Debbie Millman’s secret to staying in “career shape”

4 min read
Eli Woolery
  •  Nov 10, 2020
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As Debbie Millman completed Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design, she had a breakthrough. The host of the Design Matters podcast noticed that since she began the project, her drawings had sharpened; her essays had grown more poignant. Just like a steadfast weight lifting routine would cause perceptible changes to a physique, Debbie’s consistent work noticeably toned her creative muscles.

Debbie often advises her School of Visual Arts students to stay in “career shape” as they prepare to enter the workforce (she co-founded and currently chairs the New York City institution’s masters of professional studies in branding program). By this, she means regularly practicing the skills they learned in effort to not lose any creative prowess. But the opportunity to look back at her own work and note that she could still progress—even decades into her career—was an affecting experience.

“I think it’s so important to keep doing the things that you love to do in an effort to get better at them,” said the president emeritus of AIGA, the professional association for design, on The Design Better Podcast.

While it may seem like another espousal of “Practice makes perfect,” Debbie’s interpretation takes on a nuanced view on the adage. The goal shouldn’t be perfection, but faith in the process that small improvements do add up overtime—even when they’re not a conscious aim .

“I don’t know that you necessarily need to be conscious of how much better you’re getting,” Debbie says. “I think that makes it a little bit performative. But if you’re engaged in something, and you’re constantly working at it, I think it’s just inevitable that you’ll become stronger at doing it.”

Want to hear more of Debbie’s ideas, like the difference between designers and artists and why you shouldn’t be worried about productivity amid a pandemic?

Listen to the full episode here

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