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Design That Makes a Difference: Bonnie Siegler

By Charles Purdy

Graphic Design USA magazine named Bonnie Siegler (shown here) one of the 50 most influential graphic designers working today, and she will be speaking at Adobe MAX in October 2017, discussing how designers can help shape the world. Create Magazine readers save US$400 off the full conference pass price of $1,595 with promo code 17CRA.

Bonnie Siegler and her multidisciplinary studio Eight and a Half tackle projects across the design spectrum: book covers, editorial work, motion design, logos, branding, and more. Their output is defined by smart, strong visuals that have a powerful impact, and Siegler is committed to using that power to effect positive change in the world. In addition to more-typical design projects, Siegler has done design and fundraising work for both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns and Hillary Clinton’s recent presidential campaign. “I believe that, as designers and visual storytellers, we should use our powers for good,” says Siegler. “Sometimes that means doing amazing film titles, and sometimes that means helping a candidate you believe in get elected, to put the country on the right path. It’s all for good.”

Siegler and her studio Eight and a Half have a long list of clients in the entertainment business.  

Over the course of more than 25 years, Siegler has worked with some very cool clients—Saturday Night Live, Storycorps, Late Night with Seth Meyers, HBO, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, just to name a few recent ones. She’s taught in the graduate programs at Yale University and New York’s School of Visual Arts, and Graphic Design USA magazine named her one of the 50 most influential graphic designers working today.

And Siegler exerts her influence on causes she believes in. One current project she’s excited about is a parody autobiography of Donald Trump, written by Kurt Andersen and Alec Baldwin. The book was not only a meaty, interesting project, including the cover, the interior book design, and art directing the photography by Mark Seliger; it was also a project that helped Siegler deal with her feelings about the election while using her skills and talent to make a statement.

“I feel very lucky that I got to do this, as one way to deal with my anger—just to be able to help mock him on a daily basis within my studio has helped my general well-being,” says Siegler. “I think humor is always a great way to deal with issues and engage people.”

Siegler and Eight and a Half recently worked on a parody autobiography of Donald Trump, written by Kurt Andersen and Alec Baldwin, which will be released on November 8, 2017. Siegler says, “We did a big photo shoot, which I produced with Mark Seliger’s studio and served as creative director for, and it was a blast. And the book is brilliantly written...I'm really excited for it to come out.”

THAT SOUNDS LIKE FUN

Tasked with creating a poster that represented their studio, Siegler and her team created this image.

A sense of humor and a sense of fun are integral to the work Siegler and Eight and a Half do. She remembers participating in a project called Image of the Studio: A Portrait of New York City Graphic Design, for which over 75 design studios were asked to make a poster representing themselves. The poster Eight and a Half produced read, “That sounds like fun!” “Essentially, that’s one way we think about work,” says Siegler. “If we think we can have fun with something, we’ll do it.”

She continues, “I do have a lot of entertainment clients—and it may sound easy to have fun when Alec Baldwin is your client. But I remember when I worked at VH1, and there were two categories of on-air spots to design: image spots, which everyone wanted to do because there was a lot of freedom, and tune-in spots, which nobody wanted to do because they were boring and just said, “Tune in at 8:00”…until somebody started doing amazing tune-in spots, and then everybody said, ‘Why can't I do those?’ I feel like there’s opportunity in every project to make it great and have fun with it.”

Political fundraisers might seem like the antithesis of fun for a strategic graphic designer, but Siegler has brought a joyful imprint to numerous events—including for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. “A lot of invitations to fundraisers are created in Word…there’s not much more than the cause and basic information. So we try to go a little bit further…. For Hillary, we wanted to make a really fun event. We called it “Laugh Your Pantsuit Off”—it was hosted by Ana Gasteyer and Amy Poehler, who had both played Hillary on SNL, and it featured lots of other standup comedians, mostly women. And it was just a joyous, amazing night, very different from any other political fundraiser you’ve ever been to. For Barack Obama, we held an event in Brooklyn called Baracklyn. That attitude carried over to every aspect of the event.”

Siegler has lent her skill to numerous political causes—including Hillary Clinton’s recent presidential campaign, for which she designed a fundraising event called “Laugh Your Pantsuit Off.”

A GRAPHIC DESIGNER FIRST AND FOREMOST

Siegler has owned her own company for 25 years—before founding Eight and a Half, she and her best friend operated a design firm called Number 17 (named for a number which kept turning up in their lives). When they closed Number 17, the only name she considered for her new business was Eight and a Half (half of the number 17).

But although she’s a CEO—and enjoys all that that entails, because it allows her to use her brain in a different way—she thinks of herself, first and foremost, as a designer, and she still does a great deal of hands-on design work. She describes that work as, fundamentally, problem-solving. “Clients come to us with a situation that they’d like us to tackle. Hopefully, we do something engaging and smart and interesting and entertaining; and hopefully, we have fun doing it.”

Siegler and Eight and a Half worked on these materials for FilmStruck, which recently partnered with a longtime client of theirs, the Criterion Collection. Siegler says, “We did a lot of branding work and work on their promotional efforts on social media and elsewhere. It was really fun because the imagery was all from great films…looking through incredible photography from movies is a great way to spend your days.”

Siegler studied graphic design at Carnegie Mellon University and got her start working for MTV and VH1 before launching Number 17. And she says that she’s had an eye for graphic design since before she really knew what it was as a discipline. As a young child with a sports-loving father, she enjoyed drawing team logos; later, she would redraw album covers or make new album covers for bands she liked. She says, “Then it really came more into focus when I went to Disneyworld when I was 13—because it was literally a world that was designed. Everything was done with intent, every detail. I’d never seen anything like it, and it blew my mind. Usually, 13-year-olds aren’t obsessed how hotel amenities are branded, but I was.”

New package designs from Eight and a Half feature op art–inspired patterns that echo the shape of the product and indicate its ease of use.

A CHANGING WORLD

Siegler believes that good design can change the world, so she’s also trying to make life a little easier for designers: among other current projects (including the titles for the Will and Grace reboot that’s coming to TV this fall), she’s working on a book called Dear Client, which will give people practical advice for better collaboration with creatives.

A small sampling of Eight and a Half’s logo and identity work. See more on the studio’s website, and find Siegler on Twitter and Instagram.

She’ll also be speaking at Adobe MAX in October 2017—her presentation will address how designers can use their talents to help shape our world. “Historically speaking, people have frequently rallied around images—for example, the War is not healthy for children and other living things poster, which was created by a group of women whose sons were fighting in Vietnam. People hung it in their homes…just that simple graphic image expressed something powerful that moved people in a way that news stories hadn’t,” she says. “So I’ll be discussing a little bit of history and then what I’ve done—for this resistance and past efforts—and the power of becoming politically active and donating your talents to social causes. There’s a lot we can do to help.”

 

Bonnie Siegler will be speaking at Adobe MAX in October 2017, discussing how designers can help shape the world. Create Magazine readers save US$400 off the full conference pass price of $1,595 with promo code 17CRA.