Today the long-awaited book Why Design Matters: Conversations With the World’s Most Creative People is being released. After a frustrating pandemic-related shipping delay, this smartly edited anthology of transcripts from Debbie Millman’s popular podcast Design Matters is an insightful celebration of creative imagining, making, doing and thinking, a fitting complement to the podcast and a valuable entity on its own. I was invited to write a brief essay for the book, an excerpt of which appears below (with photos of some of Millman’s guests).
When Debbie Millman launched her internet radio series Design Matters 15 years ago, the period when the web was aggressively taking off as a vast broadcasting platform, she opened a forum for conversing with and listening to designers speak about their work, influences, clients, old techniques, new technologies and eccentric methods; not to mention their professional, social and personal lives. Millman reckoned that if the design community would voluntarily pay conference fees to attend a lecture or workshop where designers would inspire audiences with their show-and-tells, this same audience (and possibly many other interested folks) would be happy to spend an hour a week for free to hear even more about design, directly in the comfort of their homes and studios on their computers or iPods.
Her series is not just a pioneering podcast, it is the best. The cleverly titled Design Matters has never been a fishing expedition to catch soundbites, and as the show continually evolves, Millman has waded ever deeper into the minds, motivations and, of course, work of her subjects.
But what most distinguishes Design Matters is its affable host who lovingly delves into all aspects of design culture. Her style centers on posing questions designed to elicit revelatory and surprising responses from her well-known (and frequently lesser-known) guests. As with all interviews, Millman discusses recent work as hooks on which to routinely hang juicy themes. She draws out her interviewees in candid ways that neither they nor the audience expect to hear. Each guest is subjected to a fair share of challenging questions. Millman refuses to feed them flack queries to get predictable responses.
Millman’s initial years (now over 400 episodes) explored the demimonde of graphic, product and industrial designers, photographers, illustrators, typographers and other visual artists, so one might logically assume the title Design Matters would limit her scope. You would be wrong. In recent years she has interviewed a range of fiction and nonfiction authors, musicians and composers, scientists and innovators, performers and entertainers of all stripes and backgrounds. It makes sense: Design Matters has always been at root about language in general, not just design languages. Maybe Millman’s next incarnation could be called “Language Matters.” What do you think?