Interview with Askew Designer Debbie Millman
24 January 2017 by Joey Cofone
Debbie Millman is a writer, educator, artist, brand consultant, and host of the radio show Design Matters. We sit down with her and discuss the inspiration for Askew, how she got started down the path of creativity, and even get some advice for aspiring creatives.
What’s it like living and working in New York City, and how did you find your way to design?
I am a native New Yorker and a resident of every borough except the Bronx. I’ve lived in Manhattan now for the last 33 years. The only thing I can tell you that I’ve ever felt 100% certain about is that I always wanted to live in Manhattan. I have a great, big love affair going on with this city. I love almost everything about New York City. I love the intensity of the pace, the diversity of the people, the street signs, even the noise. When I first moved into Manhattan, I was in my twenties. I’d spend endless hours sitting in the windows of cafes on Hudson Street, listening to blues at Dan’s on Second Avenue and dancing on the rooftop of Danceteria. I always went home by myself, but as I walked across 8th street to my apartment in Chelsea, I strutted and sashayed and imagined I was street smart and savvy and somebody. I feel at home here; I feel like I belong; this is my safe place. I was born here and I’ll probably die here.
I started working in design primarily because it was the only marketable skill that I had. When I was in college (The State University at Albany, in Albany New York) I wrote for the student newspaper and I became the Arts and Feature editor in my senior year. As part of the role of editor you also had to lay out and design the paper. I found that to be something truly remarkable, like magical. I loved doing it and I loved doing it as much if not more than the editing, writing and assigning stories. There wasn't much I could do with an English degree; I didn't want to be an account executive in an ad agency. I had this skill of being able to do what is considered now old school layout drafting skills. My first jobs were working as a freelance designer paste-up artist.
Askew is a ruled notebook completely drawn by hand. How did you come up with the idea and the name?
I have had the idea of doing a notebook like this when I was creating my first book of illustrated essays, Look Both Ways. One of the essays, a piece titled, “Her Story is Strange,” was created entirely on ruled paper that I hand drew. (Image attached). Ever since then, I dreamt of doing an entire notebook in this style. Thank you for making my dream come true.
As far as the title is concerned, it is a homage to the late great Tibor Kalman, who designed a clock with that name. The numbers were literally “askew;” Tibor believed that as long as the 12 was in the correct position, people could tell the correct time no matter where the other numbers were. I feel the same way about ruled paper. As long as there are lines—no matter how they are organized—people will still be able to write in—and on—them.
Surprises are scattered throughout the notebook. What was the process like to design them?
It was joyful and fun and scary and thrilling and a dream-come-true.
What do you hope people will get out of the experience of using the Askew notebook?
I hope that people will get a sense of freedom and surprise and inspiration—with a touch of mischief—when using the Askew notebook.
What’s your best advice for others looking to journey down the creative path?
I was interviewing the great writer Dani Shapiro and we were talking about the role of confidence in success. She stated that she felt that confidence wasn’t as important as courage, and that the action to DO something was much more critical to success than the idea that you feel confident about doing it. The notion that courage is more important than confidence has stayed with me ever since.
Hope you enjoyed! Check out Askew and get one while they last.