Het Pentagram model

Michael Bierut, de ontwerper die wereldberoemd werd met zijn bureau Pentagram, staat als spreker op de aanstaande What Design Can Do! in Amsterdam. Willem vroeg de topontwerper naar de hedendaagse context van het ontwerpen, nadat hij een aantal jaar geleden al zijn bureau in New York bezocht.

Chris van Veghel

Hi Michael, In April 2010 I visited Pentagram in New York to have a chat with your colleague Paula Scher. Four years later, when I ask myself What Design Can Do, I recall her saying clients aren’t buying strategic solutions but they are buying attention. Getting diverse groups of people who often do not agree with each other, and do not even like each other, to all essentially wear the same clothing. How would you describe the role of Pentagram right now?

I would not dismiss strategy as an element in design practice, but Paula is right that in the end, all these things — design and strategy both — are invented by people. People are emotional and rational, brash and insecure, predictable and surprising. In the world of work, the design process becomes a kind of Rorschach test where people can impose their own hopes and fears and biases and enthusiasms.

A good designer knows not only how to come up with a good solution, but how to help people come to agreement around it. In many ways these are different skills. The way Pentagram is organized, with no account executives and with every partner being responsible for project management and their client relationships, leaves us with no choice but to master both.



You’ll visit Amsterdam, are you a regular visitor to our capital city? What do you think of our younger generation of Dutch Designers in comparison to our well known ‘older’ generation? Do you see a resemblence to your colleagues in NYC?

I’ve only been to Amsterdam once before but like many American designers I view it with awe and envy. The Dutch design culture is legendary around the world. The New York scene is hopelessly random and disorganized by comparison. Competing with Dutch designers of any generation seems futile but fun. I would like to do it more often.

The New York Times Building.

The agency model vs a networked organization is a much talked about subject lately. Pentagram has a unique organizational model, could you tell us why you believe in this structure and why you think it so important, especially in the light of these technology driven times and What Design Can Do?

The Pentagram model is 42 years old; I’ve been a part of it for 24 years. So I am clearly a true believer. The principles that were established by the original five partners still hold true for Pentagram today: that all partners are working designers who operate as equals without a managing director; that each partner leads his or her own small team and is responsible for getting and executing work for that team; that we collaborate freely and share incomes equally.


A multidisciplinary collective like Pentagram was a visionary model in 1972, an age of Xerox machines and postage meters. Today, in an age where a designer can build a reputation with a laptop and a table at Starbucks, it’s not so clear that the Pentagram structure can endure without adapting. But we’ve adapted in the past and I hope we can continue to be wide awake tomorrow morning.

Architectural League of New York


Michael Bierut is een van de vele vooraanstaande sprekers op What Design Can Do! in Amsterdam dat plaatsvindt op 8 en 9 Mei. Koop je tickets online hier