Tag Archives: debbie millman

What Am I Doing? (March 2010)

Debbie Millman

For a few hours last week, I managed to return to the land of graphic design and AIGA when I attended a lecture by Debbie Millman at Adobe SF about Why We Buy and Why We Brand. It was a nice step-back look at the greater design world outside of Zynga and see where I stand in the grand scheme of things.


The new gadget just became available for pre-order two days ago, and I believe I will be getting one. I just haven’t decided which one to get, but I have decided that I will decide after it comes out and hear what other people are saying.

Dreams and Work

I don’t know if this happens at later stages in one’s career, but I find myself re-evaluating my career path more or less on a regular basis as I weed out elements of a career that I don’t enjoy and include those that I do.


Design Lecture: Debbie Millman

Last Thursday, I attended a talk by designer Debbie Millman, who is currently the AIGA president, and so many other great things.

I’ve enjoyed her design-themed online radio show “Design Matters with Debbie Millman” for many years, and I was excited to see her in person and listen to one of her insightful and articulate lectures. I thought she was going to promote her new book, which I was all ready to purchase that evening and probably get it signed. But there were no books or book-signing in sight, and the topic of the evening turned out to be about branding, which ironically, I wasn’t expecting.

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AIGA Design Lecture Series: Debbie Millman on March 4, 2010

A friend of mine twittered a few days ago that he was going to see Debbie Millman of Design Matters and Sterling Brands speak in San Francisco on March 4 at AIGA. Within three minutes, I registered a spot.

Two years ago, I saw Sagmeister speak at the same Adobe office for the same AIGA Design Lecture Series.

While I’m way more of a Sagmeister fan than Debbie’s, I still followed her radio show for many years and admire her insight. Also, Debbie Millman is currently the president of the entire AIGA, so it would be even more exciting to hear what she has to say (aside from promoting her new book, Look Both Ways, of course).

AIGA event information: http://aigasf.org/events/2010/03/04/design_lecture_series_debbie_millman

Debbie Millman’s website: http://www.debbiemillman.com

Registration: $30 for non-AIGA-members, $20 for AIGA members, $15 for students.


Was Math Discovered or Invented?

I just listened to a podcast episode of the Design Matters with Debbie Millman, with guest Natalia Ilyin. This was a particularly interesting episode for me because of the amount of philosophical questions posed, like the time when Jonah Lehrer of Proust Was a Neuroscientist was the guest.


One of the topics they talked about in the beginning was whether humans discovered mathematics, or did they invent it? While there are arguments for both sides and the discussion would go on forever, they pointed out that humans point out relationships of things (such as seeing one planet next to another planet means that there are two planets, hence mathematics! But if you don’t see the relationships of those objects, no math occurs).

Symbols and Answers

Before they started talking about the mathematics topic, Debbie and Natalia discussed the theory that that are two types of people in the world, the kind that asks for meaning in everything in life through symbols and things, and the kind that are, I guess, more objective and follows a specific path and looks for the correct answer and that’s it.

This to me is sort of a left brain, right brain question, and it got me thinking, where do I fit? For a good chunk of my life, I’ve been dedicated to finding the right answer, because math, a favorite subject of mine, typically has one right answer. But at the same time, I’ve been told by some and have realized myself that I often have so many ideas in my head, and that’s where the creativity portion and the practice of graphic design come in.

So I often see myself as being in the middle: I enjoy the creative arts and graphic design, because of the enormous range of possibilities and opportunities, but I also get excited about math and programming, as I am comforted by the fact that following a particular set of direction gets me a particular answer or outcome.

So in situations where I am undecided, which happens often, I reach for the middle ground and ask, “Can’t I be both?” This is why I’m getting comfortable with where I stand right now: sort of one foot in the graphic arts, and the other in web programming. I’d love to do both at the same time, so let’s see how that works out.


Another topic that came up during the interview was the idea of perfection. Natalia believed that perfection is about completeness, and design is really good for people with OCD, because designers usually follow a grid created by modernists a hundred years ago dreaming of creating Utopian societies and no one has since figured out a better way to teach design. I just can’t help but agree and put myself within that group.

There are many other topics that they’ve covered that I do not have time to cover here, such as what “home” really means, and how semiotics affect us. So if you’re a neurotic, and/or math-loving, and/or philosophical type like me, this podcast is worth checking out. The Design Matters podcast is available on iTunes.


Design Matters Season 5 Returns

So Design Matters with Debbie Millman returns with the second half of season five. I honestly don’t know how these “seasons” work, but shouldn’t it be season six? Anywho, there’s talk of a television version. I wonder how that’s going to turn out.

Source: http://www.mediabistro.com/unbeige/people/season_five_of_design_matters_begins_with_allstar_lineup_big_developments_104873.asp


Re: Take Back “Intelligent Design”

I was listening to an episode of Design Matters with Debbie Millman yesterday and the guest, Rick Valicenti, mentioned a project that he did called “Intelligent Design: Creating an Evolved Red Vs. Blue State of Mind” which involved the red and blue states with the Coka vs. Pepsi war with binary codes and presentation. I guess that term could be used for situations like this, where both subjects are in the project.

While searching for that project, I also found a related usage of “intelligent design,” where Adobe did some sort of story of Rick Valicenti and his company Thirst. I guess here the term is used to represent computerized visualization and presentation of data.


Tibor, Steven, Louise, and Debbie: New Additions to the Family

Book spines: Tibor, Stylepedia, How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer

Thanks to a particular financial institution in the world which shall remain anonymous (which is also related to why I haven’t posted in a while: relatives visiting from afar resulting in a decrease of the usual access of my room and computer), I was able to add three books to my Design Library: Tibor Kalman, Preverse Optimist edited by Peter Hall and Michael Bierut; Stylepedia: A Guide to Graphic Design Mannerisms, Quirks, and Conceipts by Steven Heller and Louise Fili; and How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer by Debbie Millman.

Why I Got These Books

Tibor Kalman, Perverse Optimist

I had probably heard about this guy here and there but never really paid attention to it, until I saw this interview of Stefan Sagmeister where he mentioned that he had worked for Kalman and praised him of his work as if he was an influence. And if you haven’t figured it out, I am currently obeying to Sagmeister’s words on design and life, for he seemed like the ultimate “do-gooder” of design ever since I read the Nov 2006 CommArts article on him and his “touch people’s hearts” class. But yeah, I felt that Tibor was Sagmeister’s Sagmeister, so it’s like “doubled the good.”


I heard about this book on Sept. 5 from the Core77’s 2007 Hack-2-School Guide according to my GTD notes. It wasn’t really one of my first choices of books to get, but I couldn’t find any other first-choice books in the store (again, little respect). I figured that it would be a book to acquire once I get the philosophical/conceptual side of design down, when I have more experience in design where I could get more inspiration from this collection of styles. But I guess it’s still good to have around.

How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer

My first choice in this book shopping spree was Debbie’s book, and I was fortunate enough to find it the second (more like fourth) time I looked in the Art section at Borders. (By the way, I feel that not even major bookstores respect design as much as they should.) I heard about it on design blogs about the book release party and on the BADCast when the guys in the Midwest interviewed Debbie about the book. And from how Debbie describes the interview process, it should be pretty interesting to read.

I read the introductory e-mail that was replied to Debbie about the idea for the book, and I feel a little guilty for wanting to buy a book where I am “‘fishing for a recipe for becoming a successful designer’” (Geissbuhler qtd. in Millman 1). But then again, I don’t think it hurts to learn from the masters.

I am glad to have added these three books to my collection free of charge (except for the anonymous financial institution), and I predict a great enrichment of design knowledge for my noggin over the next few months.


P.S. No, I did not steal money from the anonymous financial institution.

P.P.S. Yes, I MLA cited that quote. I am that nerdy.

Advice for Design Students

Cardboard pieces

Now that I’ve posted a couple introductory entries to the blog, I can start talking about real stuff. I’ve been listening to a lot of design podcasts by experienced designers, like Be a Design Cast and Design Matters with Debbie Millman, and from time to time, the topic of design students come up and they talk about any advice that they would give to students. I’m not saying that I can’t benefit from their advice just because I’m not an institutional design student anymore, but there are some things that I myself wish I had learned about and had applied when I was still in school.

With Be a Design Cast and Design Matters being produced by people at different levels of experience, their advice differ a little in terms of what’s important to be a good designer. And I wonder if my advice now would be different as I get more experience in my career. So here are my advice to design students. And maybe I’ll do this every year to see how much more I’ve learned about the profession and wish design students had been exposed to this while they are still in school.

1. Check your GEs and all graduation requirements.

This is a special, bitter one from me. Even though I’m currently enjoying the make-up class of Astronomy this fall and becoming inspired by science and jazz (from the radio on my drive to and from campus), I wish that I was done done when I thought that I was done done. It’s just not worth all the trouble of emailing and registering and freaking out for not taking care of something the first time around. So check with your advisors, both from your major and from the university, because sometimes your major advisor doesn’t check the university requirements (wink wink, my undergrad school).

Action for advice: Talk to all your academic advisors.

2. Learn about history

You should be taught that design is not about making things look pretty. Design should have a reason, and that reason comes from history. History is boring, I know, but it’s still important. If you want, pick the part of history that fascinates you, and learn about that. I went through a phase of being obsessed with the Bauhaus after learning about it in my design history class, and it turns out that a lot of design today derives one way or another from the Bauhaus aesthetics. That’s only one case of history, but without any knowledge in design history, we would not be any more different from the typical individual who uses Gotham or Optima just because “it looks cool.”

Action for advice: Take history courses and learn about specific topics in history that interests you on your own time.

3. Learn about design and the world today

Speaking of history, current events is history. I believe it’s important to look at what’s out there today, what people are doing that are both related and not related to design. Go beyond the MP3 player TV commercials and the blockbuster movie posters and look at architecture, product design, interior design, fashion design, the arts, music, and film from all over the country and the world. Stay in touch with non-design current events, too: economy, politics, social issues, etc. Art and design partly responds to life, and without life, art and design has no direction. When I was still in school, it bothered me a little when some of my classmates were so in their own little bubble that they clearly designed something based on what they personally like or what they think is “cute” or “cool.”

Nowadays there are so many blogs on so many topics; the community of design blogs alone is so huge that I can’t possibly subscribe to and read all of them. With online tools like Twitter (which I use to share interesting sites and info with people), del.icio.us, Digg, and RSS readers, it is now possible to quickly access so many great designs out there and draw inspirations from them. So there should not be any reason to not know about current events and trends to use as an influence in your designs.

Action for advice: Subscribe to blogs and podcasts, read about what well-known designers today are doing, and use del.icio.us to collect things you like.

4. Learn about the business side of design.

This is an advice that I wish I had gotten when I was in school. It’s also an advice that was repeated from both Be a Design Cast and Design Matters. I certainly don’t have a lot of business experience, coming from design. My two-and-a-half cases of experience with the business side of design are 0.5) working with the publishing company representative for my high school yearbook as the Design Editor, 1) designing, printing, and selling Naps Shirts by myself with anyone who wanted a Naps Shirt, and 2) working for a year with on-campus clients at Creative Media as a graphic artist. Even though my last point dealt with clients, I somehow think that that experience is insufficient for real-world business. With my academic schedule in college, I definitely had time to learn about business near the end of my senior year, but I didn’t know that was so important in the real world, so I wasted that time and opportunity to learn about food.

Action for advice: If possible, minor in Business, or at least take one or two classes on anything related to business, just so you know something about business.

5. Get an internship

This is another one that I didn’t get to do. To be honest, I don’t think I had time to take on an internship with my situation because I couldn’t really travel anywhere outside of campus without bumming rides. But I really think that it’s valuable if you have the chance to do it, because once you’re out of college, you’re expected (I assume) to be ready to work with people as if you know what they know about working in a real company. I’m still glad that I had some experience working at Creative Media, but somehow I think that an internship at a “real” company is more valuable to your experience.

Also, it’s better to get an internship in college than after because half of the internships I’ve looked at only offer payment in college credit. What would I do with college credit after I’ve graduated?

Action for advice: Get an internship in the real world if you have your own mode of transportation.

6. Experiment

I am glad that I was fortunate enough to have had an instructor who openly values experimentation. He even had a class dedicated to that. There were not defined products in the curriculum, as long as we explored our creativity. I am happy to have had the chance to take a course like that; now, I wish I could have taken it earlier in my undergrad, because before, almost everything I designed had straight lines with everything aligned, very boxy and very boring. I know that the design of this blog (at the time of this post) is very boxy. But simple, accessible web design is a little different from physical design. And besides, the concept of Flush fits the design. Nonetheless, I’m still experimenting on a couple little things in this blog where I would not have done if I hadn’t developed the heart for experimentation.

Action for advice: When you have the chance with your class assignments, experiment with different approaches to your usual process, and when you have spare time, start your own projects where you explore ideas and perspective other than your own.

7. Enjoy college

This is probably just me, but I always use the excuse of having to finish design projects for not going out and socializing. Every start of the year or quarter, when I had very little schoolwork, I always promised myself to make time to hang out. Then the projects started pouring in, and by the time finals come, I’m stuck at my desk on my computer, perfecting the kerning on a project that’s due right after I get off the bus which is coming in two minutes. Maybe it’s a design major thing, where you can’t really stop. And it’s funny how your non-design friends think design is “fun” and “easy” when in fact it stresses you out because of the fact that design is judged on a color-wheel continuum instead of a black-and-white-solve-for-x answer key, which means you could practically spend all available time making your design better and better until it’s time to print, crop, spray-mount, pin-up, and BS-ly present your reasons for your design decisions. But again, that’s probably just me.

Action for advice: Party.

8. Enjoy your summer(s)

I certainly am enjoying my five-months-and-counting summer vacation. Let’s hope that it doesn’t continue indefinitely.

Action for advice: Enjoy your summers, especially the one after graduation, unless you plan on becoming a teacher.