where it all started; sitting in a car with his dad looking at a logo, to high school designing posters, to University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, and eventually working in Vignelli’s studio before landing his second (and current) job at Pentagram. From there, it becomes an onslaught of many well known, and a few other not so well known projects that Bierut has worked on.

Through each piece he talks about the history leading up to beginning the project and how it inevitably affected the work. He also describes his process; either working with his team and sometimes even with the client themselves, to produce the final design solution. However, when something did go astray or become a bit bumpy during the project, Bierut never shies away from sharing that experience and how it was solved. Funnily enough, for this exact reason the book “How To” has changed my world as a designer. Because of Bierut’s humility around his work, even though being so successful, his book has taught me to show humanity when creating, presenting, and talking about my own work.

You might be wondering by now, “What about changing the entire world Austin?” Some of us want to change the world, and after a while we begin to realize that is near impossible to do… especially with design. Thankfully, a way while back I heard in a video (possibly a TED talk or TV spot) that even though you can’t change the entire world, it’s completely possible and ok to help change someone else’s world, even if it’s just your own.


There are plenty of examples in “How To” that clearly demonstrate design’s ability to help and maybe, just maybe, change peoples lives in a unique way. The first example is Bierut simply providing his work for free to a long-time friend. Another is Pentagram planning to reposition American Institute of Architects (AIA) to not only restore passion in its members, but also in the public that AIA helps. Lastly, and the most definitive example, is how Bierut created a nurturing and hopeful environment for school libraries throughout New York City.


To put it somewhat simply, imagine how his friend, the organization, and the librarians and students felt seeing, working with and within a newly designed piece that focuses on helping others. So, can design really change the world? Or even transform someone else’s world? You might find an answer when you put yourself in their shoes, but if you want Michael Bierut’s answer, well, you’ll just have to read the book.


About The Reviewer:

Austin is a creative and designer who has been consistently engaged and looking for new opportunities in a wide range of industries. He is currently working as an intermediate graphic designer at SimEx-Iwerks, freelancing, and volunteering for mental health organizations throughout Toronto.

Photography by: Leighton Smith