While on location at the School of Visual Arts for The Hollywood Issue: New York photoshoot, Michael Bierut recounted an anecdote to me. Noreen Morioka has famously said that being a famous designer is like being a famous dentist. Well, Bierut’s sister-in-law is a dental hygienist in his Ohio hometown. One day, she was working on the teeth of a graphic designer. “Presumably after a mouthful of spit,” Bierut said, the patient asked his sister-in-law if she was related to the famous designer Michael Bierut.
Celebrity and graphic design. Is it real? Is it justified? Is it a good thing? A bad thing? Does anyone care? Should a field once known as “commercial art” and often maligned as such by art historians (causing Art Chantry to reach for his broadsword) have its own heroes when the basic tenet of the profession is to create something on contract, to a client’s desire and liking, and then move on to the next gig?
Moreover, is there a difference between “celebrity” and “fame”? (Rick Poynor explores this on page 94.) Does celebrity in design cause an unrealistic divide between the day laborers of the craft who make up the majority of the field, and those in the catbird seat?
And what criteria will make up the design celebrity of tomorrow?
Perhaps it has something to do with the refreshing sense of empowerment among designers as it pertains to the natural evolution from commercial artist to maker and entrepreneur. After all, as CreativeMornings/Tattly founder Tina Roth Eisenberg says on page 33, “What I didn’t realize becoming a graphic designer is you have all the tools to start a business right off the bat.” Those who embrace that philosophy are perhaps best primed to become tomorrow’s cultural leaders and tastemakers.
On the whole, I constantly turn these questions over in my mind. But then, like clockwork, every month I get my Verizon Wireless bill, essentially designed by Michael Bierut.
Love it or hate it, these are the people who, piece by piece, craft a mosaic that makes up the whole of visual culture today. Call them what you will, but this is a portfolio of the minds who have designed the world around us, dentists be damned.