2019 SEGD Distinguished Member Award: Donald Kiel, Retired Manager of Wayfinding & Visitor Information at New York-Presbyterian (and SEGD Auction hero)
The SEGD Distinguished Member Award recognizes an individual for demonstrating outstanding volunteer efforts while significantly contributing to the direction, growth and excellence of SEGD programs. Recipients of the award have been instrumental in cultivating university programs, advancing accessible and green design and promoting cultural agendas through design. Past winners include Kelly Kolar, Alexandra Wood and Lucy Holmes, Cybelle Jones, David Middleton, Wayne Hunt and Ken Ethridge.
Don Kiel is an invaluable asset to the SEGD community through his many years as the SEGD Auction for Excellence curator and hands-on volunteer. Prior to his recent retirement, Kiel was the Manager of Wayfinding & Visitor Information at New York-Presbyterian, a world-class academic medical center committed to excellence in patient care, research, education and community service. Previous to that, he was Director of Graphic Design at Swanke Hayden Connell Architects for over 20 years.
Some of the projects he was instrumental in include: American Express Headquarters in Battery Park, IBM Headquarters, the Restoration of the Statue of Liberty, Reuters Headquarters in Times Square, and the FDNY Training Facility on Randall’s Island. For New York Presbyterian, he managed wayfinding on a 5 million-square-foot campus and was involved in the rebranding and signage transformation of hospitals such as NYP/Lawrence Hospital, NYP/Lower Manhattan Hospital, NYP/Queens Hospital, NYP/Brooklyn Hospital and NYP/Hudson Valley Hospital.
Kiel has been an involved and supportive SEGD member since 1999. We recently caught up with Kiel and asked questions about his career, work with SEGD and Kiel himself.
On New York-Presbyterian
Tell us a little about your last employer, and your role—what made it unique?
I was hired to manage a 5 million-square-foot wayfinding project at the NYP/Weill Cornell campus at York Avenue and 68th Street in Manhattan. It was unique, because I was initially interviewed by Sylvia Harris, a design consultant for NYP. Sylvia and I knew all the same people and became immediate friends. At the five year mark, the wayfinding project was about to go out to bid and Sylvia died unexpectedly. The project never recovered from her loss.
What's the key to creating a great design culture in a healthcare setting?
At NYP, everyone was aware of the need for consistent wayfinding, however, unless there is strong commitment at the senior executive level, nothing will happen.
How did your relationship with SEGD begin?
My relationship with SEGD began when Gary Anzalone kept “insisting” that I join. I worked at a very large architectural firm and didn’t see the need to join.
What role does participation in, or volunteering with SEGD play in your current or past practice?
I like to support organizations that are there to support us as professionals.
What was the most fun memory from your time spent with SEGD?
At one of the first conferences that I attended, at the SEGD Auction, I witnessed Doug Morris and Richard Poulin bidding against each other for Virginia Geshan’s chocolate chip cookies. Both of them were feeling no pain and put on a lively show. I believe the winning bid was $5,000.
Please tell us all about how and why you got involved with the auction and where the amazing prints come from!
I have always thought the SEGD Auction was great fun; I wanted to participate somehow. A friend of mine who I met through Massimo Vignelli, owned a silk-screen company, which was considered the best in NYC. The company was called Ambassador Arts and had commercial clients.
Paula Scher did their promotions and they began printing her work. Serigraa Limited was created to handle the more “fine art” projects involving
prominent graphic designers, including Paula’s prints. One day, John Evangelista, the owner, called to tell me he sold the business and asked could I help him organize his inventory of “extra” prints. It took me many weekends to conclude that the inventory totaled 25,000 pieces.
On Don Kiel
When did you know a career in design was for you?
As a small child, I could always draw just about anything; I even designed a few typefaces. Ohio University had a program called Advertising Design which quickly changed to Graphic Design. I knew that was my path.
What are a few projects that have shaped your career or practice?
I have to say that each project had a great impact on me. At Swanke Hayden Connell Architects, if you missed a step, you were out the door. Some clients were very demanding and you had to solve the design problems quickly and thoroughly. It was both intimidating and rewarding at the same time.
Describe yourself in one sentence.
As a monumental fan of P.G. Wodehouse, I would describe myself as someone who very carefully follows “the code of the Woosters.”
If you could redesign any one thing, what would you choose?
I would love to redesign the storefronts on Queens Boulevard, also aectionately called the “Boulevard of Death.”
What advice would you give young designers?
As a former Assistant Professor at Pratt Institute, I would continually tell my students, "This is not about you!"
What are you enjoying in retirement?
I enjoy having stepped off the treadmill.
>>> More about Donald Kiel
Congratulations to the 2019 SEGD Achievement Award winners!
See past Achievement Award winners.