Michael Bierut (@MichaelBierut) is one of today’s most renowned and respected graphic designers. Since 1990, he has been a Partner at Pentagram, where he works with clients like MIT Media Lab, American Airlines, and the New York Jets. In addition to his work at Pentagram, he is a Senior Critic in Graphic Design at the Yale School of Art and co-founded the online publication Design Observer, where he writes about design and creative culture.

Together we discuss Michael’s feelings in becoming a business owner, how he divides work duties with his team, the clunky process of learning business skills as a young designer, and the exhaustive routines which power his morning. We also learn the 19-syllable-order Starbucks order he buys each working day, and how long it takes him to run 3 miles.

Read more about Michael via his lengthy biography on Pentagram’s website

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Show Notes & Links

  • Pentagram’s New York Office, and its library, where we recorded this episode
    Michael Bierut in the Pentagram Library

    Michael Bierut in the Pentagram Library

  • Michael [still] thinks of himself as a “working graphic designer”
  • Michael’s previous — and only — employers were Massimo & Lella Vignelli
  • As a young designer, he “never spent a minute lying in bed wondering if a client was going to pay an invoice.”
  • Michael writes his own proposals; there is no “behemoth” behind the scenes

“I thought I was ready to be a business owner, but I really didn't know much about it.”

—Michael Bierut

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  • Pentagram Partners “really like to do the work.”
  • Michael currently works with 6 designers, 2 project managers, and 2 interns.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

—African proverb

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“The world we live in was created by people no smarter than us.”

—Steve Jobs

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“Designers are actors playing a part. We have to learn about X and show the world X.”

—Michael Bierut

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“The time I invest in proposals is always intense and personal.”

—Michael Bierut

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  • Oversee a single designer, bring on a second only if you need it
  • Keep your pitches/responses to briefs short but purposeful. Don’t participate in theatrics.
  • Ponder a problem during your morning run. Solve it during that time.


  • Wake up early (5:15a–5:35a)
  • Jog 3 miles every morning
  • Use vacations as a time to focus on a particular project
  • Build writing into your routine. Chunk it down and don’t give yourself a chance to escape.

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About the author: Prescott Perez-Fox

Prescott Perez-Fox is a graphic designer, brand developer, and educator with 18+ years experience in branding, packaging, graphic design, and web design. He runs The Busy Creator.

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