Review and reflection: How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer

click on the photo for a good designer-oriented review

See? Sometimes I do read grown-up books that have nothing to do with picture books! Though this does. It has everything to do with working creatively, in writing or illustrating or designing.

Author: Debbie Millman
Publisher: Allworth Press; 1st edition (October 30, 2007)
Summary: I think Malcolm Gladwell’s blurb describes it best: “A delightful opportunity to eavesdrop on some of the most curious and creative minds of our time.”
Why I like this book: For one, this book is not a recipe, or a soul-selling ticket to the short cut, but I think if I had read this many years ago (and had the wisdom to let some of it sink in!), I would have been able to profit by such tidbits as:

Shared by Michael Bierut: “Massimo had this saying: ‘Once a work is out there, it doesn’t really matter what the excuses were.”

Carin Goldberg was peeved with friends not charging properly for their work , worried about losing the client: “I’m a big believer in the bungee jump. I think you have to do the right thing and the fair thing even if you’re afraid.

Paula Sher shared advice from a teacher: “…find one thing you can do. And only do that. Be the best at it, no matter how narrow it is. And get rid of all the stuff you don’t do well.

James Victore on telling the truth in your work: “…you have to push everything aside. Everything – and then get down to that one perfect little gem.”; “It’s about taking something and whittling and whittling and getting it sharp and perfect. Then you’ve got something.”

It was also a trip down memory lane, of art school and experience in the field, but it was also a view-bender. It was nice to find that in the end, even the ‘best’ are human. I appreciated the insights of many of those interviewed, especially referring to some things I have struggled with as a designer, like client relationships. The stories brought to mind a logo I designed years ago. It took me weeks to persuade the client to streamline the design, to go from what she wanted, to what I believe she needed. I still think it was one of my best design efforts.  I’d like to share the difference in opinion here:

Snapshot 2013-01-26 14-58-22No, no, no –  don’t blame me for that one! I suggested the following (I think Vignelli would have been proud of me):


In the end we ‘compromised’ – and that has too often been the root of my problems. But it was never used:

Snapshot 2013-01-26 15-07-43

The client called me out of the blue a few years later and asked if I wanted to take on the project again – from the beginning. My answer was blunt. I think Vignelli would have been proud of that too!

14 thoughts on “Review and reflection: How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer

  1. Ha Ha. I’m so glad you spent the time talking your client out of the rose thing. If she couldn’t tell the immediate superiority of the text version, then she needs an art director. Thanks for sharing this book. Every artist needs to learn to trust his inner sense of design.


  2. Love this post, Julie! Especially when you observed that you wish you had read the book years ago…but didn’t know if the info would have sunk in. They say, ‘when the student is ready, the teacher appears’…and I think that is so true.:)


  3. I’d love to lay my hands on this book, Julie! Some of what you’ve quoted here is specially true for us in today’s day and age when each of us tries to do far too many things all at once!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s