Debbie Millman’s Top 5

Create Magazine asked Debbie Millman to pick her favorites in five categories of design: logo, branding system, wayfinding/signage/environmental, poster, and packaging. Below, she shares her choices and explains why they speak to her. (Are they among your favorites, too? Share your thoughts in the Comments section at the bottom of the page.)

LOGO: Sinclair Oil
Designer: Unknown

First thought of as a brontosaurus, but known more correctly now as an Apatosaurus, the Sinclair Oil dinosaur (“Dino”) was launched during the 1933-1934 Century of Progress World’s Fair. Dino went on a traveling tour during the 1960s, when a 70-foot replica logged more than 10,000 miles through 25 states. In addition to a stop in New York City for the 1964 World’s Fair, it also appeared at shopping centers, where families were introduced to the wonders of the Mesozoic era courtesy of the Sinclair Oil brand. 


Designer/Artist: Roger Dean

The record album Fragile was released by the progressive rock bank Yes on November 26, 1971. It featured ethereal, otherworldly illustrations created by the British artist Roger Dean that garnered immediate attention. But it wasn’t until the following year, when Yes’s next album, Close to the Edge, was released that the band got its now-iconic bubble-type logo and the visual language of one of rock’s most enduring bands was born. The cover of Tales from Topographic Oceans, the band’s fifth album, was voted by Rolling Stone magazine as the best album cover of all time. 


POSTER: Paul Sahre lecture
Designer: Paul Sahre

An event poster for Paul Sahre, designed by Paul Sahre, without any visible information about the lecture or speaker on the poster. And that is why it is brilliant and that is why I love it.


Designer: Lawrence Weiner

According to the Artspace website, Lawrence Weiner is the son of a New York candy-store owner, graduated from Stuyvesant High School at 16, studied philosophy briefly at Hunter College, and spent “reasonable amounts of time in New York City lock-ups and holding tanks” until he hitchhiked across North America, landing in San Francisco, where he hung out with Beat poets at the landmark City Lights Bookstore. He is now one of the most accomplished conceptual artists of our time, with art mostly comprised of text. In 2000, Weiner created a series of manhole covers installed in lower Manhattan—from Tompkins Square Park to the Greenwich Village nursing home. They read, “In direct line with another & the next.” This statement articulated an abstract spatial concept and fulfilled it in three dimensions, mapping a new constellation across the city.


PACKAGING: Album — Generic Flipper
Designer: Ted Falconi

Album Generic Flipper is the debut album by the San Francisco punk band Flipper. Released on March 30, 1982, the album was a riveting tour de force. The ironic “generic” packaging of the vinyl was a snide nod to the then no-frills, lackluster supermarket packaging, and it was as brash and fresh as it was utterly original. According to Verbicide Magazine, “Flipper guitarist Ted Falconi drew the first version of the logo in 1979. It appeared in various iterations on most of the band’s releases, and its simplicity made it a popular choice of taggers in the band’s hometown of San Francisco and beyond.” Kurt Cobain considered Album — Generic Flipper to be one of the greatest albums of all time, and the tune “Brainwash” has the best one-sentence lyrics of all time: “Forget it, You wouldn't understand anyway” (repeated over and over throughout the duration of the song).

Are any of Millman’s top five among your favorites? Share your thoughts on her choices (and yours) in the Comments section.


Debbie Millman is a designer, author, educator, and brand strategist. She host of the award-winning podcast “Design Matters,” the world’s first podcast on design, Chair of the world’s first Masters in Branding Program at the School of Visual Arts, the editorial and creative director of Print Magazine, and President Emeritus of AIGA. She is the author of six books on design and branding. 

November 15, 2016

Marquee portrait by John Madere. Bio inset photo by Ryan Essmaker.