News / Graphic Design

Michael Bierut rethinks the Yale School of Architecture poster series after 18 years

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Michael Bierut and Laitsz Ho, Pentagram: Yale School of Architecture posters

After 18 years of designing posters for the Yale School of Architecture, Pentagram partner Michael Bierut is taking a different tack. Originally the project aimed to mirror the architectural approach of the previous dean, Robert Stern, who Michael says “was against the idea of a single ideology, and was known for his attention to context.” This made for a hugely varied series with no consistent typeface where the only constant was that they were black ink on white paper. “The whole thing was vaguely disorientating,” Michael says, “a surprise every time you opened it up.”

Then architect Deborah Berke took over as the school’s first woman dean, and wanted to signal change and new direction. Michael was tasked with conveying this in the posters, and says the introduction of colour was his immediate first thought, although this was the first domino in the entire redesign. “When we transferred the visually complicated designs we’d done previously on to the coloured paper, it seemed overdone and kitschy. On a gallery-white background we had a lot of freedom, but when we took out the white lightbulbs and put in colourful ones, it felt like the room was overdecorated, like we were doubling down.”

So Michael and Laitsz Ho, a designer at Pentagram, introduced standard fonts for the first time: Eesti from Grilli Type, “a bold, sans serif font from the world of Futura,” and Pitch from Klim Type Foundry, “which looks like typewriter font” says Michael. “There’s something about the coloured paper that’s cheap and cheerful, so a mechanical, simple typeface complements that.”

Another big change was that Deborah wanted to focus less on the name of the school, and more about the people involved in the events, so there was more typography. “We went back to basics, taking a Bauhaus-like approach to type and seeing it through a brightly coloured filter. Mixing sobriety with celebratory.”

As for the logotype, this uses the official Yale typeface by Matthew Carter and is the only design constant.

“Over 18 years the previous posters became intuitive, and morphed into different things,” Michael says. “Even though these first four of the new series set a theme, it’s more about establishing a new set of constants and variables. Hopefully there’s another 18 years of these to come, and there’s a whole lot of ways to use these new ingredients.”

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Michael Bierut and Laitsz Ho, Pentagram: Yale School of Architecture posters

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Michael Bierut and Laitsz Ho, Pentagram: Yale School of Architecture posters

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Michael Bierut and Laitsz Ho, Pentagram: Yale School of Architecture posters

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Michael Bierut and Laitsz Ho, Pentagram: Yale School of Architecture posters