Design That Makes a Difference: Bonnie Siegler
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.”
THAT SOUNDS LIKE FUN
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.”
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 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.”
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.
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.”