Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design

9/02/2011

Read: Debbie Millman's Look Both Ways

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

I've been listening to Debbie Millman's "Design Matters" for only a year, but I can see why it's been running since 2005. In little less than an hour, Millman's well-paced, soothing, low-key voice gently pokes and prods secrets and candid thoughts from her all-star guests. Their conversation reminds me that beneath any great designer, writer, thinker is a living, breathing, human being. 

This human touch that I find so appealing in Millman's radio show was very much present in her book, "Look Both Ways." Unlike design books that can get too theoretical, Millman stayed true to her implicit promise stated on the sub-hed of her book. It was indeed "illustrated essays on the intersection of life and design."


Each essay is illustrated with text would appear like a child's scrawl on white notepaper, writings on a blackboard, or even cross stitched lettering. A new story was in a very palpable way a new way of looking at things. Millman says this is one of the reasons her book was called "Look Both Ways." It is "a literal book you can read, as well as a 'picture' book you can view."


One of my favorite illustrations was about Millman's difficulty pronouncing the letter "H." It was rendered as one whole block of text with a "hole" cut out in the middle. By designing this frame of text, Millman essentially cajoled the reader into forming mental H's by traversing their gaze from the left side of the page to the right side.


Any reader would have to use a piece of paper or ruler to read the whole thing without trouble. Once they did, they would essentially be forming the letter H all the way down to the page. Ingenious!



Millman also reveals that she incorporated a code for her cross-stitch essay in this video. I have yet to figure out what it means, but since I'm now a happy owner of the book, I have all the time to figure it out.


I was delighted at the thoughtfulness of the design of each page, but more than that, I was also struck by how much Millman revealed in her essays. Throughout each story, she took readers back in time from her years of collecting ponytail holders, to her teenage years when Levi's were all the rage and even to her first (disappointing) interview for Vogue.

Her stories weren't at all triumphant in tone. Just like her radio show, her stories were thoughtful and full of detail, telling of a person who loved to dwell on the little things.


I usually have an image in my head of successful people. They're usually aggressive, brash and always in the limelight. The Debbie Millman in this book is none of that. She's insecure, sensitive and very thoughtful, yet I know she has made a name for herself by being exactly who she is, observant and resilient.

If you're a designer or writer looking for a little inspiration, this is a great book to pick up. It's a great lesson on how well-integrated design and content can become a great experience, but it's also simply heartwarming storytelling from one human to another.

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