Here at Opus Design, we always like to broaden our horizons and learn something new.

Last month, we had the chance to hear Michael Bierut and Jessica Helfand give a short talk at the MIT Press Bookstore. They recently completed and published their new book Culture is Not Always Popular, Fifteen Years of Design Observer.

About the speakers

For those who are not familiar with Michael Bierut or Jessica Helfand, here’s a quick introduction to these two designers and why we look up to them:

Michael Bierut is a designer and partner at Pentagram. He is also a teacher at the Yale School of Art and has won many prestigious design awards, including the AIGA Medal. He is known by practicing designers and students as a leader in design education, providing an intelligent and approachable perspective on the profession through his many books on design, two podcasts, and website Design Observer.

Jessica Helfand is a designer, writer, and educator in the graphic design field. She teaches at the Yale School of Art and has won the AIGA Medal as well. Helfand has written many design books, co-hosted on two podcasts and cofounded Design Observer with Bierut. She is known for being a pioneer in design practice and education and an innovator of new forms of visual narrative.

About the Talk

The event was held in the MIT Press bookstore, a pretty intimate setting considering the small size of the store, surrounded by books. This allowed them to speak in a way similar to being part of a conversation instead of listening to a rehearsed speech.

Jessica and Michael described how they began Design Observer, the design website they co-founded in 2003. At that point in design, Bierut explained, a platform was needed where you could talk about design in an intellectual yet approachable way. Around that time, the material written about design was either too hard to access and understand or commercialized and devoid of thought. There was a need for a platform such as Design Observer. A place where designers could write about design so more people could get involved in the field. It’s a happy, middle-ground where people can participate and learn.

In the talk, Helfand expressed that we should not to be afraid to be smart designers and use big words. She said that too often designers underestimate their knowledge and undermine what they can do. Design Observer advocates for this by creating a space for anyone and everyone to participate in knowledgeable conversations about design.

“Designers are smart but we are afraid to be smart.”
—Jessica Helfand

Of course afterward, we had to buy the book and get it signed!

About the Book & Design Observer

The book, Culture is Not Always Popular, celebrates the fifteen years that Design Observer has been around and how it has impacted the design world. It consists of the most important and telling articles. The co-founders selected these out of a total of 6,700 articles by 900 authors with nearly 30,000 comments.

Design Observer also features three podcasts, two of which are hosted by Bierut and Helfand. Their podcasts bring you a current insight into the business of design and talk to designers about what they do, how they do it, and how they got to where they are today.

How to learn more

You can listen to their podcasts ­– “The Design of Business | The Business of Design” and “The Observatory” – both can be found at their website Design Observer, along with articles and other interesting content about design.

Learn more about the platform in their new book Culture is Not Always Popular, we know we’re excited to read it!