Book List of the Week

Debbie Millman’s Book List: A Self-Portrait

By Steve Kroeter December 9, 2013
Debbie Millman: Graphic Designer; Sterling Brands, Design Division President; Design Matters, Host (New York)
View Debbie Millman’s Book List

As a child, the ebullient host of Design Matters, author, and branding expert Debbie Millman, writes in the introduction to her book list: “I ordered as many books as I could afford and when the boxes came in with my name on them, I spent a moment gingerly fingering the corrugated brown carton. I’d sit for a minute or two and imagine what was inside, what the books would be like, and of course how they would look. I have been in love with books ever since.”

That love of storytelling, both written and visual (and often a combination of both), is abundant in Millman’s choice of books and in the comments and even illustrations she sent accompany them. Several are books from her childhood. The Little Golden Book of Words, says Millman, “is one of the first books I ever remember reading. I remembered having little scraps of paper on the cover, with different illustrations of pets and fruit and, somehow, I remembered a carrot. I thought the book was about art, as the main image I had in my head was a simply, yet profoundly rendered color wheel. Long before eBay, I searched for this book in New York flea markets and finally found it. But it wasn’t a book about art, ironically enough; it is called “Words.” (That comment comes along with a photo of the color wheel.)

Color wheel form The Little Golden Book of Words by Selma Chambers, 1948

Another children’s book, Dot for Short, is about a ten-year-old girl who “sees an ad in a ladies’ magazine featuring a contest to write a limerick about ‘why you use Masterpiece Muffin mix.’ The prize was $10,000. She, of course, writes a limerick and . . . well, that’s all I am going to tell you. Needless to say the entire scenario of the book converged with my life, my interests, and even my fledging enchantment with—dare I say it—branding.”

Chris Ware’s Building Stories—a box of 14 individual pieces that include a gameboard, a newspaper, and two books, among other things, to tell the interlocking stories of the residents of one Chicago apartment building—is on Millman’s book list. She says, “The design is not limited to the story or the presentation of the book; it is central to the narrative.”  Sprawling novels from the 18th to the 20th centuries also get their due. Millman comments on James Joyces’s Ulysses (the book not about design that has been cited by the most designers on Designers & Books), “A seminal quote from the book, ‘The longest way round is the shortest way home,’ has become the mantra of my life.“ Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy is “remarkable in that it precedes modernism, postmodernism, and conceptual art by utilizing these techniques:
—blank chapters
—black pages
—white pages
—playful type
And it was all done in 1759!“ 

Debbie Millman has written six books on graphic design and branding, including the best-selling Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits, 2011 (Allworth Press) and The Brand Bible (2012, Rockport Publishers). Her most recent book, Self-Portrait as Your Traitor—just released this fall by HOW Books—is a a follow-up to her Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design (2009, HOW Books). In this new book of visual poetry, which combines writings and drawings, says Paula Scher in her introduction, Millman “has invented a 21st-century illuminated manuscript.”

Front and back covers of Self-fPortrait as Your Traitor by Debbie Millman, 2013 (HOW Books)

Watch the special video trailer for Self-Portrait as Your Traitor on the Designers & Books Online Book Fair.

comments powered by Disqus