Debbie Millman is named “one of the most influential designers working today” by Graphic Design USA. She’s also a writer, radio host and blogger – she is simply incredible!
We had the great pleasure of interviewing her and we talked about her career, plans, favorite books, tips for aspiring designers. She offers stellar advice for designers, and she is a great example of hard work and determination for anyone who wants to be more successful in his/her career.
Hi Debbie! We’re very impressed by your resume. You do branding, illustration, lettering, you’re a published author, educator and radio host. How do you juggle it all?
Thank you! I have three skills that I think help me in every aspect of my life. The first is that I am a “finisher.” I almost always finish what I start. I am a firm believer that no matter how good or bad you think something is, there is a benefit to actually completing it. Not everything you make has to be perfect. You learn as much from the strikeouts as you do from the homeruns and it is important to understand WHY you struck out in order to really learn about the conditions that led you to striking out. This helps you improve your form and also takes some of the pressure off of experimenting.
Second, I don’t believe in “too busy.” I think that busy is a decision! We do the things we want to do, period. If we say we are too busy, it is just shorthand for “not important enough” or “not a priority.” Busy is not a badge. You don’t “find” the time to make things, you make the time to do things. If I want to do something, I don’t let busy stand in the way. I make the time to do it.
Finally, I have a hard time taking no for an answer. I often ask more than once for something, even if I’ve been turned down. I will ask a different way, or wait a bit of time before asking again or find a more creative way of manifesting a YES. Sometimes this can be annoying, but mostly I can’t help myself.
What are your plans for 2017?
I am really excited about 2017! I will continue working as the Chair of the Masters in Branding program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and as the Editorial and Creative Director at Print Magazine, and as the host of the podcast Design Matters. I will also be curating an exhibit at a wonderful design museum, I have two books in the works, and I might be working on a documentary about an amazing designer.
What brings you the greatest satisfaction in your work?
– Making a difference.
– Inspiring people.
– Making things with my hands.
– Changing culture in a meaningful way.
– Making other lives better with my work.
What are your favorite design books or magazines?
My favorite design books are
Pretty Pictures by Marian Bantjes
Perverse Optimist by Tibor Kalman and Michael Bierut
The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman
Make It Bigger by Paula Scher
Iron Fists by Steven Heller
Art is Work by Milton Glaser
Dangerous Curves by Doyald Young
The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher
Graphic Design Referenced by Armin Vit & Bryony Gomez-Palacio
The Creative Architect by Pierluigi Serraino
Things I Have Learned In My Life by Stefan Sagmeister
(and probably another hundred more)
Many of our users do editorial design. I’m sure they’d love to read about your role as creative director at Print Magazine!
I recently became the Editorial and Creative Director at Print Magazine, which is a dream come true. I am working with editor-in-chief Zachary Petit to rethink the magazine and make it more relevant, exciting, sexy and meaningful. It is an amazing opportunity that really puts all of my skills to use.
How important is storytelling for a designer?
It is critical! Through stories we explain how things are, why they are, and our role and purpose. Stories are the building blocks of knowledge and the foundation of memory and learning.
Any advice for an aspiring designer?
I was interviewing the great writer Dani Shapiro and we were talking about the role of confidence in success. She stated that she felt that confidence wasn’t as important as courage, and that the action to DO something was much more critical to success than the idea that you feel confident about doing it. The notion that courage is more important than confidence has stayed with me ever since.
Name one thing on your bucket list?
I’d like to be a sultry singer in a cabaret act.