How do you design a poster to promote one of the most recognizable designers of the modern era?

I sit on the board of directors for design alliance OMAha (a local organization about design in all forms and the education and community that perpetuate it). As part of an ongoing speaker series, we arranged to host Michael Bierut of Pentagram to commemorate the tenth anniversary of daOMA. The team at Oxide jumped at the chance to design the promotional materials for the event. Then came the hard part.

Michael Bierut speaks at design alliance OMAhaMichael Bierut speaks at design alliance OMAha

One of the key quotations about design that I always have close at hand is Michael Bierut‘s infamous answer to the question of what makes for great design: “Simplicity, wit, and good typography.” It seemed only natural that a commemorative poster would feature that phrase. But if you’ve spent any time in design, you already know it turns out that creating something which intentionally incorporates those elements is deceptively difficult. (A difficulty compounded by knowing that Michael Bierut will undoubtedly be evaluating your end product.)

Poster design to commemorate Michael Bierut speaking at design alliance OMAhaPoster design to commemorate Michael Bierut speaking at design alliance OMAha

Knowing that the primary poster was meant to be commemorative rather than promotional took away the need to focus on a call-to-action, and instead focus on creating a valuable keepsake. Setting bold, clean type satisfies the “simplicity” aspect of the quote. But we spent countless hours looking at potential solutions for marrying that with any sense of “wit”.

In the end, the solution we designed uses letterforms simplified to their base geometric essence. While perhaps it’s not a traditional form of “wit”, I enjoy how the typography turns the poster into a secret designer code of sorts. Because we’re much more familiar with letterforms, the quote is easy to decipher for designers — but tricky for “outsiders” to translate.

Michael Bierut was kind enough to autograph several of the commemorative posters for attendeesMichael Bierut was kind enough to autograph several of the commemorative posters for attendees

The final product turned out as well as I’d hoped. Screen printed in metallic ink on Neenah Paper’s Eggshell finish, it’s an artifact that feels like it has value. (A value compounded by Michael Bierut’s autograph.)

P.S. If you’d like to get your hands on one of these posters, daOMA still has some available. Contact info@oxidedesign.com, and we’ll get you more information.

View the project page for design alliance OMAha.