Robyn Kanner’s sponsor asked what her goals were. She said she was going to elect the next president of the United States. And in this episode exploring her powerful journey, she breaks down how she helped do exactly that.

Design Matters: Robyn Kanner

DESIGNER / ARTIST / WRITER

2021

Robyn Kanner / design / political design / Joe Biden / Kamala Harris / Studio Gradients / gender / identity / sobriety

Transcript


Debbie Millman:

When we think back to the Biden/Harris campaign and its visual identity, what did we see? On websites, campaign literature, television backgrounds and buses, we saw deep-blue backdrops, red accents, crisp, clear fonts and carefully crafted slogans. The imagery projected patriotism, competence and gravitas. Robyn Kanner gets a lot of the credit for this. She was senior creative advisor for the Biden/Harris campaign, and the creative director for the recent inauguration. Since the campaign, Robyn and three other members of the Biden/Harris creative team have formed their very own branding and design agency, Studio Gradients, and we’re going to talk all about that today. Robyn Kanner, welcome to Design Matters.


Robyn Kanner:

Hi, Debbie, how are you?


Debbie Millman:

Oh, I’m great. Thank you for asking. Robyn, I understand that you saw Janeane Garofalo at a party a few years ago, and the fact that you didn’t tell her how much you loved her in Reality Bites is one of your life’s biggest regrets.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah.


Debbie Millman:

What was it that you liked so much about her performance? And why didn’t you go up to her?


Robyn Kanner:

I just think she’s such an incredible actress with a solid point of view. And that’s something that I have a lot of admiration and respect towards. I’m such a sucker from the ’90s in every way. Every piece of art that I’ve liked basically comes out of the ’90s, and she just played such an integral role, and so much art that I respected, including Reality Bites. I was at a party for Wildfang in Lower Manhattan, and she was there. And I just thought about going up and just saying like, “Hi, I like your work,” but sometimes I just feel like a nerd. Those events aren’t places to have deep existential conversations, they’re for quick moments, and I just didn’t want to have a quick moment.


Robyn Kanner:

I just was like, “I really respect and admire your work, but we’re in this different setting, so we’re not going to have that kind of conversation.” So I just didn’t say anything. And then, every time I rewatch Reality Bites, I go, “Damn, I really should’ve just said hi to her,” because, I mean, she’s just so fantastic in that film.


Debbie Millman:

Perhaps when this show comes out, we can get somebody to get a copy to her, and who knows? Maybe—


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah, just tell her I said “thanks.”


Debbie Millman:

… that’ll be in your future.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah.


Debbie Millman:

Robyn, you grew up in rural Maine in a pocket-sized town called Fairfield, population 6,563. In the summer, all the teenagers in your neighborhood would meet down at the Kennebec River to go fishing. And I understand your first job was bailing hay on a farm. Tell us all about that. Was it difficult work?


Robyn Kanner:

It was, physically and mentally, difficult work. Yeah. We had a family friend in Clinton who had a farm, and my mom was really set on me getting a job at a young age and really figuring out what life was all about. And so I bailed hay, I think when I was like 14 or 15, for like $5 an hour. I think what made it physically demanding was just the intensity of bailing hay. You have these rectangle hay bales; it’s the middle of the summer in Maine. The water that we drank was like the sulfur-y water, so, it wasn’t even like a crisp, like Poland Spring water.


Debbie Millman:

Yeah, comfy water.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah, you just had these really hot days. And there were things that made it rewarding, which was, at the end of work, we would eat sandwiches on a porch. And that always just felt really nice to me, but it was mentally demanding because I was surrounded primarily around men, at a time in which I really had a hard time identifying as one, meaning that I wasn’t one. So it created these hard moments mentally where I had to compromise, which would be the coping mechanism of my youth.


Debbie Millman:

Your father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when you were 6 years old. And I read that when you were a kid, you worried every single night that that would be the night your dad died. How did you understand and handle his being ill?


Robyn Kanner:

Not well. Oh, man—


Debbie Millman:

If it’s still hard to talk about it, I completely understand.


Robyn Kanner:

No, it’s OK. I guess there are a couple of pieces to it. One is that there is a power dynamic between a child and a parent. And from a very early age, that shifted in my family in the sense that, mentally, my dad was more intelligent than me, he knew more about the world than me, he was more well-read than me, he had raised me. He had been my north star forever. And physically, from a very early age, there was a separation between us. He would walk with a cane, I wouldn’t. He would walk with a walker or he was in a wheelchair, and I wouldn’t. And it created a lot of tension in our relationship at a very early age. It was strange to experience loss so closely and intimately at an age in which I was too naive to understand completely what was happening.


Robyn Kanner:

So, I didn’t have the tools to take a step back and look at it at the big picture, I was just always trying to make it through the day. And I think my mom would probably say the same. When you’re in it, it’s a little hard to process and look at the full picture. But as I’ve gotten older, and taking a look back, the thing that really stays with me is how difficult it was for us to manage the power dynamic and our physicality.


Debbie Millman:

You were 6 years old when he was diagnosed, and you helped him and he was able to live at home until you were 17. You’ve written that your mom told you that your dad took a lot of his frustrations out on you, but you stated that you don’t remember much of it and that your memory is blank. Is that still the case?


Robyn Kanner:

It is, for the most part. When I was deep in addiction, a large part of why I did drugs, and a large part of why I drank, was to forget about the past. It just wasn’t something I wanted to have in my life. And I found drinking helped me forget it. The problem is, is when I got sober, I really wanted those memories back, and I couldn’t get them. And over the years, I’ve done things like deep meditation, really writing, focusing, honing in on the past, to try to bring it closer to me. But what I’ve come to realize is even when it comes back, it’s still through sort of a rosy glass, so it’s hard to understand those memories as real, and it’s hard to be reliable about them.


Robyn Kanner:

And I think that is sort of a blessing and a curse in some ways, because I would really love to see that picture full and clear and crisp and understand it. But I’m not sure how helpful it would really be for me. My dad is such a north star in everything I do. I mean, he’s why I got into politics. I wouldn’t have done anything political without him. And I think that’s a better memory to hold onto than any negative things I can’t remember.


Debbie Millman:

I totally understand. And sometimes I feel like my life’s mission is to understand and try to recall my memories from the time I was 9 until the time I was 13. I feel like everything would make sense if I just could remember every single day and not have those sort of pockets of blankness that I try to fill up with ideas about those moments.


Robyn Kanner:

Sure. Yeah.


Debbie Millman:

Six years old was a very important year in your life—you not only found out about your dad’s illness, you’ve also written that this is the time that you began to realize that you were trans. And this is what you stated: “You know how kids describe what they want to be when they grow up, like a firefighter? When I was 6 years old, I said I wanted to be a woman when I grew up.” Robyn, did you share that with anyone? Was that what you told people when they asked you? And how did you feel about this realization?


Robyn Kanner:

No, I definitely did not tell anybody. I didn’t know much at 6, 7 years old, but I knew that wasn’t going to fly. What that really did was it gave me a secret, and I think in some ways, secrets are a good thing, but in some ways, they’re a really bad thing. And when I think about that, I think about how I lacked agency primarily, and how that lack of agency really pushed me into becoming a pretty intense introvert when I was young. And I really believe that the past has to be the past. There’s no changing the past, it just is. And when I think about gender and my relations to it, I guess I just think about how, I think, [inaudible] that my gender is mine, and in a time where I think that identities can sometimes become culture, and they can become really big, and they can be shared and owned by other people in some ways.


Robyn Kanner:

And I definitely fell into that trap in my 20s, but the work that I’ve done over the last few years was really just taking ownership over my own identity in a way that hasn’t been mine since it was a secret when I was 6. And as much as that can be isolating, it’s also nice to be able to control who I am a little bit more.


Debbie Millman:

Yeah, it’s interesting how our culture somehow allows the sharing of opinions, thoughts, ideas about one’s body, about one’s relationship to their body. I was just reading the introduction to Julia Turshen’s new cookbook, and it struck me how much she felt that comments about her body were just accepted as she was growing up, and how much that impacted her and how she felt about her body, which was able-bodied and healthy, and yet, she felt that she was always less than because of how much she weighed. And just the idea that it’s acceptable for somebody to have an opinion on how much somebody weighs, let alone their gender, I mean, it’s just, to me, unimaginable to think what the world would be like if we didn’t do that.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah. I think in some ways, once you start to share stories about your identity, and this can be gender, it can be anything, it almost gives them agency to own a little piece of you.


Debbie Millman:

Yes.


Robyn Kanner:

And I think when I was really young, I was completely unaware of how much of a misstep that is to let people have that, for a few reasons. One, I mean, you just get put into this box, like, everything about me for a few years was really tied into a neat and tidy box of being a specific type of trans woman. And I almost felt like it was for other people, because the conversations were so wrapped around their feelings on it. And it was hard for me to be crass and just say, “I don’t care. What you think of me doesn’t shift who I am.” And if that is the truth, then why do I even need to share this piece of me with strangers? And that sort of thinking caused a lot of rifts in my life, but it also freed me from this really tight glass box that I didn’t feel like I wanted to be in. It’s a little vague, but it’s—


Debbie Millman:

No, I completely understand. When I first came out, because I came out so much later in life, suddenly I had to be talking about my sexuality, which was something that I never talked about before then; it was always super private to me. And so, suddenly, with this announcement or this sharing of my sexual orientation somehow, it then became OK to ask about things that I never talked about when I was presenting as straight. So, I was really baffled and somewhat irritated and really intolerant of that in a lot of ways. It was nobody’s business, but suddenly, somehow, it felt like it was to other people.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah, “irritated” is the right word to use. And what I learned really over the last few years is it doesn’t matter what I do. Like, I look around now and I go, like, “OK, I helped win an election, I’m in the middle of writing a book, I just started an agency.” I have done all these things, and sure enough, the first question a stranger is going to ask me is, “So, you’re trans, do you have a dick?”


Debbie Millman:

Oh, fuck.


Robyn Kanner:

So, you just have to be like, “I helped win an election, how could you care?” But that’s still the first thing that’s on their mind. And if I let them have that conversation, then my identity is not mine anymore. It’s just a performance for you. And that’s just something I’m entirely unwilling to sacrifice.


Debbie Millman:

Absolutely. Let’s talk about your design career.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah.


Debbie Millman:

After high school, you attended a community college and studied history; you then attended a film school in Bangor, Maine, for a semester; you then went to a liberal arts state college in Farmington, Maine, where you were accepted into the art program. When did you decide that you wanted to be a designer?


Robyn Kanner:

Somewhere in the middle of there, somewhere in the middle of there. I think that I was such a bad student. I mean, I barely graduated high school. I mean, I have no idea what my high school GPA was. I’m guessing it was somewhere around a C or a D or something. And getting into a community college, I did OK. In Farmington school, I did OK in there. Yeah, at school, I did OK. I think that at Farmington, I was getting wheeled into the direction of being an artist and thinking like one. Design is a practice that was looked down on in art school, and I really thought that success in design was going to cure a lot of the problems I had around gender or around my dad’s death.


Robyn Kanner:

It was going to fill this God-sized hole that was in me. And I made a lot of design work because of that. Design was more of a survival than a craft at that point. I don’t think I ever consciously thought to myself, “I’m going to be a great designer.” At that time, it was always, “I’m going to make design so I can get out of this area.” And when I dropped out of college, I could still get a job in design. Nobody really cared. So, I think for a while, I saw myself as a designer only to make something that helped me get to a different place, get to a different state, get to a different city. Just trying to get out of Maine.


Robyn Kanner:

It’s funny because now I don’t even know if I am a designer. I don’t think I am, because I don’t think of my work. Sometimes people will say, like, “Oh, you’re a writer or a designer.” I’m like, “Well, I’m just a person who can design.” I can take the trash out, and I can cook dinner, and I can call my mom. I’m all these things. I don’t need to be defined by the fact that like I’m good on a computer or good with composition.


Debbie Millman:

Well, you’re multifaceted. You’re definitely more of a polymath, with bylines in The New York Times and Wired. I mean, you’ve got so many outlets that I would hesitate to say that you’re just a designer. You’re a creative person who designs and writes and makes things and win elections.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah, it’s something I can do. I think about Donald Glover a lot. He gave an interview once with, I think it was somebody who was asking him about being a rapper, and told him, Glover was like, “I’m not a rapper. That’s so lame.”


Debbie Millman:

It’s so limited.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah. And I really adopted that theology for design. I’m just like, “I’m not a designer.” That’s just one outlet, that’s one medium. I want the whole world. I want to be able to make in everything.


Debbie Millman:

You’re also a photographer.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah.


Debbie Millman:

And back when you were first designing, it was really in tandem with photography and creating images and branding really for musicians. Talk about that period of your life and what kind of work you were doing. You did like 50 or 60 albums covers, right?


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah. Those were the golden years.


Debbie Millman:

Yeah.


Robyn Kanner:

I loved that time for a few reasons, one of which is how untethered I was to the world. I mean, I had been in Maine, really terrified about my own gender, really terrified about my dad’s death, really just afraid of the world. And when I got into music, I found all these weirdos that just like to make art, and didn’t really care about anything else.


Debbie Millman:

Art people.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah. And I loved them for that. Even in their sort of neurosis, they were still some of my best friends. I just loved being weird with people who were OK with being weird. I never had to hide myself from them. And I really appreciated their ability to tell story, because I wasn’t a kid who read a lot of books, I wasn’t a kid who watched a lot of film critically. I didn’t think of the world through that lens. But when I was friends with musicians and I’d listen to my friends like Stan and Chris, and Sean, and Dan, and Miguel, talk about writing songs, I just understood the craft of storytelling from a different lens.


Robyn Kanner:

I found its power in it and I wanted to just live in that power because it was so fascinating, the things that they could write, and the things that they could say, and the feelings that they could evoke from people. I wanted that ability to tell people what was going on in my body. Even if at that time I didn’t have the skillset to do it, I was really admiring them for being able to do it, and I was really learning from them too.


Debbie Millman:

You were working as a freelance photographer at First Avenue in Minneapolis, and on the night you shot Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band, you wrapped up at about 3 a.m. and ended up having to walk home because you couldn’t afford a bus ticket. What happened on that walk home?


Robyn Kanner:

A lot of things. That whole night was absurd. Yeah, shooting at First Ave. was one of the most remarkable experiences because of the stories in that building. I mean, Prince’s Purple Rain was shot there, you have 7th Street Entry right next door. That sort of hub of Minneapolis is beautiful. And that was also the first time that I was outside of Maine and in a different city, and wasn’t really accustomed with the world. On that walk home, it was right around the time that I was starting to transition. There was a few dudes who were coming at me and they were clearly frustrated about my gender, and there was a scuffle that I was able to run out of.


Robyn Kanner:

And it really terrified me because I had just experienced this beautiful high—photographing bands, especially when you’re in your early 20s, in a photo pit, it’s like your heart is racing. It’s a remarkable moment. And you have a moment to really spend it in photograph and make art. And I was still in that headspace when I heard these guys behind me, and I had to so quickly leave that headspace and run and avoid a potentially really bad situation. And I just remember feeling very powerless in a way that I never wanted to feel again. And that night, I stayed up the whole time after I got back to the place I was crashing. I did a lot of drugs and I didn’t sleep. And I was really afraid of the world that I was very evasive to the people around me.


Robyn Kanner:

And I remember like a few days after that, I just got on a bus to Chicago and slept on a different couch for a week, and I had to really reevaluate how I was going to live in the world because I just didn’t have tools. When you’re growing up, it’s like you’re trying to build a home, but certain people have different sets of tools. I didn’t have a saw, I didn’t have a screwdriver. So, the ability to how to build a home without those tools was shifty at best. And I think about that night and I wish I wasn’t so embarrassed to be myself in that moment.


Debbie Millman:

It’s so hard to not feel embarrassment when you’ve been through the kind of trauma that you have.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah.


Debbie Millman:

I think the natural instinct somehow is to blame oneself for whatever trauma is inflicted upon our bodies. And that situation in your life was really pivotal in terms of the decisions that you made about who you are. For a time, you detransitioned, and then made the decision to really make sure you were able to have access to the hormones that you needed. And at 25, you transitioned again.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah. It’s why I’m so obsessed with control. I mean, if there’s anything I’m obsessed with more than anything, it’s control. I like to be able to control everything about a moment, and I like to be able to control everything about a narrative. And I really believe in control, probably to an unhealthy circumstance. I mean, my therapist has called me out on this before, but I really don’t like to be in a position of vulnerability.


Debbie Millman:

Why would you? And it’s a least-favorite feeling in the world for me. I can’t stand it. I love certainty and predictability and being able to know exactly when things are going to happen, and when they’re not. And it’s really led to some unpleasant moments in my life because you can’t live that way, but it doesn’t mean I don’t want to.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah, no. I mean, it’s something that I’ve had to compromise and get over and work through. But when I think back on those times, I wish I had more agency, but I don’t scold myself for not. There’s not a part of me that is hard on me for not having agency at that time. It just sort of was the cards I had to play at the moment, and it all worked out in the end.


Debbie Millman:

… You went back to Maine after Chicago and basically talked yourself into one of your first jobs as a graphic designer—sort of proper jobs, I guess I would say, in that it was a full-time gig. And you got that job at Staples. So, talk about how you talked your way into that job. It’s such a great story.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah. So, I went back to Maine after Chicago, made a bunch of records, did that. And at the point in which I retransitioned, I realized that Maine was not going to be a place that I was going to able to do that. It was just impossible for me to land a job. In a really sort of crass way, nobody knew what to do with me, but the difference between that moment and the moment before was I was just so unapologetic about what was going to happen, that you were either on board or out. I was out of the room. And at Staples, it was so funny because I was working with this recruiter who had probably talked to like 30 of me a day. And with this job at Staples, I really wanted it, but it was going to require so much legwork.


Robyn Kanner:

It was in Framingham; I was living in Maine. I’d have to move to Boston, but I’d have to get a car, but I was broke. So, I drove this really shitty car. And there was all these sort of circumstances that made it hard to do, but I was just relentless in the pursuit. There was nothing that was going to stop me from being a designer for paper packaging.


Debbie Millman:

They asked you if you lived in Boston and you told them you did, right?


Robyn Kanner:

Oh, yeah.


Debbie Millman:

Classic Glengarry Glen Ross tactic.


Robyn Kanner:

I had driven down for this interview, and the recruiter had prepped me really hard on what to say, how to talk about it. And he was like, “You have to be living in Boston to work at this job. Grail, who’s the design manager, he’s going to ask you about it. You’ve got to know your stuff.” And so, what I did is I Google Mapped just a neighborhood in Boston and the Staples HQ, and I memorized that route. So, when I did the interview, it was smooth, it was good, it felt right, and then in the elevator on the way down, Grail was like, “So, where do you live?” And I had it memorized. I had the Google Maps memorized in my head. I was like, “I live in Brighton and I took Route 9, traffic wasn’t that bad. I stopped at the Whole Foods.”


Robyn Kanner:

I gave him such specific detail, because I’d memorized the Google Maps route. And when I left, I got the call back that I got the job and I found an apartment immediately and left Maine immediately and started working at Staples. I mean, I can’t tell you how intensely I was all in on Staples. And I’m so grateful I did. I mean, I met the most incredible people. Grail taught me so many things about being a person and being a designer. It was just a remarkable period of time. But when I think back on it, I’ll never forget the anxiety of being in that elevator, just running through the Google Maps route in my head. Really?


Debbie Millman:

And I love it. I love that you said new stuff there. One of your next big jobs was as an art director at Amazon. And so you moved to Seattle and you stayed at Amazon for nearly two years. And you said that the work there took a toll on your brain in a different way. And I was wondering if you can talk about how and why that happened.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah. There were a few reasons. The biggest one was, in Boston, I was working through active trauma, and in Maine, I had active trauma. And I wanted to get so far away from that trauma that I moved as necessarily as far as I could away from the East Coast, which was Seattle, WA. So, when I was at Amazon, that’s when I first got a therapist, so I was starting to process the past. I was also taking on a different world. I hadn’t grown up. I lived off the state growing up. We were on Medicare and Medicaid, and the majority of jobs I ever took was sort of low-income things. I’d never had money in my life.


Robyn Kanner:

And I got to Amazon, and I was in Seattle, and at that time, working at Amazon was almost this golden ticket—like the things that I never imagined doing, like buying a couch. That was such an archaic concept to me, because I just assumed I’d never be a person who owned a couch. It just didn’t feel like it was in the cards for me. So, there were all these sort of personal things that were happening. I was grappling with the past, I was grappling with finance, and also still grappling with the work. Amazon is such a data-oriented place. You don’t make decisions off of intuition for the most part, you’re making decisions based off data that exists from books and design system that have existed for years.


Robyn Kanner:

And it really shifted the way I had to think about design entirely. And it also shifted how—I have worked in a corporate environment, and either had to tone down parts of my eccentricities or figure out a way to manage them with being inside.


Debbie Millman:

You’ve said you’ve been on two interviews in your life, one was with a theater company, and the other was with Facebook, which, at the time, you felt would have solved all your problems and would have allowed you to feel successful. So, how did you bond in the interview? What happened?


Robyn Kanner:

The Facebook interview was, it was such a remarkable experience. And it was remarkable because I’d never done an interview that was eight hours long.


Debbie Millman:

Whoa.


Robyn Kanner:

Facebook interview was like a full day. They fly you out to Palo Alto, they put you up in this really fancy hotel, and you’re in their house for the most part. And I was broke while I was interviewing at Facebook. I mean, I remember landing in Palo Alto and being in one of the richest cities in the world, and going to a 7-Eleven and buying peanut butter and bread to make sandwiches in this hotel before this interview. And so, I was already in this headspace of like, I’m feeling out of my league and feeling overwhelmed, and feeling like I wasn’t going to fit in. And throughout that interview, predominantly talked to a lot of white dudes and a lot of cis dudes.


Robyn Kanner:

And as much as I had transitioned at that point, I wasn’t fully comfortable with who I was at the time. And I hadn’t learned that—if this is the coldest statement I say in this whole podcast, it might be—but I hadn’t learned to properly work with straight cis white dudes. And that is in many ways, a key to why I’ve been able to do the work that I’ve been able to do, is I’ve learned how to work with them because they still run the show. And at Facebook, I just didn’t have the tools to really conversate with these people. And so, when we were deep in conversation in the interview, I was always really nervous, because I felt like I was teaching them while they were asking me to solve a problem. And it made me really awkward.


Robyn Kanner:

And there’re many things here. One is, I probably shouldn’t have bothered with the interview to begin with. Probably shouldn’t have put myself in a position of teaching. I probably shouldn’t have been in the room. But in hindsight, I found it to be such a good experience because it taught me what not to do, in a lot of ways. And I don’t think they’re a bad company, and I don’t think anything … I just think that they would have changed me in the same way that Amazon changed me. And I’m just glad that they didn’t have the chance to change me.


Debbie Millman:

What have you learned about how to work with the cis white men?


Robyn Kanner:

Man, it’s such a challenging question to answer. I’ve learned to meet them where they are, and that is, to find a shared interest and talk about that shared interest, whatever it may be. It is most often sports. But if it is anything else, I can have that conversation. I just thought that a lot of people were so awkward on gender, and it was just easier for me if I knew how to talk their language, and that was sports, and that was a conversation I could manage. It was easier to not be perceived as weird.


Debbie Millman:

Robyn. In 2017, you moved to Brooklyn to work at Etsy as a senior product designer. What was it like for you to come back to the East Coast, but to move to Brooklyn, which is very, very different than Maine?


Robyn Kanner:

Sloppy.


Debbie Millman:

Really?


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah. When I moved back to New York was when I was deep in addiction in a way that I hadn’t been before. That time is really blurry for me. It’s hard to remember it, if I’m being real. I would say, a lot of things that were pent up were released at that time, and I just had lost my way in the world. And when I think about that time, I just think about how deep my resentments were to the world around me. And there was a lot of nights in bars. Yeah.


Debbie Millman:

You talk about this a lot, you express a lot of the feelings that you were having at the time in a project that you did from January to April in 2018 with designer and artist Timothy Goodman, and comedian and writer Akilah Hughes. You started a project called Friends With Secrets, where you all participated in online text therapy. And these sessions captured a really unique slice of your lives, quite a lot of the heartbreak that you were going through. What made you decide to create that project?


Robyn Kanner:

I think it was just sort of something that we had to say. And I’m not sure I would do it again.


Debbie Millman:

How come?


Robyn Kanner:

It was relentless emotionally. I mean, it was—


Debbie Millman:

Yeah, it was a relentless reading.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah. It was taxing in a way that wasn’t funny. And I’ve since come to really admire humor in work. And for me, there was no humor in that project. I mean, it was all just everything. It was relentless in its pursuit for processing trauma. And I think having done that around the same time that I got sober and was at the end of my binging, in a way, it captures the worst of me.


Debbie Millman:

Oh, I don’t think so, Robyn. I think it captures the most vulnerable part of you. It’s truly magnificent in its rawness, in its honesty, in its presentation of someone going through heartbreak and trauma. I think it’s gorgeous and sad, but really beautiful. Really, really beautiful.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah. I think if I did it all over again, I would’ve put it in a character’s voice and not my own. And then I wouldn’t have to shoulder the experience as intensely as I have. I think that sort of the things everybody talked to that piece was so heartfelt and so important and so of the time. I don’t think it had to be me. I think I could have put that in a character and got some of that out in different ways.


Debbie Millman:

Well, as somebody that benefited from the way that you talk about your trauma, somebody that’s really struggled with my own shame of being who I am and why I am, I think for the millions of other people in the world that feel that way, reading the work that the three of you put out in the world, I think just gives people a sense that they’re not alone in their experience of trauma, and I think provides people with an opportunity to overcome some of their own shame in that.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah.


Debbie Millman:

So, thank you for that.


Robyn Kanner:

I don’t mean to downplay the work or anything that I’ve worked on; I think that when you make it, you have such a critical view of it. And there was so much gold in all the experiences I’m talking about, right? There was gold in working at Amazon, there was gold in being deep into addiction, there was gold in Friends With Secrets. The parts that I think about is the bronze of it all, the pieces that could have just been a little bit better. And that’s from my own head.


Debbie Millman:

So, that’s craft, that’s craft, which evolves as we evolve.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah.


Debbie Millman:

Robyn, over the course of the project, you revealed that you were often engaging with your therapist while drunk. In some of your other writing, you share how you started drinking at 15, smoking pot at 16; for a time, you were also addicted to Xanax and began harming yourself by cutting. But in July of 2018, you got sober and you’ve been sober ever since.


Robyn Kanner:

Sure, I have.


Debbie Millman:

Congratulations.


Robyn Kanner:

Thanks.


Debbie Millman:

And I believe you stopped drinking on your own, cold turkey. How did you do that?


Robyn Kanner:

I was cold turkey for about a week, then I went into AA. And very much, that helped. That first week was the hardest though. There was really just no other option, and it’s clearest way. That’s it. There was no other option. I had taken it to like the nth degree. I was on a real Leaving Las Vegas bent. I was going for the gold around that time. I mean, everything I was doing was about ruining. I just wanted to ruin myself. And in July, when I made the decision to stop doing that, my body just didn’t have much left in me. It was so unromantic. I never pictured myself having my last drink, but my last drink was a frose, which is not even a good drink. And I had four of them back to back in sort of a dusty bar.


Robyn Kanner:

And there is a specific type of sadness to drinking froses on a Sunday night. I think it was a Sunday. I can’t remember. My pattern for living at that time was, wake up, stumble around, get a couple things done, start drinking in a bar, drink until that bar closes, and then I’d go home, sometimes harm myself, sometimes smoke a blunt, call a crisis counselor, talk to them until I passed out. And then I just did it again. It’s not a great way to live. And I think that there were things in me that I wanted to do that I just wasn’t in the position to do. I wanted to affect change, I wanted to be in the world, I wanted to make it better, but I was so terrified of it too.


Robyn Kanner:

I mean, I was terrified of the past. I was terrified of facing my dad’s death. I was terrified of getting hurt. And just so much of it came down to fear. And so much about being an addict or alcoholic comes down to fear. And in July, when I made the decision to get sober, it was a thing that had to happen. And that first week, what it looked like was, sitting alone in my apartment with the blinds up in the middle of the summer and drinking water. And, I mean, my hands were shivering. I mean, I literally played video games just so my hands wouldn’t shake. It was sad. There was nothing romantic about it. So many drunks in New York City just think that they’re going to make a Jackson Pollock. And I was one of them. I was totally one of them.


Robyn Kanner:

It was just like, “I’m going to get drunk and make this great painting.” And I never did. I mean, I got drunk, but I never made a good painting. Luckily for me, I found a sponsor who quite literally saved my life in the best way possible. And I literally don’t do anything I do without her.


Debbie Millman:

You’ve written about how you believe trauma has layers. How has getting sober helped you understand those layers?


Robyn Kanner:

Every day, it peels back a new thing. You go into the weeds on it. And once you get past the pain, it’s really beautiful. You really start to see things on a different angle. And moments that would have felt sad when I was still drunk, now have beauty in them. Very small things. I mean, my dad, when he had MS, he lost mobility basically every year. Around the time he lost his ability to walk, he really didn’t want to lose the ability to go to the restroom himself. And what that meant was that he would stand up on his walker, and I would be on all fours pushing his feet each step so he could walk to use the restroom.


Robyn Kanner:

And I remember thinking about that moment when I was drunk with a profound sadness. And now, when I think about it, I had such a beautiful funny moment, and I’m way grateful that I have that. There’s a real delight in uncovering the layers there and finding the beauty in them, even if I couldn’t have seen it at the time.


Debbie Millman:

A year after getting sober, you were contacted by a friend who had worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016, about an opportunity to work on Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign. Talk about that experience. You decided you wanted to take the job, and I understand that you had already told a friend of yours that—a different friend—that you wanted to help elect the next president of the United States.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah, yeah.


Debbie Millman:

And then this opportunity comes your way. So, talk about that moment and how it happened and what you ended up doing.


Robyn Kanner:

There were so many layers to it. I mean, I told my sponsor the first time I met her, she asked me what my goals in sobriety were, I told her I was going to elect the next president of the United States.


Debbie Millman:

Oh my God, that’s incredible.


Robyn Kanner:

It was such a cocky move on my part, but I was so headstrong on it. I mean, I just looked at her dead in the face, and I was like, “My goal is to elect the next president, period.” And she just was like, “OK.” And started helping me work backwards on the steps, and even get to that place. But just shortly after I got sober, I had written this article on The Times that was heavily discussed on the internet.


Debbie Millman:

Where you confessed to working on George Bush’s campaign? That one?


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah, confessing to, not working on it, but just volunteering for it as a 17 year old.


Debbie Millman:

Right.


Robyn Kanner:

That 17 year old holding signs outside and saying, “Vote Bush.” And the article created such a start on the internet. And I honestly thought when it came out, there was not going to be no way I was going to be able to work on the cycle. I thought I was canceled. I thought I was done. I mean, I was like, “Well, that was a short-lived idea to win the election,” because there was just so much heat around it. And I remember telling a friend, I was just like, I was like, “I would really love to work on Beto’s campaign,” for many reasons. I mean, Beto just represented such a great voice in what I thought the country should have, then I see his voice in everything that I do.


Robyn Kanner:

And when I was getting sober and in the middle of that process, it was right around the time that Beto had this moment, talking about football players kneeling, and I just loved it so much and I thought to myself like, if I ever got out of the mess I was in, that was the guy I wanted to work for. And so, I’d emailed a few folks and was luckily enough that they wanted me to come out and move out to El Paso and got to have one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire life. The love I feel for El Paso, TX, is like, it’s so huge. It’s like as big as my heart is. I just love that place, and I love the people, I love the sunsets, I love the food, I love the heat, I love the humidity. Everything about El Paso is incredible.


Robyn Kanner:

And got to work on this campaign during a really intense time. I started, and a month or two after I started, there was a mass shooting at the Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso, and that event brought me so close with that city. And I had been going to AA meetings while I was on the campaign. AA meetings in El Paso are very different than the ones in New York. I mean, in New York it’s people who want to be Jackson Pollock, but in El Paso, it’s people who have left the cartel and would like to get sober. So, you’re in a very, very, very different room. And I just fell in love with it in every way. And when the shooting happened, I felt like we all came closer. I mean, there was such a compassion in that city that I just … it was really the best thing ever.


Debbie Millman:

After Beto dropped out of the race, you were offered a job as vice president of digital for STG Results, a political and public affairs advocacy firm in Washington. So, you moved to Washington. What was your life like at that point in this new political realm?


Robyn Kanner:

Oh, it was so strange. I mean, it was great, but it was so strange. When our campaign ended in El Paso, I went back to New York for a month and slept on my sponsor’s couch and really just had to reckon with what happened in El Paso and process it. And one of the offers I got was to move to D.C. for STG. I just didn’t feel like I was done yet. I wasn’t really willing to accept the loss in El Paso. I felt like there was more work to get done, and STG was the right place to do it. So, I went to D.C., got an apartment, and was just deep in a political environment at a relatively intense time. And at STG is where I started to plot the Biden move and what that would become.


Robyn Kanner:

Biden’s HQ was in Philadelphia. So, while I was in D.C., I thought I was only going to be there for a month and move up to Philadelphia, but because of COVID-19, I ended up staying in D.C. in this sort of a makeshift department that I didn’t fully intend to live in. And that’s where we did the campaign, basically.


Debbie Millman:

I understand that the combination of your work with Beto and STG made a real impression on Biden campaign officials, and you were hired by the campaign in March 2020, and you were hired before Biden was the frontrunner. How did you feel about the race when you first joined, and Biden’s chances?


Robyn Kanner:

I had made the decision to go all in on Biden in January. In January, when the field was wide open, I just did the math. And to me, it was going to be Joe Biden. I just did the math and it was so clear in my head that it was him. I remember, I was sitting in Aaron’s office, we were going back and forth on some stuff, and I was like, “I know chances don’t look good, but can you put me up in a really bad hotel for a few days in Philadelphia so I can go and meet this team? Because I’m pretty sure Joe Biden’s going to be a nominee.” He thankfully agreed and I went up to Philadelphia and spent a few days with Rob Flaherty, and we just started to plot out what we could make.


Robyn Kanner:

Rob had been with me in El Paso, and I had trusted Rob, and he had trusted me, and going to Philadelphia those three days, we plotted out what would become joebiden.com on a napkin.


Debbie Millman:

I hope you still have that napkin.


Robyn Kanner:

I do. He actually used a sweet move on his part. When we won the election, we met at then Logan Circle in D.C., and he had me go to his apartment, and he had framed the napkin. It was like a very Western moment. So, I have it hanging in my apartment for now. And it’s probably going to go in a presidential library at some point in the next few decades here, but at the moment, it’s in my kitchen.


Debbie Millman:

I’d love to see that. I’d love to share with our listeners what that looks like.


Robyn Kanner:

It’s so funny because it’s so clearly like a website that came out of my head. I mean, the way I make websites is I take a song structure, and I go, “OK, where does the bridge go? Where do the verses go? Where does the chorus go?” So, if you look at the napkin, you can see like, “OK, there’s a chorus up top, then we’re going to go into a bridge, and that bridge is going to be like links out to emails and stuff like that, then we’ll do a big chorus around volunteering. We’ll do a little organizing bridge.” I make websites like I make songs. So, that’s what that napkin looks like.


Robyn Kanner:

But, yeah, those three days, we plotted this stuff out and I met with Carahna Magwood and Abbey Pitzer, and we all just plotted out what something could be. So, in March, that’s when it was, and I had already been thinking about it for two months. I can’t remember when it was announced publicly that I had joined the campaign, but there had been a few weeks prior to that that I was already deep into the work. So, I guess I was just very grateful that I had time before it became a thing. Because it took the country a little bit of time to get our head collectively around what was happening. At that time where everything was figuring itself out, I was already deep in the design process. So, I’m really grateful for those few weeks that nobody was expecting anything, but I could work just right there.


Debbie Millman:

I know that you worked on the Joe Biden logo, and I read that you felt that the mark needed to define the future of the country, but also needed to offer a sense of established familiarity. How were you able to accomplish both?


Robyn Kanner:

The way that I like to think about design or art or anything is through a sociological lens. I am not a designer who can code, but I’m a designer who read a bunch of Erving Goffman and Jean Baudrillard and Orlando Patterson, all these sort of classic sociologists. And I was really weary of a corporate symbol. And if you looked back on history throughout this century in political design, you had the O, and that cemented a mark of political design being corporate. And we had the H, which drove that N harder, and I just felt like if I had done a BH, if I had tried to have been clever with the country, it would have been so inauthentic. And at a time in which we only got authenticity, I just didn’t want to be clever with people, I wanted to be honest with them.


Robyn Kanner:

That’s sort of the big reason why there wasn’t an icon in the campaign. It was Biden-Harris. Biden was already a household name. And this is a thing Jonathan Hoefler and I talked about a lot, I mean, through those early explorations where I tried to push a B, or tried to push an H, or tried to add cleverness to it. The more clever it got it, I just felt like the more it got away from its goal. And it started to become design for designers. And I mean, I just don’t care what designers think. I’m sure they’re fine, and I just don’t care, what I was focusing on is like, “OK, how can I bring comfort and familiarity with Biden and Harris? How can we drive that in?”


Robyn Kanner:

So, we kept the three stripes from the primary logo. We explored various type weights. We pushed the kerning on it. Biden, thankfully, fits like a sandwich. I mean, those five letters just squeeze right in and it’s a tight little sandwich. But once you add a second name there, it loses its finesse. And a lot of the work that Jonathan and I did was figuring out a way to make sure that the mark felt like a brick, just felt so together and it symbolized a strength, and it symbolized a whole unit. And if you looked at the Trump and Pence logo, Pence was so small on the ticket. I mean, Pence, his name was like a centimeter big compared to Trump’s. And there was such a hierarchy between the two. And I wanted Biden and Harris to just feel like one tight unit together, and was really thankful that Harris has six letters in her last name.


Debbie Millman:

It did it for you in some ways, right? The proportion.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah. I mean, that’s what I’m most thankful for.


Debbie Millman:

Wired wrote a piece stating that you and your colleagues used your own life experiences to craft a strategy that was inclusive and unifying. What made you decide to use your own experiences in this way?


Robyn Kanner:

It’s all we had. I mean, we had to. We had so many different perspectives and lived two worlds and ways of thinking, and I wanted to use it all. So, we had to use our life experiences because they were so rich and they mirrored the country in such a clear and effective way that it would have been foolish for us not to. When I think about the broad overarching conversation that’s happening in tech right now about diversity and inclusion, I just think like, you trust your people and you get the right people for the job. Like, Julian, who ran our APO, did such a great job with the design. And one of the reasons why he did such a great job was that he actively didn’t like where the country was heading.


Robyn Kanner:

One of the first quiet conversations he and I had was about how he really didn’t like the country’s direction. And that, to me, signified a great APO designer because he already was thinking about how to make the country better and wanting to live in a better country. The full breadth of our experience is what enabled us to produce such a great design system. And I think relying on those lived experiences, which are inherently American, just helped to create a mirror for the country, and visually, helped us explore a new political language. It’s funny because when I was in the heat of the campaign, I mean, it’s not like people were excited about the design.


Robyn Kanner:

I mean, I remember many people coming at me and just saying, “This design is boring and it’s too traditional. It doesn’t mean anything.” And what I was thinking was like, “Well, it’s working, first of all. And second of all, I don’t need it to be cute for you, I need it to win an election. And that’s what this thing is going to do.”


Debbie Millman:

I understand your personal experience being bullied while growing up helped inform the campaign’s opposition strategy against Trump. In what way?


Robyn Kanner:

When I was a queer teen in the middle of rural Maine, a lot of people had a lot of power over me. And they had that power by being aggressive, and looking big and tough, and presenting as hyper-masculine. The thing that I always wanted to do with my bully was take away their power. I didn’t want them to be this big red blob, I wanted them to be small, black and white, grainy, noisy, sad, pathetic. I wanted my bullies to feel small. And for the life of me, I don’t understand why a lot of Democratic politics present Republicans as these big angry red blobs, because, in my opinion, it’s just giving them more power. And our job is to fundamentally take away the power.


Robyn Kanner:

So, for me, it just made sense to remove their power. And we did that in a couple of ways, one of which is through conversations with Julian and pushing our ability to define that language. And then the other way was through this television show called “Mr. Robot.”


Debbie Millman:

Yes. I love this story, Robyn. I’m so glad you’re bringing it.


Robyn Kanner:

Created by Sam Esmail. And I was such a fan of Sam’s shots. His craft is remarkable, and I’ve studied it so intensely. I mean, I remember watching Comet and being floored by what he was able to do. And he just took it to such a next level with “Mr. Robot.” And I knew I wanted us to go there and I just didn’t know how he got there. And I felt it would have been cheap if I just tried to imitate it. So, I went out of my way to send a lot of emails to find a way to talk to him, and a friend put us in touch. And it was so funny, they sent an email to Sam’s wife, Emmy, and Emmy sent to Sam, Sam reached out to me, I get on this phone, and it’s just kind of like a bizarre Hollywood connection.


Robyn Kanner:

And I remember getting on the phone with Sam and just being like, “OK, so, how would you do it? What’s the thing?” And we talked a lot about how to use photography in the right way. I was working with photography that always existed. I never had control over the shoot, whereas Sam had control over everything. So, there was a lot of conversations about how to get the right photographs. But one of the biggest conversations was around eye contact. A thing in our APO was, Trump very rarely ever made eye contact with you. He always looked outside the frame, and he was looking either down into the left or he was up. He was always trying to visually leave the frame.


Robyn Kanner:

And doing that, which came from "Mr. Robot," was a way to make the country see how sad and powerless the man actually was, and how much he wasn’t ready to lead the country. Most things, when you’re creating, it’s a combination. It’s a combination of conversations with Sam, and conversation with Julian, and me, and lived experiences of being bullied, and everything came together. When you have those moments come together like that, it’s like you’re like a baseball player, and you’re at the bat, and you see your pitch come down the line, and you just know you can slug it. You just get the pieces right in place. And that’s what it felt like when the APO landed.


Robyn Kanner:

It was probably the biggest risk that we took on the campaign. It was the most invisible one. And it was invisible because I purposely never told anybody outside of the campaign until after the election, because if it didn’t work, no one was going to give a shit. It was one of those things where like, “If this works, then it’s gold, and I’ve proven this really great theory. But if it doesn’t work, then I’m screwed.”


Debbie Millman:

Well, thankfully, it worked.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah. I held it in and I’m glad I did.


Debbie Millman:

You also brought in a hot-pink color palette, rainbow gradients, illustrated infographics. Talk a little bit about the use of gradients in the work that you did. I read that you describe them as having a joy that contained a brand-new feeling for life.


Robyn Kanner:

The gradients come out of so many things. And I am hyper-aware of the joke around gradients. I’m so in tune to the fact that designers love to make fun of gradients. But for me, there were a few things that came together around the same time in which I couldn’t stop thinking about gradients. No. 1 is, in one of the first AA meetings I went to, the sober house that I got sober in, on Sunday nights, was a Big Book night, which meant that you read the Big Book and you went around the room reading from paragraph to paragraph. On Tuesday nights, a speaker would come and qualify, and then you would share back your thoughts on them. And on Thursday, you would discuss a specific topic around sobriety.


Robyn Kanner:

And that program was how I got sober. I did that every week for months. I mean, every week for months. And on a Tuesday night meeting, a guy was qualifying, and he was sharing a story about how he had a really difficult time finding serenity. And as a person who had a complicated relationship with God, had a complicated relationship with a higher power, or feeling serenity, I understood what he meant. I’ve just been uncomfortable for so much of my life and I just deeply connected with him. And one of the things that he talked about was that one of the first times he felt serenity and sobriety was on an early morning when his body just woke up, he was down by the ocean, and he just looked at the sunrise.


Robyn Kanner:

And he talked about how the sun just painted the most beautiful colors for him, and how it was the first time in sobriety he was finally able to take a deep breath and just exhale. And he felt like a calmness and serenity from that. And I understood that feeling because it was so desirable to me. I hadn’t had it yet, but I wanted it so bad. And if you think about a sunrise, or you think about a sunset, what they really are is gradients. They’re just colors shifting and colors changing. And it can sound lofty, and I really don’t care, but I really believe that a sunrise or a sunset is God’s gradient that is made by the world around us and its beauty is unmatched. And it’s so emotional to me.


Robyn Kanner:

When I thought about the campaign, I just thought about how I wanted the world to feel that emotion too. I wanted them to share that joy. I didn’t want to make linear gradients. I didn’t want to make these sort of boring mathematical gradients, I didn’t want AI gradients, I wanted natural God-like sunrises to cascade over the country. And that’s where they came from. And when I got to El Paso, because you’re so close to the border and the colors in El Paso are so specific, you get these gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, unlike anything in the world. I mean, they paint the most beautiful things in the world. And you’re just in awe about the world around you. And the sun always set over Mexico. When you’re in El Paso, you’re able to see Juarez and see the sunset over in Mexico every night. It was just such a beautiful, surreal experience.


Robyn Kanner:

And when you put them all together, I just thought, like, Wow, what if people could feel that emotion?And I get it, a few designers online are going to, I think, be like, “Haha, whatever, gradients.” And I don’t care about them. What I care about is somebody feeling that emotion, that shot, that beauty. I wanted it to be the backbone of the campaign. And I’m very grateful for gradients and it’s something that I’m just so fine with everyone thinking it’s anything that they want it to be. Because to me, it’s that guy in the meeting, finding serenity, and it’s about how that’s such a great thing to strive for.


Debbie Millman:

Robyn, I don’t really care what designers think about gradients, but I do care that my listeners really understand what a gradient is. And it occurred to me that they might not, because it’s not just designers listening. So, how would you define a gradient?


Robyn Kanner:

Gradient is colors changing, and it is looking at Point A to Point B through an image and a color that shifts. An orange to a red, or an orange to a red, to an orange, to a blue, to a purple. It’s about not having hard lines visually, but a smooth transition into a different time.


Debbie Millman:

Yeah, it’s really hard to do. Armin Vit designed the Design Matters website for me, and the whole thing is a gradient. So, you’ve got a big fan right here in your use of gradients. It’s really hard to make gradient without something called banding that happens when there’s a hard line between the colors that bleed into each other. So, congratulations. I mean, I think it was gorgeous work. Is it true that you named one of your gradients “God’s First Gradient”?


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah. I mean, there were all of them. There were a few named. There was the Victory Gradient, which was the gradient we made for Joe’s victory speech. God’s First Gradient, and I just think that’s every sunrise in the world.


Debbie Millman:

Yeah. Speaking of gradients, after heading up the creative direction of the 59th presidential inauguration, you and several of your colleagues on the campaign founded your own design and branding consultancy. You’ve named it Studio Gradients.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah.


Debbie Millman:

How is it going so far?


Robyn Kanner:

It’s going great. It’s amazing. It’s everything that I want to be doing right now. Working with Eric, Aja and Anna, has been remarkable because they were just so talented on the campaign, and continuing that environment where we know each other so well is fantastic. Even pushing the sort of style of our website or pushing the style of our design, it’s been really fun to create a different voice, and in some ways, it’s the complete opposite of what Biden looked. It’s called Studio Gradients. We don’t use any gradients for the most part, what we do use is a lot of handwritten elements and a lot of this sort of chicken scratch that bring it some humanity. I do, as we’ve talked about on this podcast, really well when I have control over things, and having my own studio really enables me to work on multiple things at once. And that’s something I’m very grateful for.


Debbie Millman:

Can you talk about any of the projects that you’re working on?


Robyn Kanner:

I am separately working on a memoir at the moment. So, that’s—


Debbie Millman:

Wonderful.


Robyn Kanner:

That’s the biggest scoop of this thing probably. But, yeah.


Debbie Millman:

Wow. When will we see that come into the world?


Robyn Kanner:

That is a very good question that Adrian and I are trying to figure out. But I’m deep in writing it right now. And it’s a really phenomenal experience and a really humbling one. Design is a thing that makes sense to me, writing is a thing that I really have to work at. And it’s fun to be able to work at this one.


Debbie Millman:

I have two last questions for you before I let you go. First, do you ever think you’ll run for office?


Robyn Kanner:

Probably not, but I don’t want to create a full hard no there.


Debbie Millman:

Good.


Robyn Kanner:

Maybe.


Debbie Millman:

Good. Interesting. Watch this space.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah. It’d be such a humbling experience, but it would also be such an intense one. I mean, when I think about running for office, the thing that should come into my mind is the future. But what comes into my mind is the past. And I think about how complicated it would be to be on the campaign trail to talk about addiction in such an honest way and—


Debbie Millman:

How refreshing.


Robyn Kanner:

Yeah. At this point in my life, I wouldn’t be able to do that, but maybe in 10 years, I’d have found a way, and the country moves in a way that would enable me to do such a thing. But, yeah, as we sit here, I’m more of an artist than a politician.


Debbie Millman:

Well, I think you’ll enjoy my last question, or I hope you will. And it’s so serendipitous that this is what it is. Four years ago, in an online interview, you were asked to fill in the blank in this sentence, “In five years, I want to …” blank. You responded, “to tell the dopest story that breaks your heart.” So, Robyn, I love that answer. I can say wholeheartedly that you have done that, and you’ve done that in the best possible way. So, the last thing I want to ask you is to fill in the blank once again, “In five years, I want to …”


Robyn Kanner:

Continue telling the dopest stories that break your heart. That’s an ethos for me, if there ever was one.


Debbie Millman:

Wonderful. Thank you so much, Robyn, for coming on the podcast today and for helping to steer the world in a really better direction. Thank you so much.


Robyn Kanner:

Thanks, Debbie.


Debbie Millman:

And you can find out more about Robyn Kanner at robynkanner, and that’s Robyn with a ‘Y,’ and a ‘K,’ robynkanner.com, and her brand-new brand and design consultancy, at studiogradients.com. This is the 17th year we’ve been podcasting Design Matters, and I’d like to thank you for listening. And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both. I’m Debbie Millman, and I look forward to talking with you again soon.

And remember, we can talk about making a difference, we can make a difference, or we can do both.  — Debbie Millman