Stay Up Late
By Michael Bierut October 7, 2005
Stay Up Late
By Michael Bierut October 7, 2005
Stay Up Late
By Michael Bierut October 7, 2005

Stay Up Late

One week after I graduated from college in Ohio, I moved to New York with my new wife Dorothy and began working as a design assistant at Vignelli Associates. It was 1980, and I was the lowest employee on the totem pole. Working in a design office in those days was different. I never touched a computer. As I recall, the office didn't even have a computer. In fact, we didn't have a fax machine.

I spent most of my days putting thinner in rubber cement and taping tissue paper over mechanical boards. Every once in a while I would get to do a mechanical myself, usually following the direction of one of the more experienced designers. I was working in New York City for a designer I idolized and I was the happiest person on earth. It so happened that we got an apartment that was three blocks-literally, a 135 second walk-from the Vignelli office. Work started at 9:30 a.m. I usually got up at around five minutes to 9 and still had time to pick up a doughnut on my way in.

Dorothy, on the other hand, had a corporate job downtown, in the World Trade Center to be precise. She had to wake up before 6 to be at work at 8. I literally slept three hours later than her every morning. Every night Dorothy would go to bed at around 10 p.m. I was still wide awake, and our apartment was so small it drove me crazy. I had a key to the office. So I got in the habit of tucking my wife in every night and going back to work to start another shift, which often would last from 10 to 3 in the morning.

This went on for four years. Anything I've achieved in my career I credit today to those four years. I loved working late at night. I worked on office stuff, and I worked on personal projects. I played music really loud and drank Mountain Dew. I would design anything: invitations for my friends' parties, packaging for mix tapes, one-of-a-kind birthday cards, and freebies for non-profits.

When Massimo Vignelli noticed I had extra time during the day, he started giving me extra work. Things that would have taken two days only took one, thanks to the night shift. The more work I did, the faster I got, and the better I got. It never occurred to me to ask for overtime. 25 years later, nearing 50 with three kids (and the same wife), I can't tell you the last time I was awake at 3 in the morning, intentionally, at least. So my advice to anyone starting a career as a designer? Stay up late while you can. It pays off.

Michael Bierut
Partner, Pentagram Design New York

Tags Inspiration mentoring students Article graphic design personal essay