Rolling Along (with Susan Jackson Keig)

By Sharon Jiskra Brooks

I was invited to speak recently at an SEGD Chicago chapter event.

The event took place early in the morning, on an upper floor of one of the many great towers right in the heart of downtown Chicago.

Though some might compare the eclectic backgrounds of this group to that of Chicago’s original “Breakfast Club,” this group comes together on their own terms to pass the time, schooling themselves on various trending topics impacting their careers.

While preparing my presentation, I had sort of a “roll of the dice moment.” How could I keep the group awake? On one hand, I knew the coffee would be good. to make my presentation NOT boring? Immediately, I thought back to the time I hired a mariachi band for a one-minute company self-promotion spot in between speakers at a national conference. As expected, my competitors proudly fired up their stock PowerPoint presentations, one right after another. Hold everything: in from the back of the room, down the center aisle strolls a local (conference was held in San Antonio) five-piece mariachi band, bellowing out “One Ton Tomato” rewritten to throw in our company name. That woke the audience up and definitely WAS NOT boring. Sombreros and maracas were passed out to all.

Okay, I knew that wouldn’t fit this small group and not at 8 a.m. So I just did what I thought would work. I tried to add some humor. But I am an artist by passion (and schooling) and not a comedian. So my jokes sort of backfired on me…but maybe that day it was okay. See, I made an opening comment about how there must not have been anyone else to speak at this chapter event because all the “old timers” in our industry must all have been busy preparing for the SEGD national conference or else deceased, so they had to have a rookie present (ME!).

The irony of my remark was that the person who should have been speaking was sitting at the table just to the right of me. Since the meeting that morning, I have wanted to express my respect to her but have not quite figured out how to do that. So this is how I am doing that, with this writing. Because my failed attempt at humor wasn’t meant to be a mockery of her or others, but a truth of the “burn out” we all will probably face.

Sitting at OUR breakfast club was 95-year-old, Susan Jackson Keig—a pioneer in the development of North American graphic design. Was she there for the coffee? I don’t think so. Was she there to “learn more” about Experiential Design? What more could she learn?

I have done some of my own research on Ms. Keig since I had the chance to meet her and I am more than impressed with her accomplishments.

She mentioned to me that she was writing a book about architecture and this is not the first book she has authored. In addition to her writings, she has had a very successful design career. Ms. Keig is an internationally recognized designer still today. She was the art director for a major publisher in Chicago and was the vice president for a leading design and film studio before opening her own firm. Her academic career began at the University of Kentucky, where she is a distinguished Alumna of the College of Fine Arts, Fellow of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, and Fellow and past-president of the Society of Typographic Arts/American Center for Design. Ms. Keig has lectured at Yale University, Heritage of the Arts SUNY, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She studied at the New Bauhaus and later taught at the Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.

She has spoken passionately about design over the years but some of her most spirited words are these that she said about designers: “Once they find out what you can do, they can’t do without you.”

I have never had the chance to hear her speak publicly, but I did get to chat with her briefly after my presentation. I would have liked to have had more time to spend with her but she explained to me that she had another appointment to attend. She thanked me for the words I spoke and said she enjoyed it.

As it turned out, I rolled the dice right that day by having had Ms. Keig join us. She may very well be the oldest living designer attending a SEGD event and yet there she was, ready to learn all she could or at least graciously pretend she didn’t already know everything we talked about that day. May her passion for design spread like wildfire to us all. I feel honored that I had the chance to meet her, a legacy in our very special industry!

And good for her for proving me wrong...THEY most certainly are not all deceased! Maybe next time if I’m ever invited to speak again, I’ll just stick with the mariachi band and not roll the dice on being a comedian.

Sharon Brooks is vice president of business development for South Water Signs, LLC (Elmhurst, Ill.).

New Member Offer

Click to access the 2020 "Never been an SEGD member before" $185 sign up offer

Upcoming SEGD Events

2022 Conference Experience Portland
2022 SEGD Academic Summit
2022 Wayfinding and Placemaking