December 18, 2013
Interviews: Thinker in Residence: Debbie Millman
Debbie Millman is President of the design division at Sterling Brands. She has been there for 18 years and in that time she has worked on the redesign of over 200 global brands, including projects with P&G, Colgate, Nestle, Kraft and Pepsi. She is President Emeritus of AIGA, the largest professional association for design in the world. She is a contributing editor at Print Magazine and Co-Founder and Chair of the world's first Masters in Branding Program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. In 2005, she began hosting, "Design Matters," the first podcast about design on the Internet. In 2011, the show was awarded a Cooper Hewitt National Design Award.
Debbie is the author of six books on design and branding, including Look Both Ways, Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits, and now, Self-Portrait As Your Traitor Last year, an exhibition of her visual essays debuted at the Chicago Design Museum.
Debbie Millman's illustrated essays and visual poems are part philosophy, part art, part deeply personal memoir exposing the universal triumphs and tribulations of being human. Her hand-lettered typography--sometimes tender, sometimes gritty, always breathtaking in its visceral candor--makes Self-Portrait as Your Traitor a moving masterpiece of a singular art form that speaks to our deepest longings for beauty, honesty, and the ineffable magic of what it means to live. Self-Portrait As Your Traitor
"One must have a reason for reflection--an eye to admire variations."
Recommending Self-Portrait As Your Traitor:
In her books, Look Both Ways and Brand Thinking, Debbie Millman explored the impact of design on how we perceive companies, products, and relationships. Both books delve more into people’s everyday lives and experiences rather than offering straight business advice for designers. In essence, they are guides for people who work in design to consider how they design, and how their users might experience their creations. Her work also serves as a guide for those of us who don’t create, but use people’s designs to share insight into our feelings.
Now, Debbie has crafted Self-Portrait as Your Traitor, a book that takes the above qualities to a completely new height. We must preface this recommendation with a caveat: this is not a business book. That is, it is not a book about business practices, design as it relates to business, or even Millman’s own business experience. It is a book that takes her previous ideas about how design as communication can be executed, and, well, executes them. As the introduction to the book explains: “Debbie Millman’s illustrated essays and visual poems are part philosophy, part art, part deeply personal memoir exposing the universal triumphs and tribulations of being human.”
Photo by Brent Taylor
On most of the pages, traditional type is not used. Instead, letters cut from felt, watercolor painted words, and hand illustrated fonts pile up to tell stories both abstract and concrete. What’s apparent right away is that Millman is taking her own, and many other business thinker’s advice very seriously: She is creatively expressing stories in a way that inform new ideas altogether. In that sense, perhaps there is a business lesson here after all.
Much like a visit to a gallery or museum, this book requires patience, time for absorption and for 'listening' for the underlying story. But for those who are ready to tackle the challenge, an essence of the author, and perhaps some insight into your own experience, will be communicated to you that other books with mere words attempt to communicate, but fall short. With this book and its content, Millman helps us discover the lessons that individually we already know, but are buried deep inside all the teaching and understanding we’ve built up and sometimes remains in the way of our instinct. Self-Portrait As Your Traitor will be one of the more unexpected book experiences you will have, and that says a lot in an age where there is a high level of redundancy regarding design principles. Here you will experience design, not just read about it.
“Debbie goes a step farther in this new collection. Here, the writing and illumination are even more personal and eccentric. The lettering compliments the message in a way that enforces the feelings that is, each piece of lettering seems to have been created to express the exact emotional subject matter at hand. A designer knows how to do this: to manipulate the visual components in order to evoke the appropriate feeling. It is a planned act.” ~from the Introduction by Paula Scher
Check in with us tomorrow as we continue our Thinker in Residence series on Debbie Millman with her Q&A interview on Self-Portrait As Your Traitor.
About Sally Haldorson
Sally Haldorson's job as 800-CEO-READ’s General Manager is to make 800-CEO-READ a great place to work for our employees, and a consistently high-performing customer service organization for our clients, authors, and our partners in the publishing industry. In addition to her General Manager duties ensuring collaboration, integration, and quality, she reads, writes, reviews, curates, and edits for the company. Helping craft The 100 Best Business Books of All Time used parts of both skill sets. Outside of work, she is most likely to be found hitting a tennis ball around or hanging out with her boys (husband, child, dog) at home.