debbie millman

Friday, May 15, 2009

100 Episodes: A Very Special Design Matters Milestone with guest DeeDee Gordon

Design Matters began in February of 2005 with an idea and a telephone line. Mostly, I started out doing it for myself--I thought it would be a great way to ask my heroes everything I wanted to know about their lives and their thoughts and their careers without seeming stalker-y. In the process, I gleaned the most magnificent view of some of the greatest design thinkers and practitioners of our time. I realized the opportunity to share the brilliance of my guests with a listenership I never expected was the gift of a lifetime.

Today marks my 100th broadcast of Design Matters and joining me for the show is DeeDee Gordon.

DeeDee Gordon is renowned youth culture expert and she has been at the forefront of youth culture and trend research for over 15 years. While working as Director of Research and Product Development for ad agency Lambesis, Gordon broke new ground in the standards of youth market research by co-creating the famed L Report, the first national marketing research report to track trend diffusion among youth. In 1999, Gordon became a pioneer in the field of research by taking youth culture research on-line co-founding Look-Look, Inc., a one-of-a-kind research, marketing and trend on-line consulting company specializing in youth culture. Look-Look grew to be the largest global community of 14-35 year-old youth to report on their own culture. Look-Look’s proprietary panel and database technology allowed them to exceed the capabilities of competing marketing companies by maintaining a constant 2-way dialogue with trendsetting and mainstream young people from around the world. From product research, to trend reports, to brand development, this communication methodology distinguished Look-Look’s high-quality product offerings. Clientele such as Calvin Klein, Audi, Microsoft, Universal Pictures, Nike and Virgin Mobile relied on Look-Look for expertise and instant access to information on global youth culture. As co-president at Look-Look, Inc., Gordon oversaw all research analysis, product development and creative direction for client accounts and Look-Look consumer products, and directed the marketing solutions of the company.

In the fall of 2003, Gordon once again broke new ground by launching Look-Look Magazine, a one-of-a-kind publication, providing a forum and an opportunity for young artists, photographers and writers around the world to have their work published. All profits of the magazine went to the Look-Look Arts Foundation, established to assist young people with pursuing their passion in the Arts. Recognized internationally for being a leader in youth culture, Gordon’s research and reputation have been featured in numerous media outlets including Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point,” Good Morning America, CNN, The New Yorker, Vogue, Time, Los Angeles Times and The New York Times Magazine, who deemed her the interpreter of youth culture in 2005. Most notably, Look-Look, Inc. was featured on PBS’s Frontline Special “Merchants of Cool,” which is used in marketing curriculum for numerous college classrooms today.

Design Matters airs live weekly on the Voice America Business Network, now the industry leader in Internet talk radio. The show was voted a "favorite podcast" on PSFK's Marketing Podcast survey, it was voted 9th out of over 300 entries for the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum’s People’s Choice Award in 2007, and was recently nominated for a Bloggy for best podcast . The show is also available as Podcasts on iTunes, where over 100,000 people download the show every month.

Design Matters is from 3-4PM EST and you can view the VoiceAmerica Business site and listen to the show from a myriad of locations: You can go here, through the Sterling link:

Or you can go here, through the Voice America link:

On behalf of all of my amazing guests listed below, I want to thank you for supporting the show, and for offering encouragement and friendship.

Abbott Miller
Alan Dye
Alice Twemlow
Allan Chochinov
Andrea Dezsö
Andrew Zolli
Ann Willoughby
Art Chantry
Bad Boys of Design 1: Armin Vit, Mark Kingsley, Michael Ian Kaye, Petter Ringbom, James Victore
Bad Boys of Design 2: Rodrigo Corral, Bennett Peji, Tan Le, Felix Sockwell, Mark English, John Zapolski
Bad Boys of Design 3: Josh Chen, Manuel Toscano, Layne Braunstein, Alan Dye
Bad Boys of Design 4: Marc Alt, Mike Essl, Ray Fenwick, Michael Jager, Alberto Rigau
Barbara Kruger
Bill Grant
Brian Collins
Carin Goldberg
Cheryl Swanson
Chip Kidd, part 1
Chip Kidd, part 2
Christoph Niemann
Dan Formosa
Daniel Pink
David Barringer
DeeDee Gordon
Design Blogs: Speak Up, Design Observer, Be A Design Group + Personism
David Carson, Not
Doyald Young
Eames Demetrios
Ed Fella
Editorial Women: Joyce Kaye, Michela Abrahms, Laetitia Wolff + Barbara de Wilde
Ellen Lupton
Elliott Earls
Emily Oberman
Eric Kandel
Gael Towey
Gary Hustwit
Gong Szeto
Gordon Hull
Grant McCracken, part 1
Grant McCracken, part 2
Grant McCracken, part 3
Hillman Curtis
Jakob Trollbäck
Janet Froelich
Jan Wilker + Hjalti Karlsson
Jeffrey Keyton
Jeffrey Zeldman
Jessica Helfand
Joe Duffy with guest host Nate Voss
John Fulbrook
John Maeda
Jonah Lehrer
Jonathan Hoefler + Tobias Frere-Jones
Josh Liberson + Ethan Trask
Kenneth Fitzgerald
Kurt Andersen
Laurie Rosenwald
Lisa Francella + Pamela DeCesare
Luke Hayman
Luba Lukova
Maira Kalman
Malcolm Gladwell + Joyce Gladwell
Marian Bantjes, Alexander Gelman + Michael Surtees
Marty Neumeier
Michael Bierut
Mick Hodgson
Milton Glaser
Minda Gralnek
Modern Dog
Natalia Ilyin
Neville Brody
Nicholas Blechman
Paola Antonelli
Patrick Coyne
Paul Sahre
Paula Scher
Peter Buchanan-Smith
Petrula Vrontikis
Rick Valicenti
Sean Adams + Noreen Morioka
Seth Godin
Shepard Fairey
Spoken Word
Stanley Hainsworth
Stefan Bucher
Stefan Sagmeister
Steve Sikora, Charlie Lazor + Tom Wright
Steven Heller, part 1
Steven Heller + Veronique Vienne
Steven Heller, part 3
Steven Heller + Lita Talerico
Todd Pruzan + Sam Potts
Vaughan Oliver
Virginia Postrel
William Drenttel + Jessica Helfand
William Lunderman
World of Branding
World of Las Vegas
World of Leisurama: Jake Gorst, Alastair Gordon + Andrew Geller
Y Conference 2009: Lorraine Wild, Liz Danzico, Andrea Pellegrino, Mark Randall, Shel Perkins
Ze Frank

Until Season Six--watch for wonderful new things!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Pigeon Dropping

I love almost everything about New York City. I love the intensity of the pace, the diversity of the people, the street signs, even the noise. When I first moved here, I was in my twenties. I’d spend endless hours sitting in the windows of cafes on Hudson Street, listening to blues at Dan’s on Second Avenue and trying to pick up boys at 2am on the rooftop of Danceteria. I always went home by myself, but as I walked across 8th street to my apartment in Chelsea, I strutted and sashayed and imagined I was street smart and savvy and somebody.

As an entry-level paste-up artist, I compared myself to the sophisticated silhouettes around me and wished for more of what I thought everyone else had: glamorous shoes, an apartment that wasn’t a tenement, a date on Saturday nights. I tried to make some extra money by freelancing, and a friend helped me get an interview for a book project. The day of the interview I wore my favorite outfit—a grey corduroy suit with a gaucho skirt and a puffy sleeved, button down jacket. I had matching grey, faux leather pumps that I wore so often, the rubber tips on the heels had been ground down to the metal studs. This caused shoes to make an annoying clicking noise when I walked and often caused me to slide at inopportune moments.

The interview was an unremarkable one, and I walked home discouraged in the cold January afternoon. I clutched my portfolio in one hand, my handbag in another and tried to balance myself on the icy sidewalk. But at the corner of 8th street and University Place, smack in the middle of Greenwich Village, I slipped and fell. My portfolio went flying; the contents slid across the icy street, followed by one grey shoe, my handbag and the last little bit of bravado that remained after my interview.

What I remember next was this: an elderly man helped me up while a young woman gathered my things. The man confirmed I was okay, then kept walking. After he was out of earshot, the woman griped about how rude he was. When I looked perplexed she elaborated; apparently she assumed he had bumped into me. As I tried to clarify, a second woman approached, also questioning if I was okay. I replied, again, that I was. Then she inquired if she could ask us for some advice. I was still unsure of my bearings and I was starting to get cranky, but I said yes. She motioned for us to come closer and slowly pulled a tattered wallet out of her coat pocket. Her eyes were wide and she whispered:"Look what I found."

She carefully opened it up, and the three of us stared at a wallet stuffed with bills. It was more money than I had ever seen in my life. I questioned whether or not there was any ID. She shook her head no. The first woman thought we should give it to the police. I nodded in agreement. But the second woman wasn’t sure, and suddenly offered to share it with us. The first woman’s eyes popped open, and her mouth made a soft whooshing sound. “You really want to share it?” Yes, she nodded. Yes, she did.

We decided it was too risky to remain outside with a wallet stuffed with cash, and ducked into a nearby coffee shop. We introduced ourselves: the woman who helped me up was Tina; the woman with the wallet was Mary. The two women started talking about how to divide the money and considered what the risks might be. Mary questioned whether or not the bills could be marked, and wondered if we would get arrested if we deposited the money into the bank. Then Tina told us she had an uncle named Jim who was a lawyer; perhaps he would know what to do. We agreed this was a good idea and she went to a payphone to call him. Left alone with Mary, I began to imagine how much was in the wallet and all the wonderful things I could buy with it. Tina came back excited and explained that Uncle Jim believed that the cash was likely drug money and the bills were probably marked. But he wanted to help us: he would exchange the money for us! In return, he asked us to contribute some of our own money so he wouldn’t be the only one taking a risk. I wasn’t sure about this and shook my head no. I couldn’t do that.

But Tina and Mary were willing. They looked at me hopefully and then I wavered; I didn’t want to let them down. Together, we walked to a nearby ATM and Tina and Mary withdrew $500. I only had $400 in the bank, and I took it out. Mary asked to count it and placed it in a teller envelope. But I wanted to hold on to it, so she gave it back and I put it safely in my pocket.

We walked to Uncle Jim’s office and decided to take the elevator up one at a time in case anyone was watching us. Tina went first and gave Jim the wallet and her envelope of money. 10 minutes later, she came down smiling, clutching a new envelope close to her chest. I went up next; when I got to the floor I was sweating. I asked the receptionist for Jim and she looked up, squinted and asked, “WHO?” I repeated Jim, Tina’s Uncle Jim. She shook her head, apologized, and told me there was no one there by that name.

I took the elevator back downstairs, but Tina and Mary were gone. I ran into a nearby deli to see if they were there but they weren’t. I fingered the envelope in my pocket: it was still there. I didn’t understand. What had happened? Why did they leave?

It was nearly dark and I decided to take a taxi home. I sat in the warm car reviewing what had happened. Maybe they were trying to scam me. I sighed and congratulated myself on not letting Mary hold on to my money. When we arrived at my apartment, I opened the teller envelope to pay the cab fare. I reached in for a bill and as I handed it to the driver, I saw the bill was newspaper! I frantically pulled out the contents of the envelope and realized ALL the bills were newspaper! Mary switched the envelopes! I was tricked. I was conned!

I never told anyone what happened. In the decades since, I discovered I was duped by what is called the Pigeon Drop, one of the oldest scams in the book. I look back on it now in embarrassment and humiliation and realize I wasn’t really conned by Tina and Mary. I duped myself. I see how much I was driven by hubris and arrogance, how much I wanted more than I had, and how I was motivated by my desire and my greed.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

No Gloating

Today is my 14th anniversary working at Sterling Brands. A lot has changed since my first day on the job, but one consistent thread has been my fascination with the mysterious connection that exists between consumers and the brands they buy. I love that the discipline of design I work on requires understanding those consumers—those people—and includes analyzing how they think and how they choose the brands they buy. Most of all, I am captivated by the science of how they see, and how the brands they choose signal their affiliations or define their beliefs about who they are and what they want to project to the world.

One of my favorite places to frequent is the supermarket. I love going down the aisles and seeing all the things we’ve lived with all our lives, seeing the new things, seeing what people place in their shopping carts. I wonder WHY they buy the things they buy, and I speculate whether it is habit or taste or price or trust or safety or security. Inasmuch as I find this endlessly interesting, it has become harder to speak of my passion without considering how much this work may contribute to the increasing carbon footprint of our planet. I question how much of what I work on is necessary and I find myself asking my clients exactly WHY they need to redesign their brands and what specifically they hope to accomplish. Nevertheless, I still get a thrill when I see something in the marketplace that I have worked on, and whenever I see a package I have helped create get redesigned by someone else, I can’t help but feel jealous and defensive and a little bit disappointed.

This was most apparent in the recent redesign of Tropicana Orange Juice. I worked on the previous design, the one that featured the red and white striped straw in the orange. As everyone in the design business now knows, after several weeks of intense consumer dissatisfaction and endless Twitter and Facebook protests about the new packaging, Tropicana decided to abandon the dramatic new look and go back to the original design that consumers seemed to have such an affinity for.

I was shocked by the onslaught of resentment towards the new design and though I was pleased that our package would once again grace the supermarket, I couldn’t help but wonder how this happened. What was it about this brand that inspired such loyalty and intense emotion?

Some people attributed the response to the absence of trust the new look inspired; some people believed that the brand’s vernacular was as much a part of the ritual of our daily lives as baseball and apple pie. Others talked of the security that the brand evoked; that the original design harkened back to safer, more innocent, less turbulent times. Some people worried that the backlash would discourage other marketers from attempting to make revolutionary change to their stalwart, established products. And yet another group thought that any juice packaging hysteria was proof, once and for all, that civilization was indeed doomed.

My favorite reaction came from my 21-year-old brother Jake, who likes to drink his OJ straight from the carton and, for the most part, is loyal to the brands his mother and father and older sister have introduced him to over the years. When the redesigned Tropicana hit the shelves he called and asked if I had worked on the new look. He seemed relieved when I told him no, and when I asked him why, I expected that he would reply that he didn’t like it. Instead, he surprised me by stating that some kid in his dorm room was twittering about it and he didn’t want anyone talking shit about something his sister had worked on.

Yesterday, while shopping for dinner, I saw the original Tropicana package back on the shelves. A part of me felt comforted to see it again, and part of me felt sad. I considered all the effort that had been wasted, and I couldn’t help but feel discouraged that my beloved discipline of package design had somehow failed. I purchased the few things I needed, and wistfully left the store. As I walked out, I passed a sidewalk garbage can overflowing with plastic bottles, old newspapers and balled up scraps of tin foil. And there, amidst the trash, poking up through a broken umbrella, a blue-ish green half-eaten sandwich and Wednesday’s New York Post, was a dented, slightly dirty, empty carton of orange juice. Of course, it was Tropicana.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Design Matters Today with Allan Chochinov 05.01.09

Joining me today on the 98th broadcast of Design Matters with Debbie Millman is Allan Chochinov.

Allan Chochinov is a partner of Core77, a New York-based design network serving a global community of designers and design enthusiasts. He is the editor-in-chief of, the widely read design website, design job and portfolio site, and design firm database. He teaches in the graduate departments of Pratt Institute and the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and writes and lectures widely on the impact of design on contemporary culture.
Prior to Core77, his work in product design focused on the medical and diagnostic fields, as well as on consumer products and workplace systems. (Projects included work for Herman Miller, Johnson & Johnson, Federal Express, Kodak, A.C. Nielsen, Oral-B, Crunch Fitness and others.) He has been named on numerous design and utility patents, and has received awards from I.D. Magazine, Communication Arts, The Art Directors Club and The One Club. He received a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Toronto, and a Masters of Industrial Design from Pratt Institute.

Design Matters airs live weekly on the Voice America Business Network, now the industry leader in Internet talk radio. The show was voted a "favorite podcast" on PSFK's Marketing Podcast survey and it was voted 9th out of over 300 entries for the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum’s People’s Choice Award in 2007. The show is also available as Podcasts on iTunes, where over 100,000 people download the show every month.

Design Matters is from 3-4PM EST and you can view the VoiceAmerica Business site and listen to the show from a myriad of locations:

You can go here, through the Sterling link:

Or you can go here, through the Voice America link:

Or finally, you can listen to this show, or any of our previous shows, as a Podcast on iTunes, for free. To listen to the Podcasts, you can do either of the following:

Subscribe manually, by going to the iTunes advanced menu, then select
"Subscribe to Podcast," then enter the following: as the feed.

Or simply do a search on the iTunes music store Podcast directory for “Design Matters.”

Everyone is welcome to call in live and toll free--the number is 1.866.472.5790.

Upcoming shows:
May 8: Gary Hustwit
May 15: DeeDee Gordon (our 100th broadcast!)

As always, thanks for listening!
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