How to use graphic design to sell things?

Updated on
July 7, 2024

Summary of "How to Use Graphic Design to Sell Things, Explain Things, Make Things Look Better, Make People Laugh, Make People Cry, and (every once in a while) Change the World" by Michael Bierut


Michael Bierut's book serves as a comprehensive guide to the vast potential of graphic design. It combines theory with practical examples, illustrating how design can influence various aspects of life and business. Bierut, a veteran in the field, draws on his extensive experience to present a narrative that is both educational and inspiring. Through personal anecdotes and a variety of case studies, Bierut reveals the multifaceted role of graphic design, showing how it can be used to sell products, convey complex information, enhance visual appeal, evoke emotions, and even drive social change.

Chapter 1: The Power of Graphic Design

Graphic design's ability to influence behavior is a central theme in the book. Bierut argues that design is more than just aesthetics; it’s a powerful tool for communication. He discusses various projects that demonstrate how design can sell products, explain concepts, and evoke emotions. This chapter sets the stage for understanding the multifaceted role of graphic design in modern society.

Key Points:

- Graphic Design as a Communication Tool: Bierut emphasizes that at its core, graphic design is about communication. It is used to convey messages and information clearly and effectively. By combining text, images, and layout, designers create visual narratives that can influence perceptions and behaviors.

- The Role of Design in Marketing and Advertising: The chapter highlights how design is integral to marketing and advertising. Effective design captures attention, communicates brand values, and persuades consumers. Bierut shares examples of successful campaigns that leveraged design to enhance their impact.

- Case Studies Illustrating Successful Design Projects: Bierut presents several case studies from his career, showcasing a range of design projects from different industries. These examples illustrate how thoughtful design can solve problems, enhance user experience, and achieve business goals.


Chapter 2: Selling Things

This chapter delves into the commercial aspect of graphic design. Bierut emphasizes the importance of understanding the target audience and the market. He provides insights into branding, packaging, and advertising, showcasing how design can enhance product appeal and drive sales.

Key Points:

- The Principles of Effective Branding: Bierut explains that strong branding is essential for creating a memorable and trustworthy identity. Effective branding involves consistency in visual elements such as logos, color schemes, and typography. It also requires a deep understanding of the brand’s values and positioning.

- The Impact of Packaging Design on Consumer Behavior: Packaging design is a critical factor in influencing consumer choices. Bierut discusses how well-designed packaging can attract attention, communicate product benefits, and enhance the overall brand experience. He shares examples where innovative packaging design led to increased sales and brand loyalty.

- Techniques for Creating Compelling Advertisements: Advertising relies heavily on visual appeal to capture attention and convey messages quickly. Bierut outlines key techniques for designing effective advertisements, including the use of strong visuals, clear messaging, and emotional appeals. He illustrates these techniques with real-world examples.


Chapter 3: Explaining Things

Bierut explores how graphic design can simplify complex information. This chapter is particularly relevant for fields like education, science, and public health. He discusses the use of infographics, diagrams, and other visual aids to enhance understanding and retention of information.

Key Points:

- The Role of Design in Information Dissemination: Bierut argues that design plays a crucial role in making information accessible and understandable. By organizing information visually, designers can help audiences grasp complex concepts quickly and easily.

- Strategies for Creating Effective Infographics: Infographics are a powerful tool for visual storytelling. Bierut provides strategies for designing infographics that are both informative and engaging. This includes tips on selecting data, choosing appropriate visual elements, and ensuring clarity and readability.

- Examples of Design Simplifying Complex Concepts: Bierut shares examples from various fields where design has been used to clarify complex information. These include educational materials, scientific diagrams, and public health campaigns. Each example demonstrates the power of visual design to enhance comprehension and communication.


Chapter 4: Making Things Look Better

Aesthetics play a crucial role in design. Bierut discusses the principles of visual appeal and how they can be applied to enhance the look and feel of various products and environments. He covers typography, color theory, and layout, providing practical tips for designers.

Key Points:

- Principles of Visual Design: Bierut outlines fundamental principles of visual design, including balance, contrast, harmony, and hierarchy. He explains how these principles can be used to create aesthetically pleasing and effective designs.

- The Importance of Typography and Color: Typography and color are critical components of visual design. Bierut discusses how the choice of typefaces and color schemes can influence the overall look and feel of a design. He provides guidelines for selecting and combining typography and color effectively.

- Techniques for Creating Visually Appealing Designs: Bierut offers practical techniques for enhancing visual appeal, such as the use of grids, alignment, and white space. He also discusses the importance of user-centered design, ensuring that aesthetics do not compromise functionality and usability.


Chapter 5: Making People Laugh and Cry

This chapter explores the emotional impact of design. Bierut argues that design can evoke a wide range of emotions, from joy to sadness. He provides examples of campaigns and projects that have successfully tapped into human emotions, highlighting the power of storytelling in design.

Key Points:

- The Emotional Power of Design: Bierut explains how design can be used to create emotional connections with audiences. By leveraging elements such as imagery, typography, and color, designers can evoke specific emotions and enhance the impact of their messages.

- Techniques for Creating Emotionally Engaging Designs: Bierut outlines techniques for designing with emotion in mind. This includes using relatable imagery, crafting compelling narratives, and employing visual metaphors. He emphasizes the importance of authenticity and empathy in emotional design.

- Case Studies of Emotionally Impactful Design Projects: Bierut shares case studies of projects that successfully evoked strong emotional responses. These include advertising campaigns, public service announcements, and cultural projects. Each case study demonstrates how emotional design can drive engagement and action.


Chapter 6: Changing the World

In the final chapter, Bierut discusses the potential of graphic design to effect social change. He highlights projects that have raised awareness, inspired action, and even changed policies. This chapter serves as a call to action for designers to use their skills for the greater good.

Key Points:

- The Role of Design in Social Change: Bierut argues that design can be a powerful tool for social change. By raising awareness and inspiring action, designers can contribute to solving social issues and improving communities.

- Examples of Design-Driven Social Initiatives: Bierut shares examples of design projects that have made a significant social impact. These include campaigns for public health, environmental sustainability, and social justice. Each example illustrates the potential of design to drive positive change.

- The Responsibility of Designers to Contribute to Society: Bierut emphasizes that designers have a responsibility to use their skills for the greater good. He encourages designers to engage with social issues and contribute to creating a better world through thoughtful and impactful design.



Michael Bierut’s book is a testament to the transformative power of graphic design. It not only provides practical advice for designers but also inspires them to think beyond traditional boundaries. By showcasing the diverse applications of design, Bierut encourages readers to harness their creativity to make a meaningful impact on the world.

Overall Themes:

- The Versatility of Graphic Design: Bierut highlights the wide range of applications for graphic design, from commercial advertising to social advocacy. He demonstrates that design is a versatile tool that can be adapted to various contexts and purposes.

- The Importance of Understanding the Audience: Bierut emphasizes that successful design requires a deep understanding of the audience. This involves researching their needs, preferences, and behaviors to create designs that resonate and communicate effectively.

- The Emotional and Social Impact of Design: Bierut argues that design can evoke emotions and drive social change. He provides numerous examples of projects that have achieved these goals, illustrating the powerful impact of design on individuals and communities.

- The Need for Designers to Continually Evolve and Adapt: Bierut encourages designers to stay curious, experiment with new techniques, and continuously improve their skills. He emphasizes the importance of adaptability in a rapidly changing field.


Personal Reflections

Bierut’s personal anecdotes and reflections add a unique dimension to the book. His stories of successes and failures provide valuable lessons and make the content relatable. These reflections underscore the importance of perseverance, experimentation, and passion in the field of graphic design.

Key Takeaways:

- The Importance of Learning from Both Successes and Failures: Bierut shares his own experiences with projects that succeeded and those that did not. He emphasizes that both successes and failures offer valuable lessons and opportunities for growth.

- The Value of Passion and Dedication in Design: Bierut’s enthusiasm for design is evident throughout the book. He argues that passion and dedication are essential for success in the field, motivating designers to push boundaries and create impactful work.

- The Continuous Nature of Learning and Growth in the Design Profession: Bierut highlights that the design profession requires ongoing learning and growth. He encourages designers to stay informed about industry trends, seek out new challenges, and continuously refine their skills.


This elaborated summary captures the essence of Michael Bierut’s book, highlighting its key points and overarching themes in detail. It provides a comprehensive overview for anyone interested in understanding the power and potential of graphic design.

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