Before I pass on my review for the really engaging book Looking Both Ways by Debbie Millman, I feel as though I should let people know that I know Debbie quite well. Many years ago Debbie was a contributor to the site Speak Up. While I didn’t know her at the time I found the comments and reactions that she would get from people was interesting. I knew that she was quite successful as the President of Sterling Brands so I invited her to speak in Edmonton. This was still before she started her interview series Design Matters. It was during that time of organizing the event in Edmonton that I began to know Debbie. By the time she had spoke in Edmonton, Design Matters was getting well known as was herself. We kept in touch and when I was visiting NYC from Edmonton she always made time for me and we became friends. Once I moved to the best city in the world we’d bump into each other from time to time. The next stage of me knowing Debbie was from her teaching at SVA, and me meeting her students before they completed her class. After that there’s Debbie the President of the AIGA. Now it’s as authour—I can also make the claim to have listened to every single Design Matters interview at least once, many a couple times. So when I read Looking Both Ways it was really hard not to hear her voice. It was like I’ve heard every syllable pronounced at some point. Having that background only made the book more enjoyable to read.
Some of the stories seemed familiar while others were entirely new to me. Flipping through the pages every story is designed in a unique and compelling manner by Rodrigo Corral. The pace and tone set before and after each story should be commended. For example there’s a story near the beginning title Yellow that is displayed entirely from boards painted black with white type. The following story My First Love changes gears entirely with an italicized typeface sans images, yet fits perfectly after Yellow. Every story snaps into place like a puzzle piece.
I found myself wanting to read most of this book in the evening before I went to bed. I’m not much for reading in bed but I found that taking on a couple essays was an earned gift for the day I had just completed. I also noted that all those visuals affected my sleep state. I was dreaming a lot more. I’m sure this sounds a bit weird but I do think it’s important to note in this review. If you get the chance to read this book, try reading it before you fall asleep, it will change things entirely.
Before starting to read this book I wondered who exactly is this book written for? Debbie is an accomplished branding expert, and for her Design Matter’s intros she would start the program with a monologue of observations and stories. Translating that experience to paper and image, how would it work? And while I think New York Magazine got it right to place the book at the top of High Brow and Brilliant in it’s approval matrix, the description of it being about illustrated essays on design is a bit off. I’d say it’s more about a designer using their observations skills sharing personal reflections that are worth reading. Just like the We Feel Fine book that I reviewed last week, there’s a lot of people that I could easily give this book as a gift to, designer or not.
Thinking about a favourite story, there’s three that come to mind. Economy Foam because I remember hearing a version of this story while back in Edmonton. There’s something about hearing a description about NYC before ever setting foot here. On top of that, I haven’t read that many personal stories about a visual relationship with a brand like that from a design person. It certainly changed my perception of my visual landscape a bit. So reading about it again brought back all those memories. The second story was about Debbie’s experience in Japan getting lost. Fantastic story. And the third is about that momentous decision most designer’s have to make during their career titled Fail Safe. Once you read it you’ll know what I mean.