A New World
When Miller emigrated to the States, he joined Moncur, a Detroit-based digital agency, and focused on website design and branding. He rose to Art Director. Despite his background in traditional graphic design, most of his career has since focused on digital and interactive design. Currently, he’s a design lead at Vectorform, a company that helps major American brands invent digital products and customer experiences. Before the Coronavirus, Miller worked in Vectorform’s office, a converted Barnes & Noble store, in Royal Oak, a Detroit suburb.
“I’d say the design scene here is just as prevalent as it is anywhere else,” he says. “There’s a lot of hustle, but with Detroit there’s an underdog spirit that’s trying to make positive change to the city, which often shows in local design work.” That hustle, he says, was a side effect of moving to America.
“Since 2016 I’ve worked on quite a number of side projects that have kept me up at night,” Miller says. He created an iPhone wallpaper site designed to hide the notch from the iPhone X; he built a fun job-title generator for designers called Pseudo Design Titles that was featured by Fast Co. Design; he launched a “brutal” personal website that won a CSS Design Award and was included in the book Typography for Screen. But his current and biggest passion project is an exploration of poster designs, called SIGNAL A.
Miller had tinkered with poster design as a student, creating advertising for a band he played in. “I’d always wanted to go back and explore posters in a geeky design sense because it’s that 200-year-old medium all the great designers in history have mastered,” he says. Miller also felt a calling to let off some creative steam. “In late 2017 I began carving out personal time to design several unsolicited posters a week, and I shared them on social media. I embraced the fact that I didn’t have to answer to anyone, and I could be as extreme and thought-provoking as possible.”
A Style Develops
Over time, Miller’s posters developed. They became more typography-forward, bold, and deeply personal. Embracing some of the style and philosophy of prestigious designers like Armin Hofmann, Bob Gill, and Dutch graphic design studio Experimental Jetset, Miller also tapped into urban aesthetics. “I get a lot of ideas from architecture and industrial signage,” he says.
A personal style emerged, inspired by Swiss modernism and the industrial environment that surrounded him. At the beginning, his posters were largely ignored, he recalls, but he was having fun. Miller started experimenting with topics that fascinated him: mathematics, philosophy, science, and Christianity. “[Faith] has given me a lot of purpose, which was a big motivating factor when doing posters in the first place,” he says.
Creating in Isolation
Today, Miller works in self-isolation at his home in a quiet neighborhood in Oakland County, just outside of Detroit. His home studio boasts high ceilings and a relaxed vibe. An iMac sits atop a carpenter’s work bench, looking somewhat out of place among his iron shelving from 1940s eastern Europe. “I usually work on a MacBook Pro but the large Retina screen is ideal for poster design,” he explains.
Miller’s work usually starts as a sketch in a Moleskine notebook. “I like working with the square grid as it correlates to what I do on screen,” he explains. “From there I dive straight into the design tool of choice. I’ll mostly use Adobe Photoshop since it gives me almost everything I need in one package: grid setup, type, vectors, texture manipulation, effects, and so on. Of course I might draw in Adobe Illustrator for the odd thing, but I'll always bring it into Photoshop.”
One of his most popular posters on Behance is a self-initiated experiment called “Extra.” Finished in 2018, Miller created letters using huge paint smears. “I used an extremely fat typeface that could handle and balance the weight of the big bold brush strokes,” he recalls. “The trick was actually using high-resolution photos of real brush strokes. They were originally done as black paint on white paper, but when I played around with the tones in Photoshop they looked better inverted.”
“A poster can take me anywhere from two hours, to five or even six. I’ll create most of my own textures to add the impression of printed material or to add patina to a particular piece. I don’t like to go too overboard with them,” he adds.
“People did begin to notice my posters, and that’s when the growth on Instagram skyrocketed,” Miller says. “I never intended for that to happen, but I’m incredibly grateful and blessed for the support. The key is persistence in doing what you love.” For now, that’s living and working in his adoptive city, Detroit. “I believe life is too short to live in one area your entire life,” he says.