Pioneer Profile: J. Abbott Miller (A’85)

June 01, 2007

J. Abbott Miller (A’85) is an award-winning designer, writer, curator and educator, whose projects engage viewers in thinking about and understanding the cultural role of design. Miller and his wife, Ellen Lupton (A’85), were honored in 1995 as the first recipients of the prestigious Chrysler Design Awards. Miller has been a partner at Pentagram in New York since 1999. He is also the editor and designer of the award winning visual and performing arts journal 2wice. Before joining Pentagram, Miller was co-chair of the graphic design department at the Maryland Institute College of Art where he remains a faculty member. Miller was also the director of Design/Writing/Research, a multidisciplinary studio, which became noted for its exhibitions, installations and projects focusing on mass culture. The studio pioneered the concept of “designer as author,” publishing books as projects in which content and form evolved and developed into what the studio called a symbiotic relationship. Design/Writing/Research encapsulated the process of design synthesizing and morphing mass culture elements.

Miller began teaching the concepts and craft of graphic design soon after graduating from The Cooper Union. By 1988 he was teaching the required survey course, History of Graphic Design, at Parsons School of Design/The New School. He has been a project tutor at the Fabrica Workshop in Treviso, Italy and taught for three years as a project tutor for the Jan Ven Eyck Academie in Maastricht, Holland. Miller was a visiting artist at Yale University’s Graduate Program in Design from 1994–1997.

Miller is the author of numerous articles and books, including The Process of Elimination: The Bathroom, the Kitchen and the Aesthetics of Waste and The ABC’s of the Bauhaus, both done in collaboration with Lupton, and Printed Letters: The Natural History of Typography. Miller has designed the graphic identities for the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, Mohawk Paper Mills, Seattle Art Museum and the Noguchi Museum. Some of his recent projects include exhibition catalogues for the Guggenheim, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the new Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, WI. Most recently, Miller has taken on the exciting new assignment of creating the graphic identity for The Cooper Union’s new academic building. In collaboration with Thom Mayne, he designed the dramatic Donor Walk to honor major contributors to the building and the graphic scheme for the Alumni Roof Terrace, where Cooper Union alumni can have their names engraved for posterity.

He has been the recipient of many awards, including awards for his magazine 2wice, which was named Magazine of the Year by the Society of Publication Designers (SPD) and for Dance Ink, which received a gold medal from the SPD and was also nominated twice for a National Magazine Award. Miller is a recipient of the International Center of Photography Infinity Award for his use of photography in design. A book about his work, Open Book: Design and Content, is being published by Princeton Architecture Press.

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.