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NEW YORK DESIGNER MIKE MILLS PRIDES HIMSELF ON GETTING THINGS "JUST WRONG" OR "messing with people's expectations." A bound phone book with a cloth page marker opens to "Mod Squad"-inspired photos for X-Large, a hip hop/grunge clothing line. Even the curvy logo for the women's line, X-girl, speaks of Mills' hybrid taste: equal parts inspired by Herbert Bayer's Universal type and the Tab cola logo. Not only does the 28-year-old skateboard enthusiast find hybrids more interesting, "it also pulls it away from being this aesthetic tradition based on making things refined," he says. "I'm more interested in doing things that are part of our real, social world, which is all mixed up."

From inside a two-person studio aptly named Mike Mills Diversified, where a wall is papered with T-shirt logos, Mills fishes out a They Might Be Giants CD cover he just designed for Elektra Records. Nearby his assistant drafts scripts of educational design films for teens, a project for New York's Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design.

With influences as disparate as Errol Morris' "Thin Blue Line" and the charmingly "simple but functional" "Sesame Street" films, Mills explains how the Cooper-Hewitt films will be design-driven, a little like a quirky Frank Black (formerly of the Pixies) promotional video he directed for Elektra, which was edited into four spots, and a personal educational film called "Skateboarding with Dave and Jared."

A native of Santa Barbara, Calif., Mills graduated from New York's Cooper Union and studied in the graduate cultural studies program at New York's Hunter College, in between stints at the local design firm Bureau and the now defunct M & Co.

Freelance art directing for Elektra grew into a steady flow of promotions and CD covers for bands like Deee-Lite, the Breeders and Metallica. Now, he's busy bouncing between "high and low design," working simultaneously on designs for an expensive Mark Jacobs sweater and a skateboard for a company called Stereo.

"I don't see myself as defining good taste," Mills says. "There's no authentic

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