debbie millman

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Last Night

In 1964 British designer Ken Garland and twenty-one of his design colleagues wrote a manifesto called First Things First. The manifesto boldly encouraged designers to reconsider their opportunities outside the noise and “high-pitched scream of consumer selling” in favor of applying their talents to promote education, culture and a greater awareness of the world. The manifesto was not intended to advocate the abolition of contemporary design; instead it was a call for the re-evaluation of our profession’s priorities. Rather than apply our skills to selling dog biscuits, French fries, detergents, hair gel, credit cards, sneakers, light beer and heavy-duty recreational vehicles, the manifesto advocated injecting passion and truth into design work.

The only issue I had with the First Things First Manifesto, and its subsequent sequel in 2000 was this: there will always be a need to design dog biscuits and hair gel and heavy duty recreational vehicles. No single gesture can be excluded from our obligation as designers. Dog biscuits and ballot forms and annual reports and propaganda posters all need to be approached with this same passion.

Every gesture we make now is cinematic because it gets swept up in to a swift sequence of gestures that precede and follow it. I believe that the condition of design has become the condition of our culture, and every design we create provides us with an opportunity to inspire. If we do not adhere to this, we segregate our power to communicate what is truly going on in our culture. This evening, I ask you to look around. We are the composers, the arbiters, the instigators and the designers of our culture. We have this marvelous opportunity every day.

Tonight we are honoring two organizations deeply committed to the condition of design in our culture with the AIGA Corporate Leadership Award. This award was established in 1980 to recognize the role of perceptive and forward-thinking organizations that have been instrumental in the advancement of design by applying the highest standards of design, as a matter of policy.

The recipients of this award demonstrate respect for the millions whose lives they touch, a rare commitment to consistency and quality, and a model for the successful interaction between aesthetics and pragmatics. This year, five design leaders worked rigorously to determine two organizations that most fulfilled this criteria. The nominating committee for the Corporate Leadership award was comprised of Lisa Francella from Pepsi, Chris Hacker from Johnson & Johnson, Pamela DeCesare of BrandMuse, Cheryl Swanson of Toniq and Pamela Parisi from Gillette/Procter & Gamble. They jointly picked two outstanding companies to receive this award this evening: The Target Corporation and MTV Networks.


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Location: new york city, United States

Debbie Millman has worked in the design business for over 25 years. She is President of the design division at Sterling Brands. She has been there for nearly 15 years and in that time she has worked on the redesign of global brands for Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Campbell’s, Colgate, Nestle and Hasbro. Prior to Sterling, she was a Senior Vice President at Interbrand and a Marketing Director at Frankfurt Balkind. Debbie is President of the AIGA, the largest professional association for design. She is a contributing editor at Print Magazine, a design writer at and Brand New and Chair of the Masters in Branding Program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. In 2005, she began hosting the first weekly radio talk show about design on the Internet. The show is titled “Design Matters with Debbie Millman” and it is now featured on In addition to “Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design,” (HOW Books, 2009, she is the author of "How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer" (Allworth Press, 2007) and “The Essential Principles of Graphic Design” (Rotovision, 2008).

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