“Hard decisions are only hard when you’re in the process of making them.”
– Debbie Millman
For some of you, this may be most important podcast episode you ever listen to. I don’t say that lightly.
It has nothing to do with me and everything to do with my guest, who walks us through gripping stories, tactical details, humor, pain, and emotional redemption. We cover some sensitive and extremely important ground. Thank you, Debbie.
Graphic Design USA has named Debbie Millman (@debbiemillman) “one of the most influential designers working today.” She is also the founder and host of Design Matters, the world’s first and longest-running podcast about design, where she’s interviewed nearly 300 design luminaries and cultural commentators including Massimo Vignelli and Milton Glaser.
Debbie’s done it all. Her artwork has been exhibited around the world. She’s designed everything from wrapping paper to beach towels, greeting cards to playing cards, notebooks to t-shirts, and Star Wars merchandise to global Burger King rebrands.
Debbie is the President Emeritus of AIGA (one of only five women to hold the position in the organization’s one-hundred-year history), the editorial and creative director of Print magazine, and the author of six books. In 2009, Debbie co-founded (with Steven Heller) the world’s first masters program in branding at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, which has received international acclaim.
We cover a lot in this discussion: how to recover from rejection, how to overcome personal crises of faith, class exercises from her most impactful mentors, and much more.
Please enjoy (and reflect on) this wide-ranging conversation with Debbie Millman…
- Listen to it on iTunes.
- Stream by clicking here.
- Download as an MP3 by right-clicking here and choosing “save as.”
Want to hear another episode with an influential podcaster? — Listen to my interview with Stephen J. Dubner. In this episode, we discuss how to grow a podcast, the President’s actual influence over the economy, how virtual reality might affect education, and much, much more (stream below or right-click here to download):
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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.
Scroll below for links and show notes…
Selected Links from the Episode
- Connect with Debbie Millman:
- AIGA (Founded in 1914 as the American Institute of Graphic Arts)
- The Masters in Branding program at the School of Visual Arts
- Print magazine
- Books by Debbie Millman
- See Debbie’s childhood drawing that predicted her future in this interview with The Great Discontent.
- The Complete Gidget Collection
- Working on the UAlbany student newspaper is where Debbie was bitten by the design bug.
- Hanlon’s razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
- Nantucket Nectars
- Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
- The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich by Timothy Ferriss
- NO MORE | Joyful Heart Foundation
- HOT 97 | Where Hip Hop Lives
- Sterling Brands
- Eleven Madison Park Restaurant
- 365 | Design Effectiveness Competition
- AIGA: Sold Out — the Speak Up open letter by Felix Sockwell and its follow up, Is the Dark Side Prevailing?
- Stop Being Sheep (PDF)
- Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works by Erik Spiekermann and E.M. Ginger
- Debbie in Ironic Chef garb
- How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer by Debbie Millman
- Wally Olins: The Brand Handbook
- This is Historic Times by M. Kingsley & Debbie Millman, Speak Up
- Design Observer
- Al Pacino in The Godfather: Part III
- Don’t know a lot about design? Debbie recommends checking out her interviews with Chris Ware, Amanda Palmer, Alain de Botton, Krista Tippett, Nico Muhly, and…Tim Ferriss. (Thanks!)
- As someone who has such a diverse tapestry of backgrounds, how does Debbie describe what she does to someone she meets for the first time? [07:14]
- How a rediscovered childhood drawing predicted Debbie’s future. [09:13]
- Debbie never set out to become a designer. [14:47]
- On being thwarted by (and recovering from) initial rejection. [21:59]
- What would Debbie say to her college self after her first big rejection? [26:38]
- Empathy for those who reject us vs. feeling slighted by them. [30:53]
- How did a lifelong desire to live in Manhattan figure into Debbie’s pursuit of happiness and influence what she does today? [36:54]
- Debbie talks frankly about a history of abuse, and how it guided her desire for self-sufficiency and her work with NO MORE and the Joyful Heart Foundation. [44:34]
- On coping with the aftermath of abuse and feeling profoundly alone because the ordeal seems “so surreal, and unnatural, and punishing.” [51:18]
- Debbie tells us what it was like to be called a “corporate clown” and a “she-devil.” [57:57]
- The lowest point becomes the catalyst: the journey from she-devil to godmother. [1:14:21]
- Brochures can change the world. [1:18:07]
- The origins of Debbie’s Design Matters podcast, and how it’s changed over the course of twelve years. [1:24:08]
- Debbie explains the impact of Milton Glaser on the world of design and her life. [1:28:03]
- Debbie shares “Your Ten-Year Plan for a Remarkable Life” exercise she modified from Milton Glaser and teaches in her classes. [1:33:51]
- “Hard decisions are only hard when you’re in the process of making them.” [1:40:00]
- Design Matters episodes Debbie recommends for people who might not know much about design. [1:49:50]
- Massimo Vignelli
- Milton Glaser
- Steven Heller
- Chris Sacca
- David Bowie
- Rosalind Russell
- Robert Edelstein
- Scarlett O’Hara
- Mariska Hargitay
- Maile Zambuto
- Joe Biden
- Felix Sockwell
- Dave Weinberger
- Walter Landor
- Armin Vit
- Erik Spiekermann
- Bryony Gomez-Palacio
- Michael Bierut
- Paul Archer
- Joyce Rutter Kaye
- Mark Kingsley
- Bill Drenttel
- Simon Williams
- Austin McGhie
- Al Pacino
- Dani Shapiro
- Naval Ravikant
- Chris Ware
- Amanda Palmer
- Alain de Botton
- Krista Tippett
- Nico Muhly