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And So On and So Forth: Brand Thinking With Debbie Millman

Written by in Profiles


Not just anyone can sandwich folks like Wally Olins, Brian Collins and Joe Duffy between hard covers without a single headshot among them. It takes a shape-shifter. It takes a snake charmer. It takes a Debbie Millman. There’s only one.

At Neenah Paper, we enjoy learning about and reading of new approaches to standard communications issues of the day. Got a book or an idea? Drop us a comment to this post, leave us your email address and expect us to get back in touch as soon as we can.

There are many quasi-notable people featured in this interview-style book. And the least visible is the author, Debbie Millman. That is why, we think,  Brand Thinking And Other Noble Pursuits is the first book since the branding genre was invented (by Al Gore?) that delivers without a bunch of malarkey and self aggrandizement.

Sure, there are a handful of the usual suspects—the skipper, the professor, the movie star, the millionaire and his wife. Irritating but endearing. Sagging but tan. But then come the vaguely familiar in turns and columns that made this reader sit up in his dog’s favorite chair and exclaim, “OMG, LOL! Seriocity! Meanness!  Bipolarity! Emoticon-o-Mania! BFF Wally Olins.”

Disclaimer: I have long viewed the term “branding” as overused and abused. A graphic at the Brand New Conference this year captures my sentiments:  “Branding is for cows. Stories are for people.” So, while I know, like and regard the author as someone who adds to design understanding rather the fog of branding blather, I took up this book with arched brow. “Got something new to add?” I muttered to myself gravely skeptical, “Prove it.” Well, she did. Millman gets people to say things they mean—even when saying those things might turn others off.


Millman: The Dame in Black

Seashells at Low Tide

Combing Debbie Millman’s coast at low tide will yield beautiful souvenirs. I share some below. There are many more. But buy the book and go combing yourself.  That’s where the fun is, self-discovery among the wave swept bon mots and ideas. Early or late, on season or off—this book offers riches.

•        Good Medicine — The book is hand lettered by Debbie Millman. The jacket design is by Rodrigo Corral. The text is set up in a two-column format that makes it an easy flip-and-read. This is great for ADD professionals on the go. Subway riders without Kindles.  For you pretty picture and graphic fans, this book might disappoint. There are none: it’s all words and paragraphs, branding as castor oil, straight up, without artificial sweeteners. Good medicine! Who knew a design book without images could be so refreshing? Enough with the Diet Coke logo crops, UPS man quads and Waitrose pig trotter packaging! Cover me up with words and ideas!

•         Detention for Everyone on Earth! — Wally Olins could give Severus Snape a run for his Knuts as a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts. This dude is complex. He demonstrates many faces. Kind, cruel. Forgiving, judgmental. Loner, tribal chieftain. Wally, Wally, Wally:  “I think I am outspoken. I can be abrasive…I have quite a short fuse, and I do lose my temper…I certainly do not suffer fools gladly… I am not intimidated by people… I don’t know… I need to belong… And when I belong, telegraphing this affiliation demonstrates loyalty, affection, and the durability of my relationship… The European Union. They need a kick in the ass. I wouldn’t mind doing that…”

•         Attention Wal-Mart Shoppers — [From Dori Tunstall] “[O]ur rituals of consumption are no longer as satisfactory to us. Because they are empty of human relationships… When people go to a garage sale to buy something, they actually feel very satisfied about the interaction…because the object they buy comes with a story—a very real, personal story…”

•         Are You Listening to Me?! — [From Virginia Postrel] “Think about it: We could be talking about something, and I’ll start out listening to you, and then you say something that reminds me that I need to go to the grocery store, and then that reminds me of the last time I was in the grocery store and I ran into Susan, and so on and so forth.”

I am listening. And reading. You should, too. Direct questions to Deb on her website. Tell them a Little Bird sent you (thanks, Sarah Burningham for your help!).

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    Neenah Paper said:

    Anytime we can fit Debbie Millman and Barbara Streisand into the same post, we do. Giants deserve the same venue.