HOW Design Live

Lesson 1/5 - Debbie Millman


HOW Design Live


Lesson Info

Debbie Millman

My presentation today is going to be very revealing, it's that a true story, it's a cautionary tale, mostly because I think that there's some good lessons that anybody whether you're in the design business or not can really hopefully learn from, and it's really about my history rejection which I've had quite a lot of, but I'm gonna start first with an anecdote. One of the questions that I love to add on my podcast, Design Matters, is what did somebody wanna be when they grow up or when did they first realize they wanted to be a designer, and this is something that I don't only ask people on my podcast, I also tend to ask this of any young person I meet, I'm endlessly fascinated by the arc of a life, and how we become who we are, and what our dreams are when we're kids and what our dreams are, or how they are or aren't realized when we're adults. and I asked a young person recently what she wanted to be when she grew up, and she answered with the most profound response, one word respons...

e, that I'd ever heard. When I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she answered, "Everything". I on the other hand did not have the aspiration to be everything when I was growing up, in fact, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to be when I was young. I flirted around with the idea of being a fashion designer or an actress, for a while I wanted to be a cow girl. One thing that was consistent in my years growing up was the fact that I love to draw, but I never had thought that I could possibly be an artist when I was growing up, I just never felt that I had the skill or the talent or what one would need in order to become an artist. My mother recently did what a lot of old Jews do, she moved to Florida. I'm a native New Yorker, she moved to Florida, and in doing so she significantly downsized her ownership, and gave me a number of boxes that she kept in her basement of things of mine that I either made, or created or had kept from childhood, so they were report cards, and there were book reports, and there all start with the wonderful ephemera, and I came across a very fragile piece of paper that was folded in 4 and when I opened it up, I realized that when I was about eight years older or so, I drew my entire future without realizing it, and I'm gonna show you this drawing now. This is the drawing. I don't think this is too bad for eight years old. There I am in the center, my mom is in the orange dress, which I believe was a Barbie outfit called Tangerine Dream, and it's a typical New York City scene, it's a Manhattan scene, I'm a native New Yorker, I was born in Brooklyn, I then moved to queens, we then moved to Staten Island, and right after this drawing was done, my parents got divorced, my dad moved to Manhattan, my mom took my brother and I to Long Island where I eventually met Gary, or actually passed Gary in the school halls. I had never actually been to Manhattan, so this is my vision of Manhattan when I drew it, and it's sort of typical in a lot of ways. You see people walking on the street, and there's a bus with people and a taxi, and the taxi is labeled taxi, and the dry cleaner's labeled dry cleaner, and the bank is labeled bank, very sort of Helvetica related, oriented, but then if you look at the green there, it says potato chips, but it doesn't just say potato chips, at eight years old, I drew the Lays Potato Chips logo. And now I'm living in New York, hailing taxis, going to the dry cleaner, going to the bank, and drawing logos for a living. Who knew, all of the rest of this story that I'm about to tell you would have been so much easier if I just followed my dreams as an eight year old. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I went to college, my sole criteria for choosing the State University of New York at Albany was that it was a state school, and I could afford it, just barely, and my best friend, Tammy, was going as well. I majored an English literature with a minor in Russian literature, and I now joke that I have a degree in reading. One thing that I found quite by accident when I got to Albany was that there was quite a respected student newspaper, the State University of New York at Albany, the ASP. SUNY, Albany Student Press. So I desperately wanted to write for the Albany Student Press. I went up to the newsroom when I was a freshman, and asked, and volunteered to be a writer, and the editor at that time asked me if I had any newspaper clips. I didn't know what he meant, I said no, and I sort of very very shamefully walked out of the news room, because I had nothing of which to show that I could do and didn't get any opportunity. I went back up when I was in my second semester junior year in an abberant moment of courage, and they actually assigned me a story, and I was assigned a story that somebody else couldn't do, it with a feminist uprising at the local health food store, and I went and I wrote the piece, and then I got another piece, and by the time I finished my junior year, my second semester junior year of college, I was appointed the Arts and Features Editor of the newspaper, and that was called, Aspects. And at that point in my life, my senior year of college, I discovered design, at that point, I hadn't taken one design class. I hadn't even taken any journalism classes, but I fell in love with the idea of making magazines and newspapers, and this was my final issue, I was madly in love with James Joyce, I had recently read Ulysses in one of my classes, and decided to dedicate the entire final issue of Aspects, my swansong as the editor of the arts and features section to James Joyce, and this headline here, "The Longest Way Round Is The Shortest Way Home", was one of the lines in Ulysses that really spoke to me, and I didn't know why at the time, but it's spoken to me for my entire life since, "The longest way round is the shortest way home", and that became the headline of the centerfold of my last final issue of Aspects. Doing this work that year led me to believe that I could have a career in publishing, that's what I thought I wanted to do, I thought I'm gonna work at a magazine, that's what I wanna do. So I put together my resume. This is what it looked like, and that's what I looked like. Good hair, right, very '80s hair, and my resume was a combination of Souvenir and Peignot, I don't know if you remember Peignot, but it with the wonderful title font used for the Mary Tyler Moore Show which was one of my favorite shows, that was one of three type faces we had at the newspaper, and I made my resume. I wanna zoom in here this is my work experience. I had technical skills. My skills were the operation of the Compugraphic computer photographic typesetting equipment, the NDT 350 terminal, the Trendsetter 88 typesetter, the 7200 ITG headliner, and the Agfa-Gevaert vertical camera, you know what that means, I had mad skills in the type room, in the stat room, I could make stats like nobody's business. My dream at that time was to go and work at Conde Nast, at Vanity Fair magazine. Vanity Fair magazine had been recently relaunched as an editorial magazine, as a literary magazine, and it felt so much like what I was trying to do with Aspects, that this was where I set my sights, and I put my portfolio together, it was one of those faux leather brown sort of doodie colored portfolio with the plastic sleeve that sort of slapped when you turn the pages, and I put all my clips, I now knew what clips were into the portfolio and I dropped it off at Conde Nast, which was the way in which you sent your work over to companies before you were able to send PDFs. I dropped my portfolio over to Conde Nast and waited, and if you got a call back that they wanted to meet you, that meant you made it to the next level of possible employment. And I got the call back, and I remember that day as if it were yesterday. I was wearing an outfit my mother had made me, she was a seamstress, I was wearing a blue bolero jacket with and A-line skirt with a blouse, a polyester blouse with pin dots and a bow, a big floppy bow. I was wearing black patent leather shoes, and I was so excited that as I was sort of skipping to Conde Nast after taking the bus from Queens, I tripped and fell. And under my skirt was a giant run in my stocking covered in blood and sort of dried scabby stuff, and I sat in the interview across from this beautiful woman with thin arms and a beautiful bob, and she looked at me and she said, "What kind of design would you like to do?" And I didn't know there was different kinds of design, I thought there was just design, and I said what was in my heart. I said very earnestly, very eagerly, "I'd do anything". Well that wasn't quite the answer she was hoping for, I think she was looking for editorial design or promotion design or photo editing or any number of things, any number of jobs that they were hiring at Conde Nast, and as a result, I did not get the job. In retrospect, I don't know if anybody here has ever seen The Devil Wears Prada. The woman who interviewed me was a little bit like that, and I think if I had actually gotten the job, me with my bolero jacket and a big bow, I think might have gotten killed, nevertheless. A bunch of the folks that I work with at the ASP were all working at a little magazine, a fledgling start up, called RockBill, and RockBill was the equivalent of PlayBill but it was a magazine that you were given at rock and roll venues, and they needed somebody to do layout and page stuff, and so I started working there doing basic layout and page stuff for six dollars an hour and I really really loved it, but it was really really hard to work and live in Manhattan which is all I really really wanted to do at six dollars an hour, I was living in a fourth floor tenement walk-up, I had to walk through, I was living in a railroad flat, so I had to walk through somebody else's room to get to mine and that somebody else was a couple, and so it was sometimes really awkward to go back or forth because they were married, and you know had their conjugal visits. And so I was really quite perplexed as to what to do, and I thought well if I really wanna do this journalism thing, given that I haven't studied anything really journalistic, perhaps I should go back to school, perhaps I should get a Master's Degree in journalism, and right in my backyard was one of the best journalism schools in the country, I applied to the Columbia School of Journalism, my father had gone to the Columbia School of Pharmacy, so there was some legacy I hoped would help, and I went and I had an interview and I filled out my forms and I had to write something on the spot about Ronald Reagan and about six weeks later, I get a thin envelope in the mail. For anybody that's ever applied to university, you know that when you get accepted, you get a big fat envelope filled with financial aid forms, the thin envelope means sorry, they're rejecting you. And so I was rejected. I was crestfallen and I was ashamed, I had never really been rejected so outright by anything before and I did what I think a lot of people do when they get rejected was I sort of swept under the rug, people that knew that I really wanted to go, would say "Hey, did you get in?" and I'm like, "Well, no I didn't really wanna go anyway". But I did wanna go, but I was just too ashamed to say that I did wanna go, but I wasn't allowed to go, and so I did what I often did when I was unhappy, I return to the drawing and the painting that I used to do, and this was the piece that I did at the time that I think really truly succinctly expresses what I was feeling about the possibilities of my life at that point. And I was doing a lot of reading in art magazines, and at the back of art magazines, you often see little contests that you can apply to, and so I decided to take some of the work that I was doing, make some slides and send it in, and applied to some of the contests, and I won one of the contest. I won, and as a result of winning, I was awarded an exhibit at Brooklyn at the Long Island University, the Brooklyn campus of Long Island University And so I did an exhibit there in the very very late '80s, early '90s and this is what it looked like. It was 100 small word paintings, and if you flatten it out, the linear trajectory looks like this. And I got some good reviews, and I thought, maybe, maybe I can become an artist, but because I didn't have any formal training, I thought maybe I should go back to school, maybe I should go back to school, and learn how to be an artist, and right in my backyard there was an amazing program at the Whitney, which was called the Independent Study Program. So I had all my life, I had some good reviews, had the design work that I had done at RockBill, I applied to the program, about a month or so later guess what I got, the thin envelope. And at this point I was embarrassed to even try for anything more, two rejections in a row, two things I really wanted to do, and I was becoming despondent. And I decided to just be happy with what I had, I was working at RockBill, I was doing design work, I really enjoyed it, why not put my whole heart into doing this kind of work. And I was working for an editor who I adored. I'm still good friends with him now all these years later, and he was having some philosophical differences with the publisher and decided as a statement he was going to leave, and as a result he asked me if I wanted to take his position as editor-in-chief of this magazine, and even though I really really really wanted to take this job, I thought it would be disloyal to him as my friend, and I thought it would really dilute the power of his philosophical statement, and so I said "Absolutely not, how can I take this job? "You're making a statement, "if I take it dilutes the statement, "absolutely not, I'm not gonna take it". He then went unbeknownst to me to the person that worked under me and asked him if he wanted the job, and he said yes, and so in a matter of moments a guy that worked for me suddenly became my boss, and I felt like I had been sort of left out of everything, and decided I really should probably leave. At that point my creative director RockBill wanted to start a business and in a moment of sort of craziness, we decided if we lived like Mahatma Gandhi for about a year, we could probably survive if we started our own business, and so we did, we called it Slow Millman Productions, and in 1988 I was the proud card carrying member of my very own business, and the very best job we got was a job for Disney, it was the highest paying job we got, it paid us 60,000 dollars, but in the late '80s, early '90s, this was a lot of money, and we designed a magazine for Mickey Mouse, for Disney, and was about Disney going all over the world, and we called it Disney, Mickey's World Tour. Nobody's clapping, this was horrendous, this was the best design we did, and look, my god, at the horizontal and vertical scaling, it's humiliating, it's even worse than the rejections, but this is what we did, and I was at the time somewhat mortified when I saw work like this coming out. This might not look very revolutionary now, but in 1989 this was extraordinary, this was the annual report that came out after Time and Warner merged. And this was the first time, an annual report was used to truly tell a story about an organization beyond numbers, and so here was this title, "Why", it was done in fluorescent ink a company named Frankfurt Balkind did this. They used manipulated computer images which had never been done before, and I look at this work, and I compared it to mine, and I said I gotta get outta here. I needed to learn how to make design like this. I knew that this was what I wanted to do, and as it turned out, a cousin of mine had a lawyer, who is the brother of one of the owners of Frankfurt Balkind so his lawyer was named Michael Frankfurt, and the guy that was one of the owners of the company was Steven Frankfurt and so I got an interview with Steve Frankfurt. Steve Frankfurt loved me. I was 32 I was adorable. He wanted to hire me immediately, but I had to meet his partner, Aubrey Balkind. Has anybody ever seen the TV show, Thirtysomething? Yeah, you people. In the TV show Thirtysomething was a very very mean nasty boss, his name was Miles Drentell, Miles Drentell was based on Aubrey Balkind. I met with Aubrey Balkind, he looked at my portfolio, he didn't say one word as he went through that faux leather portfolio with the plastic sleeves, and I'll remember the day, I was sitting in his conference room, and he was turning the pages, slap, slap, slap. And he didn't say a word and he looked at me, and he said, "Well, Steve really likes you. "I don't like your work, but I'll hire you, "but not as a designer." 126 And my world stood still. What do you mean not as a designer, I didn't say that, I thought it. He said he would give me a job as an account person. Not that there's anything wrong with account people, I had worked with many and adore them, and they saved my ass many times, but that wasn't what I was expecting. In my mind I was sort of saying the same thing that I said out loud to that woman at Conde Nast that I'd do anything, and so I took the job, I took the job, one big piece of advice for you, never ever ever ever go to work for somebody that doesn't like you. It never ever gets better. I worked there for a year, I hated it every day, but I learned so much, and I made friends with people that I'm still friends with today, but everyday was really really hard, I got a call very inexplicably one day, random cold call from a head hunter, and the head hunter had a job that he wanted me to go and interview for at a branding consultancy, I'd never heard of branding, well I mean we all heard of branding, but I've never heard that branding was like a discipline that you could work in, and he asked me if I'd be interested in going on this interview, and I went on the interview, and I found out it wasn't for a designer, it wasn't even for an account person, it was for a sales person, it was for a person to go out and get business for this branding slash design consultancy and I was so desperate to get out of an environment where somebody hated me so much that I decided in order to pay my rent, I'm gonna go do this, I'm gonna take this job, and I'm gonna see where it leads me, and that was 21 years ago, and that's when I got to Sterling Brands. I started as a sales person, and because I love branding without even realizing it, because I had been drawing logos about potato chips since I was eight years old, there was something inexplicable that I understood about branding, that I felt that I could communicate with passion and authenticity and I was able to get the company business and the more business I got, the more I needed to run the business and after several years, I became President of the Design Division, and I've been there ever since and I love it, but it's a commercial business, and I very much felt that I needed something more to satisfy my soul, my soul of creativity, this is all about commerce, and I wanted to do something that had meaning and purpose beyond selling salty snacks and over the counter pharmaceuticals and fast food restaurants, and so I wanted to look for something outside of that and I found the AIGA, and I realize that AIGA had a Center for Brand Experience, and I felt like I hit the Lotto, I felt like I had found my people, and I went and I volunteered for the Center for Brand Experience, and I was elected on the board, Center for Brand Experience wasn't something that was funded by the National Organization, we had to self-fund our efforts, and I baked cupcakes and I went to the National Conference, and I felt finally that I was part of something bigger than myself that had purpose, that had meaning, that had artistic integrity, and I felt like I'd finally found my home, and I did this for three years, and I baked a lot of cupcakes, and when it came time for our terms to be renewed, we had the option of either reapplying to be on the board again or just easing off the board, but I've had so much fun and I loved it so much, I decided I'm gonna reapply I want to be on the board again and so did everybody else, and when the results came in, and we were told who was going to be on the board and who wasn't, I found out that I wasn't on the board. I'd been rejected again, and this time I was really really crushed, I felt like I put so much effort and energy into this, and I couldn't believe that I had been rejected, and I ended up getting a call from Rick Grefe, the executive director, and he felt really bad for me, he was the then executive director, the wonderful woman you met yesterday, Julie Anixter is our new leader and I met with Rick and he said please don't give up on the organization, please continue to try to make a difference with us and as sort of a consolation prize, he offered me the opportunity to judge the upcoming package design section of the annual design competition. And I was so excited I'd never gotten that kind of opportunity before. I almost felt like it was worth being rejected, because I got this opportunity to judge this incredible competition , and as part of the credentials that we needed to supply the organization for the annual were some of our own pieces of work, just sort of justify the reason that we were being asked judge, and so I submitted two pieces of art, two pieces of work, the logo I had designed for Burger King and the logo that we had designed at Sterling for Star Wars Episode Two, Attack of the Clones, and I felt very proud of myself. And I went to the judging, and the judging was really kind of brutal, I was judging with two other people that made it very clear that they didn't think that anything that had to do salty snack, over the counter pharmaceuticals or fast food restaurants was really considered design and not to expect that any of that would get into the competition and at the end of the day we had only been able to agree on seven things to include in the competition which is not very good and I thought at that point, maybe I should stop trying so hard with this organization and it was time to walk away and I felt really sad about it, and I thought well that's that. Better luck next time. On May second, 2003, 13 years ago my life changed. One day everything changes, there's life before May second, 2003, and the life after. On May second, 2003, let me paint the picture of the world view at the time, there's no YouTube, there's very little Google, we're still putting in those long sentences that one of the speakers talked about. There was no Facebook, there was no Twitter, there's no Instagram. I had never heard of anything called a web blog, but apparently they were beginning, they had been popping up, and there was a web blog that was called Speak Up, I had never heard of it, it'd been started by this sort of firecracker named Armin Vit, 22 years old, he had recently moved from Mexico to Chicago, and he was sitting in his house writing about design, and all of a sudden people were beginning to pay attention. I hadn't. I've got a link in an email from a friend of mine who said read but read privately preferably with a large drink. And I went and looked without the drink, without the privacy, in my office, and it was an article that was about me. I'll read it. "Dear AIGA, for some odd reason "I get a free copy of Graphic Design USA, "if you're familiar with it, "you know what it is, "the equivalent of a high school yearbook "packed with photos of designers and bulky paper ads. "Lots of ads, it's shameful, I weep openly. "Another reason to cry is that Debbie Millman, Sterling, "your AIGA juror this year, "says she's been in the business 20 years "and Graphic Design USA is always been the magazine "she turns to for cultural relevance "and design intelligence. "Perhaps she's lying simply to see her name in print "or maybe she's actually telling the truth, "either way we're doomed year by year, "the AIGA get suckered into deals "with these corporate clowns." Ouch. What I didn't realize for a few minutes was that there was also a little number at the end of the article, I'm not sure what that was, I clicked into it, I think it said 83 and it were comments. Now for some backstory. Graphic Design USA had recently celebrated an anniversary, and I sent the publisher, a very nice man, an email congratulating him, unbeknownst to me, he published it in the magazine, I didn't even know. So that's where Felix Softwell saw this, and put the two names together and realized, well if she think this and she's doing this, either way for Jim. I clicked into the comments. "Another reason to cry is that Debbie Millman, "you're a AIGA", of this is what I read to you already. "Not that I am a particularly faithful "or enthusiastic consumer, but as a designer "I have to point out a lousy makeover when I see one. "The flying oval Burger King logo just looks desperate "and sad, same with the Midas and Pringle's logos." I did not do those. (audience laughing) "You see an establishment of growing corporate poison. "This poison, represented here by she-devil, Debbie Millman, "is conspiring with AIGA to permeate the integrity "of our precious design world, "killing any possibility of a talented, "anti-establishment, lone wolf like yourself "from ever succeeding and getting recognized." "Boy", this is Armin, "Boy, talk about a pair of turds that got sidetracked. "Those two packages, although they serve the need "or whatever bullshit explanation anyone wants to throw, "should not be included in what is supposed "to be the graphic design publication of America." and this one really hurt, "I happened to be judging the AIGA competition "the same day as Debbie Millman. "I may be mistaken but I think that she was filling in "for someone who couldn't make it that day." No, I had been invited on my own merit. I wasn't filling in. I was devastated, this final one. "But trust me there's no hidden agenda "to change the integrity of the organization "or look the other way when someone like Millman "takes advantage of their involvement." I wasn't taking advantage of my involvement, and here I now felt that it wasn't the AIGA's fault, and it wasn't Speak Up's fault, but I was the most hated woman in graphic design, and I didn't know what to do. The establishment hated me, and now the anti-establishment hated me. And I walked home from work that day crying. Thinking I have to leave this business what if people at Sterling see this, I have humiliated them, I have embarrassed them, I'm a complete and total failure. What do I do? And I didn't know. I did not know what to do. I waited a couple of days and I thought well maybe, maybe I should enter the conversation, defend myself, do something that will somehow justify my life. And I did something that I'm a little bit embarrassed about now. I was very disingenuous when I came into the conversation, and if I had to do it again, I would do it differently, but this is the story of truth, so I need to tell you what I did. I came into the story, but I try to come in, and did anybody read Gillian Flynn's book, Gone Girl? I tried to come in as the cool girl. This is what I said I can't even bear it. I can't even bear it. "What a cool discussion, I love it." I'm sorry. I didn't know what else to do. I ended up having a back and forth with Armin, with Felix and ultimately the conversation ended with a wonderful man who worked at Landor named Dave Weinberg, who came in and sort of supported me and once somebody supported me, everybody else sort of fell away, and that was the last Post of that discussion, the last comment. But then they kept writing about me. They wrote another article called "Is The Dark Side Prevailing?" With me representing the dark side, and at that point, I had to cut myself off and I asked my IT guy to put parental controls on my computer, so that during the day I could no longer look at this site. And that was what I thought was really that, but no. Very strange things started to happen. First, about two or three weeks later, Armin Vit, the proprietor of Speak Up reaches out to me, and he asked me if I would be interested, no, I'm gonna actually take that back, he asked me first, if I would accept an apology. An apology, asked if I would accept an apology, because of the way he treated me online. He wasn't apologizing for his opinion of my work, "Pair of turds", which he still believed was an accurate assessment of my work, it was only apologizing for the way I was treated online. I was so desperate for any kind of apology, and I was like absolutely, no problem at all, thank you for saying that, and I told him what I thought was true was that this particular way of communicating design ideas was really interesting. The idea of designers being able to communicate in real time about design and hold each other accountable was actually really really interesting, but it also came with great responsibility. And then he asked me if I'd be interested in writing for Speak Up. Which I then did, my first article came out in June of 2003, aptly titled "Design Regret", and then I kept writing and I felt what I first felt when I started to work with AIGA, I'm part of something bigger than myself, I'm part of something that has purpose, and we as an organization, this little fledgling group of misfits decided we were gonna go to the upcoming AIGA Conference in Vancouver in 2003, and we were gonna hand out little brochures that we had made with some of the best commentary of Speak Up over the past year and we did. We went to Vancouver, en route to Vancouver, I happened to be sitting next to a woman, who was also going to the conference, and we started chatting, and I asked her who she was, and she said her name was Joyce Kay, and I asked what she did and she said she worked for a magazine called Print, and of course I knew what Print magazine was, and I was very impressed, so we started to talk, she asked me what I was doing, I told her that I was going to the conference to be part of this sort of guerrilla network of messengers talking about Speak Up, and we were gonna have a party, and did she wanna come and she game me her card and told me to get in touch, I put it in my bag without looking at it, when I went and got to my hotel room opened up my bag, picked up her card to send her an email, I realized she was the editor-in-chief, and she came to the party, and we became friends, and I thought maybe maybe if I'm really lucky, maybe someday I'll be able to write for Print magazine. In 2004, I was tight here, not here in this state, but I was right here, I was invited by Joyce to be part of the panel that she was having at the HOW conference. And she asked me if I would be part of a live sort of competition, that she was calling Ironic Chef based on the reality show, Iron Chef, where three designers in real time would have to create something on the spot the audience would judge. I defined this as hell. But I was worried that if I said no, I would never ever be asked to do anything ever again by Joyce and I really wanted to write for the magazine. And so I did it, when I got to San Diego were the conference was, I was told we'd need to wear chefs outfit. The panel was moderated by Stephen Heller, who I'd never met before, the great design critic and writer and art director and I got to meet him, and I was really excited about that, I did it, I came in second not too shabby, I didn't lose, and thereafter Joyce did ask me if I'd be interested in writing for Print and for 10 years I wrote a little column called Goods About Packaging in Print Magazine. I had met Steve, and Steve was really nice to me that day, Steve then said when I came in second, "Hey, let's have lunch some time in New York", and he probably says that to everybody but I took it really seriously, and when we got back to New York I sent him an email and ask him if he wanted to have lunch and he said yes, and I was so nervous about having lunch with Steve Heller and not being able to find the actual words to say to him that I made a cheat sheet on a napkin, and kept it in my lap and that's what it looked like. I've had a list of things I could talk to him about I knew he liked baseball, I knew he was married to Louise Fili, I knew that we could talk about the HOW Conference, and he had recently interviewed Stefan Sagmeister, and I thought we can talk about Sagmeister. There's always something to talk about when it comes to Stefan Sagmeister. And I also told him about the book ideas that I had, because I was really really hopeful that maybe someday I can publish a book, and I told my ideas and looked me straight in the eye and he said, "Those ideas are terrible". Okay they were terrible, but lo and behold about four months later, I got a message on my phone from a publisher that Steve had recommended that I need. They had a book that he had rejected that he thought I would be a good candidate to write and that book was How To Think Like a Great Graphic Designer which came out in 2007 and Steve wrote the foreword. I was still writing for Speak Up. One of the pieces that we did in about the election graphics went viral. Never happened to me before that was pretty exciting. I got a cold call from a fledgling radio network called Voice America and they were interested in my potentially hosting a radio show about design. I couldn't believe this was happening, I thought it was a dream, and I started to see sort of I was like Bugs Bunny with the money signs with spinning eyes, thinking this is my being shot at wealth and fame, and then I found out that I had to pay them to actually do the radio show, but I saved a little bit of money, and it sounded like something really fun to do, and that is how Design Matters started, it started with a wish and a telephone line, and that was 11 years ago. And I interviewed first my friends, and then friends of friends and then people that I really really admired, and in 2011, the show won the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award. And then Steve send me an email, and said wanna have lunch with me, and he told me about an idea that he had that he thought we could pull off together, and it was about starting a master's program in branding at the School of Visual Arts and was I interested, and man oh man was I interested, and we put a plan together, and three years later we started this program. And then a woman named Emily Oberman, who had worked for Tibor Kalman, and had done so much of the work that I admired back when I was working and designing Mickey's World Tour, writes me and asks me if I'm interested in going on the New York chapter of the AIGA's board, and I didn't know if she knew the history, and I thought I have to tell her 'cause if she finds out after, she might feel like I deceived her, so I sent her to the link and afterwards she said, "You know I still want you to be on our board", and I did and I went on the New York board of AIGA, and then, Sean Adams, the President of all of AIGA, asked me to be President after him of all of AIGA, and here's me with all the boys, thank you Julie I'm glad you're part of us now, and at that moment I decided that I was never ever going to let happen what happened to me if I could help it and that AIGA was gonna be all about inclusivity and connection and that we were all gonna be trying to help each other because if designers can't help each other, who can we help, and so I went to all the chapters and made a promise that I would go to every single chapter of AIGA, there was 60 chapters at that time and I went and I did that and I met the most incredible people and I met somebody named Jim Nissen from the Arizona chapter and he asked me to come and keynote his first ever Phoenix Design Week, which I did in 2009, and when I was there I met Mark Dudlik, and I met a wonderful man named Tanner Woodford, and they asked me if I would be interested in showing my artwork at the Chicago Design Museum that they were putting together, and I did. And for the first time in 20 years, I was showing my artwork again, and somehow inexplicably, I'm still making artwork about potato chips. Now. If that hadn't happened, and that, and that, and that, and that, and that, and that, and that, then not one thing nothing, nothing, nothing I have done since, not one thing would have happened, not one and I would absolutely positively not be standing here in front of you talking about this story, it would never have happened. So the biggest twist on all was being then asked to become the Editor and Creative Director of Print Magazine with Zach Petit, which Gary asked me to do, and so 33 years later, I wanted to work at Vanity Fair, I wanted to work on their Hollywood issue. I created a Hollywood issue for print with my friend, Chip Kidd on the cover, and here are some of the work that's in your bags that you can see of many of the speakers that are here today. And Of course, Mr. Sagmeister goes next after me on stage. I'm his warm up act, so. The longest way round is the shortest way home. Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time. We live in what's now I'm calling the 140 character culture, because we can communicate it quickly, we think everything needs to happen quickly, and it doesn't, we learn the most about ourselves when we are facing adversity, and if we can accept that that adversity is just part of the process, who knows where you're going to end up, I never in a million years would have thought that the worst day of my life would turn out to be the most important. So consider possibilities, consider the possibility that even if you aren't successful doing what you want now, you can make it happen tomorrow. There is always an opportunity to do what you want, and it's only a failure when you accept defeat prior to that, you have hope. And I hope that this story is an example for you to realize and understand that you always have an opportunity and start now, imagine immensity, if not now, When? I wanna leave you with you inspirational quotes, the first from tech entrepreneur Chris Dixon, "If you aren't getting rejected on a daily basis, "then your goals ambitious enough", and then from the burlesque dancer, Dita Von Teese, my favorite quote of all time, "You could be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, "and there is still going to be someone "who hates peaches", thank you very much, thank you so much for being here. (audience applauding)

Class Description

CreativeLive has partnered with HOW Design Live to bring you a selection of keynotes from the 2016 conference in Atlanta!

HOW Design Live is more than a professional conference. It’s an inspiration-packed, global creative gathering guaranteed to open your mind, fuel your soul and power your career. It’s an infusion of creativity and design information and innovation. 

Keynote speakers:
  • Debbie Millman
  • Chip Kidd
  • Julie Anixter
  • Marc Ecko
  • Veronika Scott


Jenn Foy

Debbie Millman is a fantastic speaker and I found her to be inspiring in a fresh way!

Melissa Ridgley

John Cruz