In this fourth post in our series, Dogs on Design, Raleigh Pop blogger Sarah F. Cox went for a dog walk with Debbie Millman to talk about brands and breeds. While they were out, they ran into theater director Neil Pepe and his dog.
Is loyalty to a dog breed like loyalty to a brand? Debbie Millman may not think of her two dogs, Scruffy and Duff, like she thinks of her clients, but there is evidence of some cross over. Scruffy, the older male, is a shih tzu while Duff, the female, is a mix of that and a spaniel. The two resemble a set of salt and pepper shakers that came packaged together, but it was Debbie's design that united them when a poster for her dog walker led to an accidental adoption.A design world powerhouse, Millman is President of the Design Group at Sterling Brands, and President of the AIGA. With over 20 years of experience in the design business she's still paving new territory. As chair of a new MPS program in Branding, next month she will welcome the first class to this SVA program, just a few blocks away from where she walks her dogs in Chelsea. As a design expert, you may imagine Millman inhabits a lovely apartment filled with stylish, modern furniture and art. This is exactly the case, but don't mistake it for some sort of design tomb: her two dogs are all over everything, scratching, rolling and lapping up her affection.
Left to Right: Scruffy and Duff.
After Millman adopted Scruffy in 2002, she found a neighbor to walk him and put her design expertise to use, creating a flier (which was really a poster) to advertise for more clients. The very next gig that her dog walker took on was walking Duff, whose similarities to Scruffy began with the rhyming name and ended with eventually sharing Debbie as an owner. Scruffy's former owner failed to pick her up from weekend pet sitting and the dog walker had to count her as abandoned after her many attempts to contact him were ignored. Fortunately for Duff, Debbie saw her alongside Scruffy when they were out for a walk and it was love at first sight; she brought the dog home to stay for good. Like a good brand response, this story is instructive about what images pull at heart strings; since Debbie already had a dog which looked so similar, this second one was easy to love, too.
As for her feelings on the shih tzu breed and her loyalty to that aesthetic, Millman compares it to car brands. A person not particularly aware of the cars around him all the time will change awarenesses once he buys a new car. If it's a Jaguar, all of a sudden all the Jaguars he did not notice around him pop out. Millman's noticed the same effect with dogs, becoming more cognizant of shih tzus in the city and establishing a kinship with other Chelsea dog owners near her home. This sort of subtle awareness about what people notice and how to stand out has been key to successful work in branding design.
When asked about design and her dogs, Millman considers that question of loyalty carefully. "On their best day, brands could aspire to be like dogs, evoking that sense of connectivity," she says as she pets Duff on the couch. With her dogs, that loyalty is a two way street. As Debbie wrote an email, "Duff, while a complete and utter docile angel with people, can turn into Cujo if she sees a dog that she deems threatening to me."
Millman insists that what her dogs have really taught her is unconditional love, not salesmanship, but its clear Scruffy and Duff are shaped by her experience in branding. She's even come up with a jingle that she sings when it's time to walk them. Its entails the word "walkies" repeated over and over again, but the dogs have caught on and become too excited. So Millman and her boyfriend Edwin switched strategies and started referring to "walkies," as Milwaukee. They now ask each other if they'd like to "go for a trip to Wisconsin?" when its time to go outside. Like any good slogan, the ability to update it just adds to the fun.
This fall, Debbie Millman will resume hosting a podcast entitled "Design Matters with Debbie Millman" on Design Observer. Sarah F. Cox will go back to school and finish her MFA while her dog, Raleigh, stays home to work on her dog blog, Raleigh Pop.
Images courtesy of Debbie Millman.