Today a Designer Interview With Debbie Millman for the past twenty years, Debbie has been President of Sterling Brands, where she has worked on the redesign of over 200 global brands, including projects with P&G, Colgate, Nestle, Kraft and Pepsi. In 2014, she was named President, Chief Marketing Officer of the firm. In 2013, Debbie was named one of the most influential designers working today by GDUSA. Debbie is the founder and host of Design Matters, the world’s first podcast about design, which has garnered over one million downloads and a Cooper Hewitt National Design Award. In the nine years since its inception, Millman has interviewed more than 250 design luminaries and cultural commentators, including Massimo Vignelli, Milton Glaser, Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Pink, Barbara Kruger, Seth Godin and more.
— The Logo Creative™ ✏ (@thelogocreative) March 7, 2018
Debbie is the author of six books, including two collections of interviews that have extended the ethos and editorial vision of Design Matters to the printed page: How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer and Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits. Both books have been published in over 10 languages. In 2009 Debbie co-founded with Steven Heller the world’s first graduate program in branding at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Now in its fifth year, the program has achieved international acclaim. The inaugural class wrote and designed the Rockport book Brand Bible: The Complete Guide to Building, Designing and Sustaining Brands and in 2013 the students created branding for the Museum of Modern Art’s retail program, Destination: New York.
Debbie’s written and visual essays have appeared in Print Magazine, Design Observer and Fast Company, and she is the author of two books of illustrated essays. Her work has been exhibited at the Chicago Design Museum, Anderson University, School of Visual Arts, Long Island University and The Wolfsonion Museum. She has been artist-in-residence at Cranbrook University, Old Dominion University, and Notre Dame University, and has conducted visual storytelling workshops at Academy of Art University in San Francisco, the University of Utah, Hartford University and the High School of Art and Design in New York. She has designed wrapping paper and beach towels for One Kings Lane, greeting cards for Mohawk and Card-To-Art, playing cards for DeckStarter and sketchbooks for Shutterstock.
Debbie is President Emeritus of AIGA, one of four women to hold the position in the organization’s 100-year history. She is also a past board member and treasurer of the New York Chapter. She is a frequent speaker on design and branding and has moderated Design Yatra in India, presented keynote lectures at Rotman School of Management, Princeton University, Michigan Modern, the Melbourne Writers Festival in Australia, Design Thinkers in Toronto, the Festival of Art and Design in Barcelona, and many more.
The Logo Creative – Hi Debbie thanks for taking part in our designer interview series it’s great that you’re onboard.
Debbie Millman – Andrew, I’m honored. Thank you for thinking of me.
The Logo Creative – What was the turning point in your life when you decided to become a designer and how did you proceed?
Debbie Millman – I became a designer because it was the only skill set I had (I learned basic layout and paste-up in college, working on the student newspaper in the early 1980s). I didn’t have dreams of being a designer when I was growing up; I didn’t even know the profession existed until I went to college. If you had asked me what a designer was when I was a kid I’d have said “someone who designs clothes,” as my mother was a seamstress. I got my first job as a designer one nano-second before I gave up even doing that and taking a job as a secretary (as they were still called back in 1983.
The Logo Creative – What does your day consist of?
Debbie Millman – It really depends on the day. I could be doing any of the following things: traveling to speak at a conference, teaching graduate students at the School of Visual Arts, researching for a podcast episode, conducting an interview for my podcast Design Matters, making art, writing an article or essay, organizing material for a book, teaching undergraduate students at the School of Visual Arts, working with my Editor-in-chief at Print Magazine, having conference calls, watching Law & Order SVU Marathons, going to board meetings for three of the boards I am on: The Joyful Heart Foundation, Performance Space 122 or the Type Directors club, planning the 2018 HOW Conference, working on an oral history of the firm Pentagram, sleeping, managing my Drip community, working on the show I curated for the Museum of Design in Atlanta, promotion and/or publicity for the book I worked on about Cipe Pineles, creating a class for Creative Live, playing with my dogs, dinner with friends, absolutely nothing at all, and so forth.
The Logo Creative – What was the first logo you ever designed?
Debbie Millman – I created a dreadful logo for a faux restaurant in my very first design class in college. I named the restaurant Cherries and Walnuts, and the logo consisted of…you guessed it: an image of cherries and walnuts.
The Logo Creative – What is your favourite Logo you have designed?
Debbie Millman – The No More logo.
The Logo Creative – What is your favourite Logo of all time?
Debbie Millman – Sinclair Oil.
The Logo Creative – Can you describe or give us an overview of your logo design process?
Debbie Millman – Honestly, I don’t have one. It depends on the client, the timing, the budget, and the culture.
The Logo Creative – In your opinion regarding Logo Design pricing do you prefer working on a fixed rate or customer budget and can you explain why?
Debbie Millman – Budget. As Paula Scher once said (and I am paraphrasing), “The Citi logo took 30 seconds and 39 years to create.”
The Logo Creative – How long does it take to complete the average logo design project from start to finish?
Debbie Millman – Not to be a smart ass, but please see the second sentence in the answer to the question “Can you describe or give us an overview of your logo design process.” There is no one answer to ANYTHING in developing logos or creating any brand design.
The Logo Creative – Are you a MAC or PC User and is there a reason for your choice?
Debbie Millman – MAC. If nothing more now than the Apple Pencil.
The Logo Creative – Which software do you use frequently?
Debbie Millman – All Adobe software, though I do occasionally use QuarkXpress if I can get it to load on one of my laptops (I was really really good at QuarkXpress). Oliver Jeffers taught me how to use ProCreate on the iPad Pro and now I LOVE using it.
The Logo Creative – What is your favourite style of logo design? And why?
Debbie Millman – Mid-century Modern, as I am a real sucker for the classics.
The Logo Creative – What is your daily inspiration when you design?
Debbie Millman – Sleep, coffee, music, hope. In that order.
The Logo Creative – In your opinion what’s the best and worst part of your job been a designer?
Debbie Millman –
- Best: Making the work and seeing it in the marketplace
- Worst: Insecure, unreasonable clients, market research, scope creep.
The Logo Creative – Who is the most inspiring person to you and why?
Debbie Millman – The artist, illustrator, writer and overall National Treasure Maira Kalman is the most inspiring person to me because she makes the most beautiful, heart-breaking, life-affirming work in the world. I love everything about what she makes.
The Logo Creative – Who is your favourite Graphic Designer and why?
Debbie Millman – Paula Scher is my favorite graphic designer because she’s has more impact on American visual culture than anyone, and she’s been doing it for over 40 years. And she is still making great work and she hasn’t peaked yet!!!
The Logo Creative – What’s your favourite design quote?
Debbie Millman – My own: Busy is a decision. Someone else’s: Paula Scher: “Clients don’t pay us the big bucks to make their logos. They pay us the big bucks to navigate through their politics.”
The Logo Creative – In less than 10 words what is graphic design?
Debbie Millman – Problem-solving activity
The Logo Creative – What steps did you take to start your graphic design business? Did you have to make any sacrifices on your journey?
Debbie Millman – Early on, I didn’t really take any deliberate steps in my graphic design career. The first ten years of my career were mostly experiments in rejection, failure, and humiliation. I had very little self-esteem and didn’t think I was smart enough, pretty enough or talented enough to do much of anything. So, I mostly took the first jobs that came along, compromised in every aspect of my career (except where I lived, as I wanted desperately to live in Manhattan, and did whatever it took to make that happen) and sacrificed my then-dreams of being an artist and a writer in an effort to be self-sufficient at that time.
The Logo Creative – Do you have any regrets? Is there anything you would have changed early on in your career?
Debbie Millman – I have a lot of regrets about not believing in my abilities. I have regrets about worrying so much about what other people think. But ultimately, I am (finally) really, really happy where I am now. SO if I went back and did anything differently, I worry that I wouldn’t be exactly here today, exactly as is.
The Logo Creative – If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
Debbie Millman – I would tell my younger self the following: MOISTURIZE. Don’t spray perfume on your neck. Stay out of the sun at all costs. DON’T SMOKE. Don’t go home with that guy from the subway. Only work with the Learning Annex if they give you a contract. The guy trying to start the magazine in the 1990s was a sleaze, run run run in the other direction when you meet him. Enjoy the summer of 1992 when you were unemployed, as you did eventually get a job and would’ve had a much better time knowing that. Go to grad school. Come out sooner.
The Logo Creative – What’s the most important piece of advice you have received as a designer that’s helped you?
Debbie Millman – When I was worried about the world, Seth Godin told me this: Government doesn’t make culture. Culture makes government.
The Logo Creative – What would be your advice for new Logo and Graphic Designers?
Debbie Millman – Learn how to code.