Debbie Millman might be the nicest person in the profession. That’s not just my opinion—that’s a fact. I’ve heard that sentiment from many people over the years, and I’ve experienced her generosity firsthand. But don’t let that fool you. She’s no pushover. She’s a vocal proponent of using design and branding to create awareness and action for social causes she believes in. She doesn’t just sit on the sidelines observing the world, Millman gets involved and incites action in others. She’s a leader and a fighter.
Whether she’s teaching branding in the graduate program at School of Visual Arts that she cofounded in 2009 with Steven Heller, or interviewing someone for her popular Design Matters podcast, or fulfilling her dual roles as creative director/editorial director at PRINT magazine, she is immersed in the design community, speaking at events all over the world, and serving as an active board member of several organizations. She has also written six books, with more in the works. Her work clearly fuels her soul.
Millman recently left Sterling Brands, where she served as president of the design division for 20 years, working for some of the world’s largest brands. Here we talk to her about her career in branding, the surprise success of her podcast, and what’s next for this adventurous lady.
As someone who’s been immersed in branding for more than 20 years, how have your perceptions changed over the years about brand expectations and limits?
I find the role of branding now incredibly, incredibly exciting. I think that the ultimate goal of the discipline of branding is to reflect the culture in which the brand or the product or the company participates, which evokes a unique composition of sensory perceptions, which in turn create brand tribes. The extension of any one of these sensory perceptions impacts the way we think and act—and the way we perceive the brand or the product or the company. When these perceptions change, people change. I also think movements such as Black Lives Matter, is one of the most important movements to enter our cultural discourse in a long time. Design has finally become democratized, and these efforts are not about anything commercial. They have not been created for any financial benefit. Read the full interview here.