The 272-page hardcover book brings together twenty years of essays on subjects that range from New York’s faulty “Push for Walk Signal” buttons, to the disappearance of the AT&T logo, to the implications of Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire for interaction designers. Many of the pieces first appeared on Design Observer, the popular blog that Bierut edits with Jessica Helfand and Bill Drenttel, including favorites like “Designing Under the Influence,” “I Hate ITC Garamond,” and “The Road to Hell: Now Paved with Innovation!” Seventy-nine Essays also includes pieces that appeared elsewhere and pieces that have never been published in other collections, like “Waiting for Permission,” “How to Become Famous” and “Ten Footnotes on a Manifesto.”
Bierut’s writing is marked by its accessibility, its wit and its almost maniacal eclecticism. For instance, a survey of the entries under the letter “D” in the book’s index turns up, among others, Jacques Derrida, Stuart Davis, design by committee, Cameron Diaz, Walt Disney, Dr. Strangelove, Mort Drucker, Marguerite Duras and W.A. Dwiggins. If you seek a design book that navigates with aplomb between French semioticians, typographers, movie stars and Mad magazine cartoonists, Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design is the one for you.
While the book has no pictures, the design provides its own form of visual interest. Each essay is set in a different typeface, and readers can attempt to make real or imaginary connections between essay subject and font selection. We can guess why the essay on AT&T is set in C.H. Griffith’s Bell Gothic (it was designed in 1938 for the Bell Telephone Directory) or why the essay about Stanley Kubrick is set in Paul Renner’s Futura (it was reportedly the director’s favorite typeface); the rationale behind other selections may be a bit more obscure, or even completely nonexistent.