Debbie Millman has a disease, and it is contagious: Empyreanosis, a chronic condition of optimism and energy. When I see Debbie, I think, “How does she do it? Is Mountain Dew involved?” She will sit down with a group of people who are typically in awe of her, and by the time they part, everyone is excited and energized about making things better. And she actually reads books. When we talk, I pretend I’ve read something other than my usual nighttime Blueberries for Sal and nod a lot. I’m lucky to have Debbie in my life.
Q1 What’s the worst thing (not design) you’ve ever done?
A few answers, as I have done many bad things. Take your pick:
— Started smoking cigarettes.
— At the ripe old age of 21, I doubted I could ever be successful doing what I really wanted to do, and I didn’t pursue my dreams.
— Married my second husband.
Q2 What’s the best thing (not design) you’ve ever done?
— Stopped smoking cigarettes.
— Started teaching at the School of Visual Arts.
— Gave the AIGA a second chance.
— Accepted a job offer at Sterling Brands in 1995, despite my prior boss telling me I was going on a suicide mission with my career.
Q3 What were you like in high school?
See the picture and decide for yourself. Ha ha. Actually, nearly the same as I am now, except I wear glasses and have a better hair stylist. I was an insecure, chubby overachiever.
Q+ Do you plan on retiring? What would you like to do then?
Never. I will likely be the old lady with the cane, bad shoes and a magnifying glass at AIGA NY events that everyone will politely ignore and pretend is still lucid.
Debbie Millman is president of the Design division of Sterling Brands and the current president of AIGA. She is the author of How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer (Allworth Press) and The Essential Principles of Graphic Design (How). Her most recent book is Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design (How). She also hosts the weekly talk radio show Design Matters With Debbie Millman.