Dan Miller is the Founder and Creative Director of three companies that serve the art world, Dan Miller Design, exhibit-E and galleryManager. He has worked with many of the art world’s top galleries, artists, foundations and museums including Gagosian, Berggruen, Richard Prince, Matthew Marks, The Willem de Kooning Foundation, The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, and The Bronx Museum. Dan has applied his vision, full working knowledge of design, and experience within the art world to deliver user-focused products that provide galleries with the tools they need to communicate their programs globally, and focus on the business of art.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I was always interested in art, and Sacramento California, where I grew up, offered a lot of chances to see and experience it. The Crocker Art Museum in downtown Sacramento had a nice rotation of exhibitions of regional artists. I think the Crocker is the oldest museum in California... and the Bay Area was only 40 minutes away. I became immensely interested in the work of David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff, Robert Bechtle —local heroes for me. By the time I was sixteen I had become obsessed with painting. I was making oil paintings in a photo realist style aligned with the emerging photo realist movement at time—it was the mid-'70s!
I went to college at Chico State University, a very beautiful campus about 70 miles North of Sacramento. I double majored in Communications (graphic design) and Art. After two years, I went to England and studied painting full time at a small school between Oxford and London called The Burleighfield Art Institute. I had aspirations to be a painter.
How (and when) did you begin working with artists and galleries?
After college I moved to New York City with the idea of "becoming" an artist. But I needed to find a way to earn a living, so I started working as a freelance graphic designer. First I worked at CBS, in the promotions department under the art director David November. He was very knowledgeable and I learned a great deal from him. After one year at CBS I went to a design firm called Donovan and Green (protégés of the legendary Massimo Vignelli), as a Senior Designer. Their studio was located at the top of the Metropolitan Life Tower at 1 Madison Avenue. I was assigned to the Ward Bennett account. Ward was a brilliant interior designer with product lines that included textiles, flatware and furniture. After a couple of years I decided I wanted to be closer to the art world, and in 1985 I started working out of my studio apartment, a fourth-floor walk up on the upper east side—with a bathtub in the kitchen, and a futon on the floor. That's where I started Dan Miller Design.
It wasn't long before I was designing announcement cards and small catalogues for the likes of Blum Helman Gallery, Holly Solomon and Leo Castelli, and Larry Gagosian. I think I created the very first Gagosian publication, "Lichtenstein's Picassos: 1962-1964", in 1988. I am pretty sure it is the first one. Larry loved it and a lot of work has flowed from that one book. Gagosian's current website is designed by my company, exhibit-E.
Can you tell us about how exhibit-E originated, and how it has evolved and expanded over the years?
As my studio took on more and more art world clients, and as the '80s rolled into the '90s and desk top computing evolved, and email and the internet became part of the gallery equation, I started to hear complaints from the galleries about how bad their website was, or how bad the webmaster was... I actually heard yelling and screaming in the back rooms with some gallerists losing patience with their website designer. Why? Back then, they did not know where to turn for a website, so they hired friends, or a cousin, or son, or friends of friends, a college kid, or design firms that had no understanding of the art world—so there was a lot of frustration, and I saw this as opportunity. That was sometime in 1996.
By 1998, we had established exhibit-E with the purpose of providing websites for the art world that galleries could maintain on their own, using our back-end admin. Our thinking was to make it so easy that the outgoing intern could train the incoming intern... and that was the start of exhibit-E (I think Marianne Boesky and James Cohan galleries were the first two websites we launched, back in the late '90's). There was a real need.
Since then, we have developed over 600 gallery, foundation, artist and museum websites... and can honestly say that we are the leading provider of websites for the art world.
Something really unique is that I have three companies that work in tandem serving the art world—Dan Miller Design (print services), exhibit-E (websites), and galleryManager (cloud based inventory management). So in addition to our website services and inventory management, our founding company, Dan Miller Design, continues to provide print services to galleries—publications, exhibition programs, identity systems. We just finished the Tom Wesselmann book for Mitchell Innes & Nash, published on the occasion of Wesselmann's first comprehensive painting retrospective in New York since his death in 2004.
We love your design aesthetic, which is very clean, sophisticated and focused. Can you talk about your design philosophy?
Our design always reflects our respect for the artist's work. We just try not to get in the way of the art. It's a mission of presentation and we try to stay true to that. At the same time you also want to differentiate each book or print project, and bring something surprising or interesting to the design—make a statement. You can do that in myriad ways, and I think knowing which way, and how far to go, is the secret to effective design.
We have a lot of designers in our audience who would be curious to hear how you came up with the name and identity for exhibit-E.
In 1998, when I decided that we should brand our web design services separately from the print services, I started thinking about what to call it. It was a process that involved naming, design, and domain acquisition.
We had to have a top level domain. That was number one. That narrowed the choices. Our mission was to provide beautifully designed websites that could be easily updated by gallery staff. We wanted to take the anxiety out of the process of updating the website, by making it simple—eliminate the anxiety around that task. We needed a logo that reflected that joy and intelligence, and one that demonstrated the value we place on design. At that time, websites looked like technical people were designing them—and our goal was to bring design to the web.
I remember this being pre i-Mac and the letter "e" was more popular at that time. Back in 1998 the internet was a new electronic medium, and it was not unusual for companies to use an "e" to make that connection. I added the "E" onto the word "exhibit" and felt I had something perfectly descriptive of what we were doing.
We used the modern classic san-serif typeface Trade Gothic for its readability, refinement, and character—a very flexible typeface that works well with other type elements. It was a good choice, but we felt it needed something more; "exhibit-e" set in Trade Gothic, by itself, wasn't evocative enough.
So we started working on a Mark and it naturally evolved toward the overlapping dot theme. The basis of the overlapping dot logo was the idea of the convergence of two worlds—the real and the virtual. In the design we didn't want to reference the electronic/digital look at all. We wanted something that evoked the familiar and novel, warm and inviting, and fresh and forward. The lower case Helvetica Neue "e" within the dots served that purpose well. We were drawn to the organic fluidity of it and the interesting counter form it produces. We liked the friendly and professional can-do discipline of it. We liked the way the "e" perched right on the edge of the second circle, perfectly balanced and framed between the real and the virtual worlds. Ultimately we wanted the logo to be iconic and adaptable, and we believe we succeeded in doing that.
You're surrounded by the best artwork in the world. Do you have any personal favorite artist/s?
My taste in art is is very broad. I have a natural love for painting. Picasso, Joan Mitchell, Nancy Spero, Morandi, Guston, Leon Golub, Bacon, Chaim Soutine, the lesser known English painter Matthew Smith, and David Hockney in the '60s and '70s, so many today... Tal R, Hernan Bas, Jeff Elrod, Tahnee Lonsdale, Blair Thurman, Jess Fuller, Matthew Craven, etc.
Are there any new technologies (or services/offerings) that you are developing through exhibit-E?
As the worlds of art, design, and technology have changed, we have adapted, and throughout all of those changes our overriding concern has been to make it easier for galleries to do business more efficiently in the global art market. That is how we have remained the industry leader.
For example, last year we launched our new proprietary website platform—our exhibit-E Collage platform. It includes all the best features that we developed over 16 years of developing custom websites. It's a toolbox that allows us to create robust, beautifully designed websites in days or weeks instead of months and months. That was the first step in a larger project that we are beta testing now.
The platform is very flexible, which allows us to meet design challenges, while still working within the budgets of smaller or mid-sized galleries. It has been a huge success—we've been bringing in hundreds of new clients who can now benefit from our easy-to-use CMS and our many years of web design experience.
Step two of that project launches this Fall with the newest version of our inventory management system, galleryManager 2.0. With the release of 2.0, our exhibit-E websites will integrate seamlessly with our galleryManager inventory management system, and clients who have both systems will benefit from being able to manage them from the same dashboard. Ultimately, our goal is to develop a single platform that replaces all the many other independent systems that galleries use, to streamline their workflow and save time.
We want to replace some of the systems, and play with others, and the benefit to the galleries is less work because they don't have to maintain multiple systems... website, inventory management, iPhone, iPad app, etc.
We believe in the value of great design, and our products reflect that.
Dan Miller portrait by Steven Rothfeld