debbie millman

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Portion Distortion

Liz Monte over at Divine Caroline has written an eye-opening article on Portion Distortion. "Over the past few decades, portion sizes of everything from muffins to sandwiches have grown considerably. Unfortunately, America’s waistbands have reacted accordingly. In the 1970s, around 47 percent of Americans were overweight or obese; now 66 percent of us are. In addition, the number of just obese people has doubled, from 15 percent of our population to 30 percent.

While increased sizes haven’t been the sole contributor to our obesity epidemic, large quantities of cheap food have distorted our perceptions of what a typical meal is supposed to look like. These portion comparisons, adapted from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI) Portion Distortion Quiz, give a visual representation of what sizes used to be compared to what they are today."

Some examples:

A Bagel
Then and Now

Then and Now

A Burger
Then and Now

Scary stuff. No wonder I can't fit into my jeans anymore.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Droste Effect Redux, or HOW AMAZING IS THIS?

The Droste Effect, redux
Illustration by Lola Catoe, daughter of Tania Rochelle

As I have revealed on this website several times my favorite cookie of all time was a brand made by Keebler named Fudgetown. In addition to the mystical taste these cookies provided, I also fell under the spell of the package containing these blissful morsels. Of course it featured the Keebler Elves, but in as much as I found these brand icons amusing and entertaining, it was not the Elves that captured my interest. What had me utterly mesmerized was what the Elves were doing. What had me positively transfixed was the illustration on the front face panel of the cookie package that featured the Keebler Elves holding a package of Fudgetown cookies. Which meant that the Keebler Elves holding a package of Fudgetown cookies were holding a package featuring the Keebler Elves holding a package of Fudgetown cookies. And so on and so on and so on. The Keebler Elves holding the package of Keebler Elves holding the package was infinite! This killed me! I would stare at the package for hours on end, trying to pinpoint the moment I could see the singularity: where the Keebler Elf and the cookie package both originated. It all ended up in a single point that was indiscernible and I was both entranced and perplexed as to the notion of this infinite lineage. This became my entrée to the concept of infinity, and I found the philosophic conundrum it represented and the unresolved mystery both wondrous and stupefying.

So it was with utter delight that I discovered that the act of a pack featured on a pack has an ACTUAL NAME: The Droste Effect. THIS THRILLS ME. I discovered the term while stumbling upon my new favorite website: Randy Ludacer's Box Vox. From the site:

At my grocery store I could only find three examples: Land O’Lakes Butter, Morton Salt and Cracker Jacks. These packages each include a picture of the package itself and are often cited by writers discussing such pop-math-arcana as recursion, strange loops, self-similarity, and fractals.

This particular phenomenon, known as the “Droste effect,” is named after a 1904 package of Droste brand cocoa. The mathematical interest in these packaging illustrations is their implied infinity. If the resolution of the printing process—(and the determination and eyesight of the illustrator)—were not limiting factors, it would go on forever. A package within a package within a package... Like Russian dolls.

Since so many products are nearly indistinguishable from their packaging—(a tube of ChapStick, a can of Coke)—I figured that there would be lots of examples. My brief supermarket survey showed me otherwise. It’s quite rare. You can easily find packaging that includes packaging pictures, but it’s almost always a picture of the inner packaging—(the outside of the box shows the packets contained within)—or else it’s a cross-marketing campaign where pictures of other packages in the product line are shown—usually on the back.

The Droste effect seems to be most applicable to packaging with illustrations. For those products that include an illustrated mascot, it would seem a natural thing to have the mascot holding the product package. Tony-the-Tiger holding up a box of Frosted Flakes. The Planter Peanut fellow offering us peanuts from a jar or a can. What aren’t the mascots doing this? The reasons are perhaps understandable. Better to emphasize the consumer’s end use of the product or to convey the purity of the ingredients. (Rather than to make their packaging into recursive ads-within-ads.) Hence: a bowl of frosted cornflakes ready to eat; mixed nuts offered to guests, not from the can, but from an elegant serving dish.

The writer and readers then go on to list other packages featuring The Droste effect.

Well, dear readers, my wonderful friend Tania Rochelle sent me the fantastic illustration above...which was created by her daughter, Lola! Lola is now my hero.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Theory of the Universe

My very own, very pretty, word tree. The original essay is here.

Friday, May 23, 2008

See Jane Brand

A Day in Jane's Life

Jane Sample, over at Dear Jane Sample, has created a chart of a typical day of her brand consumption; she originally called it Friday in Brands. It has gone viral, but I love it and so I am also posting it here. She has made some amendments to her chart, as well as some clarifications (three and a half condoms???). Also, it now has an official name: Brand-Timeline Portrait, courtesy of Adbroad.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Extinction Timeline

Extinction Timeline

The Extinction Timeline.

Via the always wonderful SwissMiss.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

How Now

How Conference

I will be at the HOW Conference in the great city of Boston for the next few days! I will be interviewing the masterful Michael Bierut for a very special Design Matters Live. This is a bit more about our session:

How Session

In addition, I will doing a book signing of "How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer" Sunday night and Tuesday morning, and reviewing student portfolios Tuesday evening. Please come by to say hello if you are at the conference!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Design Matters Today with Lawrence Weiner

Lawrence Weiner

One of the central figures of Conceptual art, Lawrence Weiner’s work is the currently the subject of a major retrospective at MOCA in Los Angeles entitled As Far As The Eye Can See. Other recent solo exhibitions of his work have been mounted at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (1990), Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1991), Dia Center for the Arts, New York (1991), Musée d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux (1991 and 1992), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1992), Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (1994), Philadelphia Museum of Art (1994), and Museum Ludwig, Cologne (1995). In addition to publishing numerous books, Weiner has produced various films and videos, including Beached (1970), Do You Believe in Water? (1976), and Plowman’s Lunch (1982).

Today's episode of Design Matters is a very special treat: rather than a radio interview, the interview is conducted in-person, filmed earlier this month in Mr. Weiner's studio in Greenwich Village. And I am truly thrilled to announce that the extraordinary and brilliant Hillman Curtis directed and co-produced the film. I hope you enjoy it.

For behind the scenes photographs of the shoot, please go here.

For more of Hillman's luminous films, please go here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

UPDATED: On The Radio With John Hockenberry, Friday At 6am

The Takeaway

The Takeaway is the new national morning news program that delivers news and analysis on WNYC, National Pubic Radio. Hosts John Hockenberry and Adaora Udoji, along with the BBC World Service, The New York Times, and WGBH BostonInvite listeners every morning to learn more and be part of the American conversation on-air and online at

Friday's show is all about OFFICE CUBICLES! In case you didn't know, it is the 40th anniversary of this egalitarian design travesty. Some history:

In 1968, an entrepreneur named Bob Propst was the first person to sell cubicles to American businesses. Now 40 years later, Propst's inventions are seemingly everywhere. Cubicles are the fences within which we daydream, the walls on which we hang pictures, and incidentally, the desks where we work. To mark the anniversary, John Hockenberry and his team at WNYC are showcasing pictures of the cubicles where you work. Send them a photo of how you've made a cubicle your own. Make sure it's a photo that you've taken and send it, along with your name and a description of the photo to If you're a Flickr user, you can simply tag a photo or two with both the "takeaway" and "cubicle" tags, and they will find them from there. Then come back Friday to view a slideshow of cubicle life in 2008.

I will be on the air with Host John Hockenberry at 6am (it repeats at 8am for the late risers) to talk about Cubicles, Cube Farms, Workstations, Systems Furniture and Action Offices. Please tune in!

You can listen to the entire show here.

You can listen to just the segment here.

You can see a collection of real-life cubicles with our commentary here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Big Ask

The Big Q
Typography by Tina Roth Eisenberg, SwissMiss

I will be interviewing Michael Bierut at the HOW Conference next week in Boston and he came up with an idea that I would like to undertake. He thought it might be fun to solicit questions from people *before* the interview via the design community blogs. I have interviewed Michael on Design Matters, and in my book (wherein he waxes sentimental about his passion for folding laundry), so the more inventive the questions, the better! (and the more personal!!!)

So please post any questions you are dying to know the answers to here, or you can send them to me at

Robert Rauschenberg, 1925-2008

Artwork by Robert Rauschenberg

Artwork by Robert Rauschenberg

From the New York Times obituary by Michael Kimmelman: Robert Rauschenberg, the irrepressibly prolific American artist who time and again reshaped art in the 20th century, died on Monday night at his home on Captiva Island, Fla. He was 82. A painter, photographer, printmaker, choreographer, onstage performer, set designer and, in later years, even a composer, Mr. Rauschenberg defied the traditional idea that an artist stick to one medium or style. He pushed, prodded and sometimes reconceived all the mediums in which he worked.

Building on the legacies of Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Cornell and others, he helped obscure the lines between painting and sculpture, painting and photography, photography and printmaking, sculpture and photography, sculpture and dance, sculpture and technology, technology and performance art — not to mention between art and life.

Mr. Rauschenberg was also instrumental in pushing American art onward from Abstract Expressionism, the dominant movement when he emerged, during the early 1950s. He became a transformative link between artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning and those who came next, artists identified with Pop, Conceptualism, Happenings, Process Art and other new kinds of art in which he played a signal role.

No American artist, Jasper Johns once said, invented more than Mr. Rauschenberg.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Giant Pool of Money

Basquiat Brilliance
Painting by Jean Michel Basquiat

One of my superstar students pointed me to a special broadcast on This American Life about the housing crisis. Ira Glass and team explain it all to you: What the housing crisis has to do with the collapse of the investment bank Bear Stearns, why banks made half-million dollar loans to people without jobs or income and why everyone is talking so much about the 1930s. It all comes back to what Glass refers to as the Giant Pool of Money. The show is amazing and I highly recommend listening and then putting whatever money you might have securely under your mattress.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The SVA 2008 Senior Graphic Design Portfolio Review


The School of Visual Arts BFA Graphic Design & Advertising Department and Office of Career Development cordially Invite you to attend the 2008 Senior Graphic Design Portfolio Review. The review offers you an opportunity to meet new creative talent as they transition into the work force! John Fulbrook, James Victore and I will be your hosts for the afternoon.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008
11:00am - 4:00pm
Art Directors Club
106 West 29th Street between 6th and 7th Avenue
New York, NY

Monday, May 05, 2008

"I am here to talk to you about the Avenger initiative"


Counting down the days to April 30, 2010.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

On The Street Where I Live

Fern Luskin is an art historian who lives on my block and a total hero. This short, but effective video reports on Fern's single-handed mission to save the only documented Underground Railroad Station in Manhattan, the former home of the abolitionists, Abigail Hopper Gibbons and James Sloan Gibbons. It was made by Djenny Passe-Rodriguez of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

No. 339 (adorned with ivy) in 1932.
West 29th Street in Manhattan when it was Lamartine Place in 1932. Photograph by Percy Loomis Sperr.

The New York Times also published an article on her efforts, and if anyone is interested in writing to the Chairperson of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, this is the contact information:

Hon. Robert G. Tierney
Landmarks Preservation Commission
2 Center Street, 9th floor
New York, NY 10007

Friday, May 02, 2008

Congratulations, Print

The Winner, General Excellence

PRINT is the winner of a 2008 National Magazine Award, for General Excellence, under 100,000 circulation. The award honors the effectiveness with which writing, reporting, editing and design all come together to command readers’ attention and fulfill the magazine’s unique editorial mission. The full list of winners is here.

Congratulations to Joyce Rutter Kaye, PRINT's editor-in-chief, and her great editorial team: Emily Gordon, James Gaddy, Kristina DiMatteo, Caitlin Dover and Lindsay Ballant.

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