Maurice Cherry and Debbie Millman
The first of the #ShareTheMicNow episodes is an intimate and honest conversation between design industry icons Maurice Cherry and Debbie Millman about the state of the world, their work, what’s going on with some of the design organizations, and much more.
Maurice is a pioneering digital creator who is most well-known for his award-winning podcast Revision Path which was launched in 2013 with over 350 in-depth interviews with Black designers, developers, and digital creatives from all over the world. It was the first podcast to be added to the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Debbie was “one of the most creative people in business” by Fast Company, and is an author, educator, curator and host of the podcast Design Matters which one of the world’s first and longest-running podcasts having interviewed nearly 500 artists, designers and cultural commentators over the past 14 years. In 2009 Debbie co-founded the world’s first graduate program in branding at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
Maurice Cherry 2:44
All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.
Hi, Maurice. My name is Debbie Millman and I am a designer and author and educator and host of the podcast design matters.
Now one thing that I’ve been asking everybody One that I’ve talked to pretty much this year pretty much since March is how are you holding up during this time of quarantine?
Debbie Millman 3:08
Oh, good question. Big Question. Up and down. I moved to Los Angeles to be with my fiance. In March. She and I have been in a long distance relationship since our relationship began several years ago. And we decided back in early March that it was probably better for me to come to Los Angeles than her to come to New York, we’d have more space in Los Angeles and more sunshine. So I came here mid March, and at the time, she said back for two weeks, four months, but on the one hand, it’s been really extraordinary to be with her every day we’re together 24 seven and have really moved into a very different aspect of our relationship which is been excited. Ordinarily wonderful for me. And I’m loving being with her so much. On the other hand, it’s been really hard to see what’s going on in the world. And it was also hard on a on a very sort of molecular level for me to move from New York City where I’ve been my whole life to the west coast where I’ve never lived. I’ve actually never been outside of New York. For the amount of time I’ve been outside of New York now in my entire life, and I’m nearly 59. So that’s a lot. And it was also hard to move. My graduate program that I have in school visual arts, which is a very intensive five day week in person experience to a completely online experience. And that was a real learning curve for me because I’m a bit of a Luddite, so to have to manage, just technologically aside from all the emotional stuff just technologically managing zoo. And canvas and slack. I mean, there was moments where I was projectile crying because I couldn’t figure it out. And you know, being in a different time zone and scheduling meetings for the wrong time and you know, all that ridiculous stuff. But now I’m I’m really happily settled in Los Angeles and watching the world burn down and then making stuff in ways that I think are necessary, but also just having to deal with the politics because I just can’t handle who was leaving our country and how he’s leaving our country and it’s so disruptive and so dangerous that that’s been just completely devastating.
Maurice Cherry 5:48
Debbie Millman 5:50
So yeah, short answer.
Maurice Cherry 5:54
I guess, you know, I’ll ask Have you kind of gotten a rhythm down now like what is what is a typical They like for you.
Debbie Millman 6:01
Yeah, I have gotten a rhythm down. Well, one of the things that I started doing when I got to Los Angeles was making a garden. And I had started just a little sort of container garden in Roxanne’s backyard about a year or so ago. And then when I got here full time, we started to create a vegetable garden. And so I do that every day. And we have this extraordinary vegetable garden with tomatoes and cucumbers, two kinds of cucumbers, Japanese cucumbers and lemon cucumbers, and two kinds of tomatoes and two kinds of lettuces and radishes and carrots and peppers and string beans and snow peas, and we’re starting to get corn and lemons and limes and Satsuma oranges that are growing. So that’s been for the first time of my life and I’m doing something I’ve never done in the past. I’ve been before. So that’s been amazing. We’re both night owls. So we stay up to like meticulously late hours, talking, reading, watching TV. And so I get up usually around nine o’clock or so, and spend some time in the garden and have a lot of meetings and do some writing, do some artwork. I’ve been doing some really interesting projects, which I’m really happy about. And then most of the afternoon is spent online with my students in the program. My students don’t graduate until the middle of July. So right now we’re like deep in thesis, and Roxanne cooks almost every day. And so that’s been amazing. We’ve dinner every night together and doing my podcast and just trying to keep busy but also have enough space to be thinking and reading and educating myself a lot on what’s happening in the world with the deconstruction of some of the white supremacist miles that we’ve been living in and trying to understand the history and just doing a lot of reading and learning and talking with Roxanne about it
Maurice Cherry 8:13
has been such a while. It sounds like it’s been a big departure just from the way things were prior to this one. I think that’s kind of a shared grief that that we all have. You know, we were all like I know I had so many plans, January before all this was going on. And then Coronavirus happened. Well, the Coronavirus had been happening prior to that, but it made its way to the United States and then lockdown procedures and then I just ended up canceling everything for the year because I felt like even if things started to reach some level of normalcy, it was just going to take a while for everyone to get on board in general. And I think what we’re seeing now with cases rising and states going back into lockdown procedures that we’re in this for the It seems,
Debbie Millman 9:01
yeah, I mean, it’s terrifying. My brother is a doctor and works in with geriatric patients. And so most of the work that he does is in nursing homes. So he’s seen the destruction very early on. And he’s been keeping me posted on what’s happening, and it’s just terribly, terribly sad. It’s just devastating and to hear how we are treating our elders. You know, I think that a lot of ways the way we treat the elders in our countries is very much indicative of how badly we treat people in a lot of ways and how much death there is, in nursing homes is is just outrageous. It’s just outrageous. I have my brother got very sick as well, he’s, he’s better now. Thank goodness, but he did get sick as well.
Maurice Cherry 9:57
Some of the projects that you’re doing, can you talk a little bit about what those are like when I go to your website, I know you have writing and branding and books and commentary. What sort of
Debbie Millman 10:08
projects are you doing now? Well, I’ve been doing a number of different pro bono projects. And I was doing some work for something called merge aid which is to help small businesses that have had to close because of COVID raise money through customized merchandise. And and I know that so I did work for the story bookshop, which is in Queens, I did pro bono work to help communicate being together but apart for COVID for poster house, and I do work on two boards, which I do a lot of work for. One of them is the joyful heart Foundation, and that was started in 2004 by Mariska Hargitay who’s the star of long order SBU. And when she first started the show, she started getting letters from people SBU is stands for Special Victims Unit. It’s about sexually based crimes. And so she started to get a lot of letters from people that had been the victim of these crimes. And so she started a foundation to help eradicate domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. And so I got involved with that organization first through another organization called no more, which was a consortium of a group of different nonprofits that were all working to try to end sexual violence. And so I did the branding of no more with Christine Mao, who at the time was the design director at Kimberly Clark, and then through that experience was invited to help joyful heart and so I started working with him as well we positioning and redesigning their identity, and then ask was asked to join the board. Probably about three months. I’m more like five years ago at this point. And now I’m the chair of the board. And so the primary work that we’re doing now is to eradicate the rape kit backlog in the country, which is also quite egregious. And so that’s I do that that work. And then I also am working with an organization in New York called performance based New York, which was started by artists, squatters back in the 80s. And then were able to get a long term lease for the work. And so performance space is all about bringing new work to the world. And it’s all about very much more experimental, sort of cutting edge performance. So I do a lot of that. I spend a lot of time working on both of those boards and trying to raise money and just try to keep them going and do some good in the world. And I have my program at the School of Visual Arts and that takes a lot of time. To 10 and a half month program, graduate program on branding. And then I’m doing my podcast as best as I can, which also was technologically really challenging. And several months ago, well, almost a year ago, I think at this point, Steve Heller, Laura dissin, Fon Deb Baldrige in Andrew Gibbs and Jessica, SEO and I all came together to acquire print magazine out of bankruptcy, which had gone dark. And so I’ve been working on helping to relaunch that. And when I’m doing quite quite a bit of writing, and I’m doing a series of videos right now, for Ted, the TED conference, one online this year. And so I was commissioned to do four little visual stories. I’ve been doing visual stories on my website on my Instagram for about the last year or so. And so I was commissioned to do four of those. And so the first one was on gardening, the second one One was on New York City. The third one was on travel. And now this last one is on community. And so that’ll be coming out next week. And then I think I’ll go up on the TED website. I’m really proud of this work. It’s a whole new body of work for me. And I’m really excited about about starting this sort of new thing.
Maurice Cherry 14:20
Well, I gotta say, if there’s anybody that’s making the best out of their quarantine time, it’s, you
Debbie Millman 14:25
know, the nice thing about it, as well as being in one place for so long is that I really been diligent with my therapy.
Maurice Cherry 14:34
I mean, my goodness, I mean, I’m thinking like, everyone has 24 hours in a day, but you’ve managed to really get a lot out of it if you’re doing I mean, imagine not doing all of this every day, but this is a lot to,
Debbie Millman 14:46
to kind of have them at one time. I don’t have children. We don’t have children. We both love to work side by side. So we you know, we spend a lot of time doing parallel working as I call it, and and it’s none of it feels laborious. You know, it all feels really important and work that I have my whole heart in. So I feel lucky in that regard.
Maurice Cherry 15:08
Let’s talk about print magazine. You mentioned parent company had filed for bankruptcy. And then you and Steve etc, had sort of bought it rescued it, you know, from bankruptcy
Debbie Millman 15:18
I it wasn’t just me and Steve. So what happened was Steve and I wanted to I had been trying so I was the editorial and creative director for several years 2015 to 17, something like that. And then when they when when the owners decided to stop publishing the printed edition, I resigned because I felt like they were just not respecting the legacy and the heritage of what I consider to be a national treasure and a lot of ways because I sort of saw the the writing on the wall, I asked if there would be any chance that I could acquire the magazine and initially they they seem to consider the possibility really seriously I was very excited. And that was just me by myself. And And part of what I was trying to do at the time, I had never ever accepted ads. Well, I shouldn’t say never ever. I hadn’t accepted ads for design matters in probably over a decade, and decided that I would start accepting ads so that I could, in some ways, Rob Peter to pay Paul, I wanted to raise money for the magazine. And so I started doing that. And then and they sort of led me on a bit I have to say they, you know, we met we started to talk about what kind of numbers and and then just when I got really excited, they were like, Nope, sorry, we don’t want to sell it. And they gave me all kinds of bizarre and untrue reasons as to as to why but they actually offered to let me buy the print magazine, but not the URL or the social media. So I’m like, wait a minute, what what are you asking? And so and that was that, and then they they tried to keep it going and it obviously wasn’t working. And so maybe a year went by and at that point, I was starting to think about creating my own magazine and actually had bought a URL and commissioned Louise feely to create a logo. And Steve and I were going to do this was that Pettit, who was the former editor in chief, and we made like pretty serious inroads. And then Betty, so a year later, and probably a month before we were going to launch our magazine, they came back to us and said, oh, we’re, we’re interested put in your best offer. At that point. I put in an offer never heard back. And then I was talking to Laura desk and fondant and Deb Baldrige helped me with advertising for design matters. And they said something about oh, we hear that print magazine is back on the block with we’re thinking about putting in a bid and I’m like, really soon. If Steve and I are too and so then we heard that Andrew Gibbs and Jessica decile from the dye line were also putting in a bid. And so we all decided to get together and do it together. And that’s what we did. So it was really three I don’t know if there were more parties that were interested it’s very possible that we’re but we didn’t have that information. So the the three parties Andrew and Jessica, who were from the dye line, Laura and Deb from DNA, and Steve and I, we pooled our resources and and we bought it at a bankruptcy which is a miracle.
Maurice Cherry 18:37
And recently the site relaunch as a brand new design and everything Yeah, what can what can people expect from from the new print? Would you call it the new print? Um, no, I
Debbie Millman 18:47
think it’s that would, it’s, it’s still very much you know, we have all of the we’re trying to get all the archives available, I would say it’s, it’s a newish because I want to respect Where it’s come from, but clearly, we intend to make our own imprint in on it. I mean, I’m hoping at some point we can bring back a print magazine, but right now we don’t have, you know, the funds to be able to do that. But hopefully we’ll be able to raise it really want to try to bring a lot more diversity a lot more relevancy to what we’re doing. And we’re working really hard on that, and, and bring new voices to the world, while respecting where where the brand came from.
Maurice Cherry 19:33
What do you think about the state of design media as it is now?
Debbie Millman 19:38
Well, I don’t know if I’m really qualified to talk about that only because I don’t know everything that’s out there.
Maurice Cherry 19:44
Um, I think you have a good idea, though, right. Between, I mean, between your podcasts and print magazine, that’s like 60% Media right now in terms of, you know, output and importance. You know,
Debbie Millman 19:58
I think I think that there’s a lot of really Great podcasts out there. I mean, I think and I think that this isn’t reckoning that everybody has to have right now is, you know how wait is everything. And you know, years and years ago, somebody wrote to me out of the blue somebody that I didn’t know and she had taken a tally of the diversity on design matters and called me to task for it and she was right. I tried to make an effort ever since that I try to bring as many voices to the table as possible and really be aware of, of my whiteness and trying to be really, really cognizant of, of bringing diversity to my show. And it’s hard. You know, I got criticized last year for not bringing enough Asian voices to design matters. So it’s, you know, I’m trying as hard as I can initially, when I first started design matters. It was before I was out, you know, I had, I was trying to bring more more women’s voices and then when I came out, I was trying to bring more LGBTQ voices. And now I’m trying to bring as many black and brown voices as I can to the show. And so I’m trying to keep my my responsibility really clear, and try to lead by example, if I can do the best that I can. I’m not I’m definitely not doing the enough. I’m definitely not doing enough, but I’m trying every day to do more. And as far as the state of the design media, it’s it’s historically been all white, all male, all straight. And I think that it’s slowly changing, but it’s not changing fast enough, and I’m doing what I can to make a difference in my way. And I know it’s not enough, but I’m trying to do more every day.
Maurice Cherry 21:48
That’s so interesting that you get you’re getting like criticism in terms of the diversity of guests. I mean, I think that’s a that’s a fair assessment, but it’s one of those things where I mean, like, I get criticism for revision paths all the time. Usually, it’s, uh, why don’t you have more Latin x voices? I’m like, because it’s, and we’ve had, you know, Afro Latin x folks on the show. So it’s not like, I’m neglecting that. But it’s tough because sometimes audiences just want to see themselves reflected in the media that they like. And oftentimes, you know, depending on what that media is, that’s just not. I would say, it’s not a possibility, but it’s, I don’t know, it’s difficult. I mean, I don’t know how you structure your show how you find guests, like what makes for like a good design matters guests, but I would imagine that probably also falls into, you know, kind of making sure that you respect the diversity that people are calling for you to have on the show, right?
Debbie Millman 22:42
Yeah, I mean, I started the show with with very little with no expertise. I mean, it wasn’t even I think the word had just been invented when I started and I was doing it as a sort of Hail Mary in my life. At the time, I felt like all of the work I was doing was commercial. I felt that I was beginning to lose my creative soul. And started design matters really as a as a creative endeavor, self generated creative endeavor that could help me find my creative spirit again. And at the time it was very inside baseball designers talking to designers over the years, it’s evolved to a show it’s evolved a lot. It evolves all the time, because I think that is what keeps things fresh and interesting. You know, I didn’t even have a logo for the for the show for the first 10 years or so, mostly because I wasn’t considering it and an endeavor that needed to be branded. Aaron Chaplin gave me logos when he came on this show, because he’s like, Debbie, it’s really time to get a logo. And I didn’t I didn’t use his logos because they didn’t feel like sort of me but I appreciated them and talk about them a lot. But
Maurice Cherry 23:54
I think I think all of droplets logos or just him in different in different iterations. different sort of, you know, permutations of future abode or something. But
Debbie Millman 24:04
yeah, but they were really wonderful. And then this just started to evolve. I wanted to interview more than just designers i. So now in an effort to try to keep the show making sense, I’ve tried to re engineer the purpose as the world’s most incredibly creative people talking about the design of their lives. And so I get criticism a lot about that, too. You know, I thought this was a design show. Why aren’t you talking to designers? That’s when you put work out in the world you’re always always going to get criticized because that’s just the nature of the world. Some people love it. Some people hate it when you change some people love it. Some people hate it. I net you know, and now that I’m with Roxanne, you know, I get I get hate mail about some of the diversity on my show. And that’s just too fucking band.
Maurice Cherry 24:55
Your hay bale, huh?
Debbie Millman 24:58
First time in my life. I’ve been getting yeah wow yeah
Maurice Cherry 25:02
I’m I’m very surprised to hear that only because I’ve been getting hate mail for years but I’m surprised I mean what do people say and I’m not trying to go down this negative road but I’m just your your podcast has been such a mainstay not just in the design industry but in the podcasting industry as well. I can’t imagine what people would be trying to I don’t know you tell me what’s
Debbie Millman 25:24
Oh, just racial slurs about me being gay about me being with an African American woman just terrible things about me being Jewish. In Wow, yeah. Yeah.
Maurice Cherry 25:41
Debbie Millman 25:44
I know it’s what are you waiting for?
Maurice Cherry 25:48
I was not expecting that. Oh, my goodness. Yeah. How has it been just in general though, during the show, like in quarantine terrible.
Debbie Millman 25:59
house Oh, Well, I used to do my show in a beautiful, tiny little studio at the School of Visual Arts. So it was really intimate. I get to look at the person deep into their eyes. It’s a very sacred experience for me. I have generally turned down most interviews when people can’t do them in person, because I feel that the work I do really requires sitting in front of someone face to face to two feet apart, you know, and now that’s just not possible. And I was trying to do the show through zoom, and had all sorts of technical difficulties. Now I’m trying Zen caster, which means I can’t look at the person. Yeah. So you know, and I was thinking, well, maybe I just won’t do the show until we can get back together. But then I was getting a lot of email, please do the show. We’re missing the show. And, you know, I get a lot of email about the show. So I hear from people very, very regularly and so people really seem to want me to do it so I one time I didn’t record my get myself really well with the guests that I had she sounded great but my I had a backup recording going on my iPhone, we had to use the backup recording. It’s really hard to do a podcast when the first you know, the 15 minutes before you go and go on the air. You’re like weeping because the technology will cooperate. As you can probably tell, I cry a lot.
Maurice Cherry 27:33
How have you kind of seen podcasting change over the years? I mean, you started what I think what now it’s, what 15 years ago, right? Yeah.
Debbie Millman 27:41
2005 Oh my god. It’s changed from people not knowing what it was to know everybody knowing what it is in rolling their eyes when they hear you do one
another, the world needs another podcast. Like No, I’ve been doing it since the beginning. So
Maurice Cherry 28:00
So with the show kind of, you know, taking this place in design history, and it certainly sounds like, I mean, one just from the mail that you’re getting good and bad, but it sounds like there’s certainly an obligation. Like, I feel like you, you have a really strong obligation to the audience to make sure that you’re representing them. How do you make sure that you’re still represented in the show?
Debbie Millman 28:23
I don’t know. Actually, I think that I’m always represented in the show, just because I always in there, and I and that’s my voice. So I do take it really, I take that responsibility really, really seriously. But I don’t really worry about being represented just because I think that that’s just sort of an intrinsic part of it. Since it’s my voice. I become less interested in maintaining the status quo with my show in terms of you know, I’m if I want to evolve it from just Design in a sort of classic graphic design sense. And then I’m going to do that. I talk well, you know what, now that I’m thinking out loud, you know, I’m very represented, if you just look at the topics that I talked about now, I’m, we talk about politics, we talk about sexual violence, we talk about race, we talk about economics, equality, I mean, these are the things that I’m passionate about. So I do think that they are very well represented in in the questions that I asked him to people I invite to be on the show.
Maurice Cherry 29:35
Yeah, that’s something when when I was doing well, I’m still the revision path. But certainly when I think right around the time, Trump was elected in 2016. I felt like that was the first time that I felt my show, kind of take a shift. Because I mean, leading up to that we had been talking to designers and developers, etc. But there was certainly this event that had happened. The world really in the United States, but it has, you know, world ranging repercussions. And it was something that neither I or the guests could escape when we started talking. So I think it was the week of Election Day. Yeah. And I had an episode that I was doing with. Interestingly enough, I did it with this young woman, her name was Maya Patterson, she’s, she’s my gold. Now she’s a product designer at twitter. But at the time, she was working at trunk club in Chicago. And we, you know, we had an interview already scheduled, and I was thinking, how am I going to put this on the calendar for later on, because we started talking and we just went right into politics. And we just talked about, like, how are we feeling and what’s the state of things right now. And we still discussed her work and everything, but it was very much a it just happened of the moment and we ended up putting it out as a bonus episode. It’s one of our highest ranking highest or most downloaded episodes, but it’s something that you know, at That point, I felt a shift because you probably can can attest to this too, you know, everything that we deal with in the world is designed through some lens of design. And I think if there’s anything that the past four years have shown us is that design is a crucial tool that can be used to misinform a lot of people. And, you know, whether it’s it’s ads on Facebook, or doctored videos, or photoshopped images, etc. I mean, design is now or it has been sort of weaponized in a way. And it’s used to foment discussion, discord and a number of different things. So I end up working in into the show, like we’ll talk about things that happen in the news as they happen. Of course, we talked about the pandemic. We’ve talked about the protests that have happened and we still try to wrap it up into what we do as designers and what we do out in the world because it’s all a part of the world that we live in. Absolutely, absolutely. And I do feel
Debbie Millman 32:02
that I have a responsibility to talk about things that really matter and make a difference. And, you know, years and years and years and years ago, back when I was writing for speak up for Arman bits website, I had written about how, as writers, we can talk about making a difference, or we can make a difference. And when I started the show, I found that phrase, because Don Hancock of fire belly, had used it in a speaker poster contest, and I didn’t even know that I’d said it. And then you know, I found where I said it and decided that that really did represent what I felt was important for us as as communicators. And so we started using that phrase at the end of every show, we can talk about making a difference, a difference, we can make a difference or we can do both. I just changed it and no one’s noticed it yet. Because it’s just been, I think two episodes, but I changed it to, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference. And we can do both. Because I think we have to, and that and means that we have to do it wherever we show up and however we’re communicating. And, and for me, you know, I’ve grappled pretty much my whole life with wanting to make a difference, but mostly because I felt like I didn’t matter and that was a way for me to try to buoy up some sense of meaning and feeling like it had some sort of purpose and I still grapple with that a lot and to feel like I have a place where I can tangibly show up and and maybe provide a point of view that can help someone or can enlighten someone or entertain someone you know that for me, that that’s where I guess as you asked before I bring my my voice or my whole self to To me,
Maurice Cherry 34:01
yeah, it’s it’s amazing how especially now during this time when, you know, so many of us are inside, and we’re reading more listening more, etc, how a podcast can almost become like this really intimate audience of one in a way. It’s you and the person that’s listening. And so you don’t even want to think about how I do for revision path. I mean, what keeps me coming back, at least right now, is that knowing that on the other side of the microphone, not just the person whom I’m interviewing, but the person who might be listening later on, like, we’re creating that safe space, that connection, that they may not be able to get any other place. Right.
Debbie Millman 34:41
And also, when you’re listening to something, and again, I’m just thinking out loud right now, but I think that there’s something really interesting about hearing an idea in your ears in your head. Yeah. And and not having anyone else weigh in on the validity of that idea. And so if it’s You haven’t thought about before, you know, maybe you’ll take it more seriously, because there’s no peer pressure, there’s no sense of what it means to reconsider something that you hadn’t considered before. Or to reconsider an idea that you had, then that might not be the best idea for for the world. So, you know, I do think you do have an opportunity to share vulnerabilities and ideas and a point of view and, and and also and challenge people in a way that might be you know, safer so to speak. Although slight, I roll with that word.
Maurice Cherry 35:39
I want to shift gears here a little bit and talk about design organizations. Of course, I’ve done my research and I think everyone who knows the work that you’ve done knows that at one point you were president of AI ga one of only five women presidents of the organization and this last month or so has been in Interesting for design organizations
Debbie Millman 36:03
word I’m trying to be
Maurice Cherry 36:05
I’m trying to be kind.
Yeah, well, it’s been an interesting time. Well, I think there is, you know, at one, in one stage there is this reckoning of the history of the organizations and what they may have contributed to in terms of the design industry. But then we’ve also seen, at least at least what I’ve seen on Twitter and have not tried to get involved with but we’ve seen like these dust ups that have happened most particularly I’m talking about AI GA, I’m talking about type directors club, I could speak about both objectively not being a member of either one of them. So as it as it kind of relates to the modern designer, do you think that organizations like these are still relevant? And if not, how can they be more relevant?
Debbie Millman 36:51
I don’t know, Maurice. And you know, I was on the board the New York Chapter, The New York chapter board for two years. Before I joined the national board, I joined the national board I think in 2006 and was became president in 2009 was president until 2011. I’m not a member right now, I haven’t been a member for some time. I was given the medal last year. my remarks for were getting forgiving the metal word. Were very important to me what I said, I shared sort of my full experience. My experience with AIG has been high highs and low lows. Hmm. You know, I joined the organization back in the early well maybe knows, I think the late 90s and was so excited because this is where all the designers were, you know, this this was where the, the the creme de la creme was. This was where the legends hung out. And I joined and was part of what was then a brand experience group, which I was very excited about because I had been done To find community and here was something that was seemed like the Venn diagram between graphic designers and brand designers. And I did that for two years, I was on the board of this little group. And then when it came time to be be on the board again, everybody had to be re voted and I got I got rejected and sort of kicked to the curb because my work was deemed too traditional. And I was super devastated because I had enjoyed being part of that so much. And then 2003 I so after I got kicked off the off the board work were faded. And then executive director asked me to participate as adjure in the 2003 design annual, which I did and was very excited and really honored to be part of that. And that didn’t go that well. Again, I was criticized for the kind of work that I was doing at the time, you know, branding, and then when that annual came out, the anti AIG errs, saw that My name was in the book and my work was in and the credentials that were there were like the Burger King logo and I think the Star Wars identity we had done to the packaging for Star Wars Episode Two Attack of the Clones. And so then I got a lot of hatred online about me being a corporate clown and big big I had sold out and I was like, You guys don’t know what you’re talking about. I got kicked to the curb. I’m not I’m not an AI da or by any means. So there’s been a lot of history there for me with some online I guess you’d call it bullying but it you know, at the time, that wasn’t the word, but it was it felt very, very painful to me to have variances called a sheet devil. But then they ajira started to reach out Emily Oberman, who was the then president at the New York chapter invited me to be on the New York board. And I’m like, do you know history here if I didn’t know I didn’t want to tell her at first because I thought she might take that The invitation. But then she said, Oh, no, we know and that’s why we want you. And so then I got back involved with a IGA. And then big time I then moved to the National Board then became president. And anybody that knows me well knows that my two years as president were the heart two of the hardest professional years that I had. It was so difficult. I can’t even describe how difficult it was. What made it difficult, differing opinions.
I don’t think I had one board meeting where people didn’t fight where I didn’t leave the board meeting, feeling completely crushed. It was very hard. The part of the IGA that I think is remarkable are the chapters and the chapter energy. And because of how much difficulty I had, feeling so excluded from AIG for so long. When I became president, I made a promise that I would visit every chapter that existed at that point. And I just went on the road and visited as many chapters, I think I visited over 50 chapters, and met with everyone I could. And my my goal at the time was to be as inclusive as possible, and to build the web presence online with social media. And I spent a lot of time trying to improve the way that we communicated on Twitter. But you know, this was 2009 2010 2011. And hga had a really big following on Twitter. And so I felt like that was an important place to show up. And I did, I tried my very best part of the one of the things that I felt was really important with the IGA when I was president was to embrace the student population. I don’t know if people know this, but about half of the members of AIG are students, and I felt that they were underserved. And so I also spent a lot of time working With student chapters and visiting student chapters and talking to students, and that’s always been something I’m interested in. I mean, that’s why I teach as well. But in terms of what’s happening now, I mean, I’m not surprised when I left as President. I was supposed to have an additional year on the board, but gave that up so that they could bring another woman on the board, which shouldn’t have had shouldn’t have had to happen. I wanted another woman president to follow me. I wasn’t able to make that happen, because I didn’t have the power to do that. So I left feeling very unresolved that a lot of the work that I had done, I wasn’t able to do the way I wanted to do. There were a lot of questions about diversity that I felt. Even the board was pushing back against. People were concerned about being tokens. And I felt that it was important to have a very clear point of view about needing to have diversity And they were concerned that that conversation had passed. And I’m like, Are you kidding? And so there were fights. There were fights, there were outright fights. I mean, I remember Bennett PEGI crying at my first board meeting, because of he felt that the work that he was doing in diversity might go away. And I didn’t want it to and someone else felt that, you know, that conversation had passed, and I’m like, it hasn’t even started. Yeah, so it’s been really challenging. I saw what was happening online. I was very upset about what was happening. No one had reached out to me and no one has reached out to me. No one at that point had reached out to me since I got the medal. So I wasn’t clearly being invited to the conversation. And then Christine Taylor reached out to me and we had a very long talk, and I was very excited. The next day, I was invited to a town hall that they were having about diversity and inclusion, and was really, Maurice I can’t even begin to tell him like you Yay, they’re bringing me back in I Roxanne was excited. We were going to sit and listen together. She had been at the middle of presentation when I got it last year. So she was very aware of of how involved I’d been in the organization. And then about seven minutes before the meeting, I got disinvited. And my zoom link was canceled as if I was going to try to go in any way as a bad girl. I was just devastated by that. I was devastated. And I did something that I maybe don’t know that was the right thing to do. I went to Twitter. I’m like,
Maurice Cherry 44:31
well, that’s the thing. Now people go to Twitter to air their grievances. And it worked. I mean, they paid attention
Debbie Millman 44:37
to attention. And I got a whole slew of phone calls. But nothing has happened since then. And I hope it does. I still hope it does. I’d love to be involved. I’d love to help. But nothing that’s happened since then. And I’m not surprised but I’m still I’m still hopeful, Maurice because I do you think that if anything, we have an obligation as designers There’s to be more inclusive. And if hga has 20,000 members, then there’s some power to make that happen. And, and it’s necessary. And you know, I can tell you firsthand. Now, I’m a conventional, conventionally looking white woman. And now that I have been in a relationship with an African American woman, I can tell you firsthand how much racism she encounters on a daily basis, going into a store being followed around being treated in a different way than I do when people don’t know where together and I see it firsthand. So I feel it firsthand. And so I know how much work needs to be done. And I’m here to help do it if I can. But if anybody thinks that that conversation is past I will say it again, the conversation is not started.
Maurice Cherry 46:01
Yeah. The I’m not surprised by any of that with hga, none of that none of that surprised me just in terms of the the way that they’ve acted and the way that certain, I don’t know, I find that chapters are kind of much better to deal with then dealing with headquarters in general. I’ve always said that AIG is only as strong as its weakest chapter. I do believe that Atlanta might be its weakest chapter. But that’s I wouldn’t say I’m sort of biased cuz I live in Atlanta, but I just have had instances where like, Look, I can do work for national. I don’t necessarily want to do it for the chapter. But even you know, when you’re mentioned about the town hall, like I won the Stephen Heller prize in 2018. Yeah. 2018 and went to the gala. Yeah. And I remember I was, I mean, first of all, I was just extremely excited about it. Read of the tux went to New York and everything like that. That was fun. The next month, I had brought Aldi Miller actually had brought her to AIG headquarters and me and her and Juliana sister like sat down and had a long conversation for two hours. For folks that don’t know Juliana is the former executive director of IGA. And that summer I had actually been going to different chapters, just you know, talking about diversity and inclusion stuff talking about things with a vision path. I went to a big A Portland, I went to a big a Philly. And it was maybe later on in the year, like around September or so. And I was, you know, I had gotten a new debit card. So I was going to all my online memberships and swapping out the numbers and I go to a IGA and saw that my membership had been canceled. I was I cancelled what happened. And I go and check the dates. And it’s 10 days after I got the Stephen Heller prize, they canceled my membership. I didn’t get a phone call. I get a postcard. I didn’t get any sort of communication to say, hey, something’s going on with your membership or whatever. Have you? And it had me thinking like, Oh, well Should I re up. But then I really had to think about like the three years that I put in on the DNI Task Force and how we had to fight tooth and nail for everything. I mean, even the smallest little mention of something on the website took five or six meetings, and there was just so much red tape that we had to cut through. And I mean, we were all volunteers, like none of us are getting paid to do this. We do this because we, we know what the organization is about. We’re passionate about diversity and inclusion. And we were just kind of getting talked to like the help, essentially. And I put in three years, which really was two years was one year longer than I should have been on. I was there for two years, and I stayed on an additional year to help out with a transition and leadership and a new structure for the DNI Task Force. But once that happened, then I was like, should I renew at AI ga and I really had to think about where I was, as a modern designer, like I had my own studio. At this point, I had my studio for eight years. And I was thinking, what is AI really doing for me as a professional designer at this point in my career, it’s not with networking, because I could do that through my show. I mean, what 10% off Shutterstock Whoo, that’s, that’s great. That’s not really anything that I’m really that passionate about, you know. And it even wasn’t the meetings. I mean, I would go to meetings at my local chapter, and they were okay. But I never felt like I was being filled and sustained and really a part of a larger community. I mean, even going to those meetings was a super diverse in Atlanta. Like, I would go to these meetings and still be one of the few black designers there is ridiculous. So I just didn’t read up and I didn’t make a big stink about it. I think I might have made a mention on Twitter. I think I might have said I was gonna renew and then I decided not to. And then AJ, of course, jumped in my mentions, and we’re like, Oh, that’s so sorry. Well, you should have gotten an email. Well, I didn’t. So that’s that. I still end up getting involved. IGA things because I know a lot of people there and people seek me out for, you know, just counsel etc. But I don’t know if a IGA really has a place right now with the modern designer, especially when I think about the different types of design that really IGA is historically hasn’t really made space for fit. AJ has kind of been a traditional graphic design Prince type of an organization in terms of the type of design that it recognizes and showcases. But if you’re a UX designer or product designer, or something like that, it can be hard to look at AJ and think, where am I, in this organization? Like how do I, as a modern designer at a company in Silicon Valley, where do I fit in with such a traditional stay at design organization?
Debbie Millman 50:48
I think that’s reflected in the name you know, the American Institute, graphic designers were Sophia more. So I think that I do think that there’s I mean, I, I love communities. I love feeling like I’m part of something bigger than myself. And I love being able to work collectively. I think that there’s something really special about that. So I do think it would be wonderful if there was some collective or cooperative or community where people can come together and learn and be inspired by each other. But I think that that whole model does need to be redesigned.
Maurice Cherry 51:26
Yeah, I think so. Absolutely. Now that you’ve kind of reached this point in your career, I’m curious, what deals Have you made with yourself to maintain the level of success that you currently have? Oh,
Debbie Millman 51:41
that’s a that’s a big question. Assuming that you know, I feel successful.
Maurice Cherry 51:47
Do you feel successful? Not really, I feel
Debbie Millman 51:49
I you know, I, I think that for a long time in my life I was trying to achieve in order to feel better about myself. And, and that comes from, you know, a really rough childhood and feeling like, again, you know, I didn’t matter. And so over the years of of therapy and a lot of introspection and work and so forth, you know, I’ve come to realize that no matter how successful and I have quotes around that word, you might seem, you know, if you don’t feel a certain way inside, it’s never gonna be enough, you end up just being in a sort of bottomless pool of need. And so I’ve been working a lot on on what that means and how to really have a full life within without external achievement. But then I also have been doing a lot of thinking about what it means to to do your best work. And I’ve quoted this before from when one of my shows I interviewed David Lee Ross, the former frontman of the band, Van Halen, and I asked him in our interview what it felt like to be The biggest rock and roll band in the 80s you know, that was it, you know, they were, they were the, you know, they were all over MTV, they were all over the media all over the press and seem to have everything that one could ever want if you were a pop star, or rock star, and you know the literal words. And I asked him what that felt like, you know what it feels like to be the biggest rock star on the planet. And he said something to me that I think about I think every day, and he said, You know, when you reach the top of the mountain, there’s really a couple of things that are pretty universal, you’re almost always alone. It’s always cold, and there’s only one direction to go. And I’ve thought about that a lot. You know, what does it mean to peak? What does it mean to have your best work behind you? And I don’t want to peak I don’t want to peak you know, I don’t think nothing peaked. You know, Milton was still working about a month or so before he got ill. Really, really And I’d like to feel that I was contributing and making things that felt like they mattered, you know, for the rest of my life. So, I mean, I feel lucky, which is a word that I never would have used to describe myself. I do feel very, very, very lucky. But I also feel like there’s a lot of work to be done and a lot of things that I still want to do. So that’s sort of what I think about. If you could spend the rest of your career like doing what brings out the real Debbie. What would that be? What would that look like? I’m still working on that, Maurice, I’m still trying to figure that out. I am trying to be as sort of real as I can be. You know, I spent a lot of years hiding my history and hiding my childhood history because I felt that I would be judged and people would think badly of me and less of me and I come to really be an advocate now for eradication. Sexual Violence, I denied my sexuality until I was 50 because I felt like I needed my own inner home homophobia and felt that I would be perceived in an in a bad way and now really understand what pride means. So I didn’t really start like fully living my life till like 50. And so I’m still in that first decade of being trying to be honest in the world. And so, I think it may be my my visual stories or things where I feel like I do bring my full self. I’m really trying to bring my full self to the podcast and, and really truly, the place where I try to do it everyday is in my relationship with Roxanne you know, just to be fully fully who I am and she’s the first person in my entire life that I’ve been in a relationship with that I can say she really knows me knows every aspect of me For the first time in my life I feel loved.
Maurice Cherry 56:02
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? It’s 2025. All this COVID-19 as a thing of the past, like, what is the next chapter look like for you?
Debbie Millman 56:15
You know, that’s a lot. That’s a big question. I’ve been thinking about that a lot, because, you know, Roxanne has her house in LA, and I have my house in New York. So I definitely see myself still doing the podcast because I love doing that. I definitely see myself still drawing and making things because I’m really happy as when I’m making things. I’d love to still be teaching. Not so much online. Because I love the students in person and sort of having that in in person experience. I’d like to keep working to make the world a better place if I can, and in my own small way,
Maurice Cherry 56:52
well, just to kind of wrap things up here. Where can the audience find out more about you and about your work online,
Debbie Millman 56:58
as well. I know Debbie Millman calm and that’s where you can see a lot of my writing and a lot of my work. Oh, I know what one thing I’d like to say about that in five years. I was really really really like the rape kit backlog to be done and over with I would like every rape kit that is that is conducted to be analyzed and processed within 48 hours that’s what I would like to have happen in five years done no more rape kit backlog. So that’s that’s a really tangible goal. I would like to see happen you know, the way we treat our rape victims is indicative of the way we treat people. And we have to do better Yeah, so Debbie mama calm and you can also see the work that I do for joyful heart foundation there. And also the joyful heart foundation.org and on Instagram and Twitter just getting open
Maurice Cherry 57:57
rights Well, the reveal that I have To say this has been a real I don’t know, I don’t know if I can think of the right word to say how this interview has been. It certainly has been transcendent in that, you know, I’m able to talk with someone who has been such a, a foundational mainstay, I think, in the design industry for so long. But also just the fact that you are so open about what you do and the work that you do and who you are, and that you bring it to everything that you do. I mean, oftentimes, and you probably know this from interviewing people, sometimes you talk to someone and you can tell when they have the wall up, where they’ve got the guard up, like you’re getting the scripted answers or something like that. I just all i got from you was just abject warmth and honesty. And I just thank you for allowing the space for that to happen in this conversation. So I don’t really know what to say I’ve got a tongue tied a little bit which is rare for me on the interview. But thank you so much.
Debbie Millman 59:00
for talking with me today Absolutely. And for anybody that’s listening, and I’m sure there are lots and lots of people listening, I am going to invite more used to be on design matters. So I get to turn the tables, it’s been very hard for me to not ask you.
Maurice Cherry 59:20
I am looking forward to that. I love doing interviews, I’m definitely
Debbie Millman 59:24
looking forward to that. I’m looking forward to it too. So stay tuned. This is just part one.
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