Photo of Debbie Millman

Debbie Millman’s business card must be loaded with hyphens. She’s a writer, an editor, a graphic design artist, the President of the Design Division at Sterling Brands, President Emeritus of AIGA, a chair at the SVA, and the host of Design Matters with Debbie Millman. On top of all of that, she’ll even be signing our complimentary sketchbooks at the HOW Design Conference on Saturday, 6/23, from 12pm – 2pm.

… But is she happy? (Just kidding, this isn’t that kind of interview.)

I was lucky enough to catch-up with Debbie through a small series of emails with a Q&A that touches upon everything from story-telling to Streisand. – Brian Masefield, Community Manager

BM: Hi, Debbie! In your most recent exhibit at the Chicago Design Museum, you presented a series of personal stories, visual essays and even two short films. Where did all of these stories come from?

DM: I started creating visual essays in earnest when I created my 2009 book Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design. After I finished the 20 pieces included in the book, I worried that I would stop making visual essays without a forced deadline. So I asked Aaron Kenedi, former Editor in Chief of Print Magazine, if I could contribute a visual essay once a month on the Imprint site. He said yes, and for the last two years, I have been contributing a (nearly) monthly piece. Most of the work for the show at the Chicago Design Museum comes from this endeavor. I only wanted to include work in this show that had not been published in Look Both Ways, so I had the 20 or so pieces from Imprint and a few other creative endeavors to choose from. My criteria was this: I had to feel that they were my best pieces, it needed to be work that I felt would look good living next to each other, and they had to fit in the space. The one common denominator is they are all highly personal stories about various experiences in my life.

BM: What, in your opinion, makes a story worth telling?

DM: Ultimately I think a story is worth telling if it has a compelling, honest narrative and is told in a relatable, empathetic manner. Oh, and it needs to transport the reader into another world and make them cry. (Joking)

BM: So, you’re a company president, radio show host, board member of AIGA, a chair at the SVA, a graphic artist and an author. Are you as busy as it sounds?

DM: Busy is a decision. Contrary to popular belief, I am NOT THAT BUSY! I sleep a lot, I love to loll around my apartment, I love to surf the net for hours on end. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do the things that I do–these are all things I’ve wanted to do my whole life. I think if someone thinks they are too busy to do something, they likely don’t really want to do it. I also never go to the gym or workout, so that saves a lot of time for other things. ; )

BM: What kind of environments do you find most conducive for your own personal creativity?

DM: I work best in my apartment at home. I tend to work with reruns of Law & Order SVU on in the background or Radiohead on repeat. When I start working on something, it is not unusual for me to work for 9 hours straight. And this is when I am happiest.

BM: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the next generation of designers, and how would you advise them to face it?

DM: I think that the biggest challenge facing the next generation of designers today is settling and/or compromising. I can’t begin to tell you how many young people I meet that feel that they are not smart enough, not talented enough, not enough enough. And they begin to think they should settle for less than what they want or what they dream of. Let me make this really clear:  If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly get. In order to strive for a remarkable life, you have to decide you want one. I urge the next generation of designers to try not to censor their dreams before they actually dream. I urge them to do what they love, and not to stop until they get what they love. I urge them to work as hard as they can, imagine immensities, try not to compromise, and don’t waste time. And don’t worry about being busy. : )

BM: As a storyteller yourself, what was the last great work of non-fiction you’ve read, and what did you find most intriguing about the subject/person’s life?

DM: The last great work of non-fiction I read was Joan Didion’s Blue Nights. It was devastating and brilliant and luminous. I knew the book was going to be about the death of her daughter Quintana (following the unexpected, untimely death of her husband) and I was prepared for the heartbreak. What I didn’t expect was her revelations on aging and her adjusting (or not) to its inevitability. I loved it. Joan Didion is one of this country’s great writers and essayists.

BM: Okay, now let’s delve into some really deep stuff. Not allowing black or white: If you could only wear one color for the resssssst of your liiiiiiiiife, what color would it be?


BM: If you had to participate in a competitive reality show which one would you attempt?

DM: MTV’s The Real World

BM: Very brave. Those Real World kids are rough these days. Remember back when they used to have jobs?

DM: Actually, now that I think about it, perhaps you are right.

BM: And finally, what is the “worst” movie you love? (I’m looking for real guilty-pleasure-type stuff here.)

DM: Barbra Streisand in the movie “What’s Up Doc?” Madeline Kahn is AMAZING.

BM: Thanks so much, Debbie! See you at HOW.

DM: Thank you!

Debbie Millman will be signing our complimentary sketchbooks at the HOW Design Conference on Saturday, from 12pm – 2pm. She designed the sketchbooks exclusively for Bigstock.

Debbie has several irons in the creative fire. Here’s just a sampling of things she has going on right now and other projects in the works:

No More Project.30th Anniversary poster for the NY Chapter of AIGA.

A letterpress card for Card To Art.

The Most Recent Books of Debbie Millman:
Brand Thinking and Other Noble PursuitsBrand Bible

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