Design Diversity Group
The Diversity, Advocacy & Inclusion work of Cheryl D. Miller
By Regina Lee Roberts, Stanford University Libraries
The Stanford University Libraries is pleased to announce that Cheryl D. Holmes Miller has donated her manuscript collections of her graphic design studio, Cheryl Miller Design Inc., as well as her research and advocacy work related to promoting racial, cultural and gender equity to the Special Collections at Stanford University Libraries. As a woman with a mixed racial and ethnic background, Mrs. Miller has also included family history documents and photos that shed light on what it means to achieve parity as a successful artist, visionary business leader, and advocate for people of color, especially artists.
In this context, Miller is well known for her 1985 Pratt Institute thesis, Transcending the Problems of the Black Graphic Designer to Success in the Marketplace. By the time that she wrote this thesis, Miller was already an accomplished designer running her own company in New York City. Her subsequent articles in Print: America’s Graphic Design magazine in 1987 and 2016 highlight this focus over time. She has been recognized and her profile are featured by the AIGA, the professional association for design. Miller’s advocacy work has sparked AIGA initiatives on diversity and inclusion in the graphic design industry.
When Miller was just starting her career in the early 1970’s, fresh out of the Rhode Island School of Design and Maryland College of Art, Miller led a team of designers through the creation of a set and studio design features for the newly launched public television station, WHMM-TV 32 at Howard University.
All the while, she was building her own company, Cheryl Miller Design, Inc., creating logos for corporations and nonprofits in the Mid-Atlantic, Washington D.C. area. Eventually she moved to New York City, where she completed her graduate degree in Communications Design from the Pratt Institute School of Art and Design. Miller’s company flourished as a top corporate identity design firm. Some of her notable corporate clients included, Time Warner, Inc., the Ford Foundation, Philip Morris, and McDonalds. She also contracted work with non-profit organizations that grew out of the Civil Rights Movement. Those clients included the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Legal Defense Fund, the United Negro College Fund, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association), to name a few. She was even commissioned by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to create the poster for Mae Jemison, the first African American Woman to go up in space on the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
As an entrepreneur and driven researcher, Miller is keenly aware of identity politics and the need to reframe national narratives around race and class. Growing up in Washington D.C., she was influenced by the core values of equity and inclusion of the Civil Rights Era. Her father, Horace R. Holmes, Sr. was a public servant and a leader in Washington D.C., as the city’s Manpower administrator, who helped craft the “Jobs Program”, that bolstered Mayor Marion Barry’s career. Cheryl Miller’s mother Norma Sabino was a nurse at Howard University, who was of Filipina ethnic heritage and also from The U.S. Virgin Islands. When Cheryl’s parents were married in Washington D.C. they were forced to deny Norma’s heritage and to indicate that she was simply “black”, so that they could be married. At the time, miscegenation laws were in place making it illegal to be in an interracial marriage. This type of erasure of identity affected the family in complex and profound ways. In the face of this type of structural racism Cheryl’s family reinforced her resolve to advocate for equity across race, ethnic and gender divides.
Throughout this collection, Cheryl Miller’s voice echos the analysis by Stanford University professor and author Jeff Chang. “With energy and urgency, artists and activists of color were pursuing their visions of a post-segregated nation, attacking the twin conditions of cultural segregation--the absence of representation and the presence of misrepresentation. The visuality of race--with its national history of erasure and debasement--became critical simply because people of color would no longer remain invisible.” (Chang, 2014).
Here, Chang is writing about the Civil Rights Movement’s wave of influence and the expression of that through art.
Cheryl D. Holmes Miller did not limit her creativity to graphic design. In the 1990’s while working on a project for the Union Theological Seminary, she decided to also become an ordained minister. Once again, while running her business, she also completed her Master of Divinity degree through of the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She has contributed to community building in this role and has shared her thesis from the Union Theological Seminary, as part of this gift to Stanford.
Likewise, Miller’s contribution to social change continues to be of interest and is cited by others, including a paper presented at the Proceedings of the 2017 IEEE International Conference on Applied System Innovation, by Wildberger, who writes: “Published by Print Magazine in 1987, “Black Designers: Missing in Action,” by Cheryl D. Miller, was a landmark article which puts into perspective the segregated nature of the field. In the heels of its publication, AIGA, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts supported a daylong national event called “Why Is Graphic Design 93% White?” which ignited important discussions while shaping important new policies at the organizations involved” (Wildberger, 2017). Inclusion and diversity in design fields is still relevant and needed.
With this gift to Stanford University Libraries, Cheryl Miller continues her advocacy for responsible design that represents humanity with dignity and respect. This collection is rich in content for researchers interested in the the history of graphic design, in general. There is even an interview that Miller conducted with Paul Rand, when she was first starting out. Miller also saved the interviews that she conducted for the original Pratt thesis. So, researchers wanting to hear the voices of these other prominent designers and collaborators will find these included in the archive. The collection features photographs by John Pinderhughes and Ed Eckstein. It is rich in Miller’s own research on design styles, print types and color specifications. Miller documented her work and created a detailed job log which allows for rich research analysis. She has included some family files and the manuscript for her memoir which describes the complexity of growing up a person of mixed-race and multi-ethnic background in the United States in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Some of her theological writings are included and shine a light on her personal belief system that has sustained her with grace and a positive attitude.
Chang, Jeff. 2014. Who We Be: The Colorization of America /. First edition. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Holmes-Miller, Cheryl D. 2016. "Black Designers: Still Missing in Action?" Print 70, no. 2: 82-89.
Holmes-Miller, Cheryl D. 2013. Black Coral: A Daughter’s Apology to Her Asian Island Mother /. PUBLICATION [Stamford] Connecticut : AAGE Heritage Press, Stamford, CT: AAGE Heritage Press.
Miller, Cheryl D. 1987. "Black designers: missing in action." Print 41, 58.
Wildberger, D. B. 2017. “Recoding Narratives: Inclusion and Diversity as a Path to Design Innovation.” In 2017 International Conference on Applied System Innovation (ICASI), 802–5.
This collection is closed until processed, but if you have questions and/or would like to arrange possible research access, please contact Regina Lee Roberts, Librarian for Communication and Journalism at Stanford University Library at email: regirob at stanford dot edu.
Cheryl D Holmes Miller and Regina Roberts, Stanford University Libraries, Special Collections.
Miller explains the 1992 NASA Commission for the Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African American Woman Astronaut.
50 years; 50 boxes, The Cheryl D. Miller Collection, "May have left my hands, but not my life!" Chock full of notes, research, recordings, business plan, business letters, original article manuscripts, thumbnails, layouts, original portfolios and everything you could save along this incredible Communications Design journery, living her life for others in the industry!
Cheryl D. Holmes Miller