Harris Siegel was named the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award winner by the Society For News Design. The Lifetime Achievement Award is the highest honor the Society can bestow.
(Video shot and edited by Ellen Collier, a 2013 SNDF travel grant winner from Ball State University.)
Friends and colleagues reflect on Siegel’s contributions to the news design community:
Harris is one of the most passionate visual journalists you’ll ever meet. That passion came through on every page — and every product — he created. And I don’t just mean the hockey pages. Every page he did grabbed the reader and shouted, “YOU MUST READ THIS.” And on every page, the attention to detail was outstanding — in both the visuals as well as the text. That was Harris’ signature — the agate type on the page got the same attention that the full-page photo did.
Harris single-handedly defined hockey page design, and took it to a level no one else could even approach. His pages were powerful, brilliant and stunning. The pages made you smile, and say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Harris did that so very well. I defy anyone to say they’ve ever done an NHL preview better than Harris Siegel. It’s just not possible.
But the best part? Harris always did it with this attitude of, “Well, yeah, I knew a guy who had a picture that might work … so we did it.” And he would take that picture, crop it like no one else would even think to do it, and run it 12 columns. Bam. Harris always undersold his pages (OK, maybe not some of his hockey ones — those he knew he hit out of the park) — but he was the guy who made it all happen.
He was an art director in every sense of the word, and a true visual journalist. I’m so happy for him to receive this honor from SND!
Harris has had a tremendous amount of influence on me, as a designer and as a person. Inspiration can happen at any time and can come from anywhere, and he taught me to embrace that. Harris and I would often go trolling around for inspiration in second-hand stores on the Asbury Park boardwalk, or at vintage toy stores in New Hope, PA. (His going away gift to me was an amazing vintage radio that lives in my living room…it’s a reminder.) Or we’d be having drinks at a bar and the moment would strike and we’d start sketching out a project we were working on together on napkins. For me, I get a lot of inspiration from music. I remember chasing rumors with Harris that Bruce Springsteen was at The Stone Pony or was playing on the Asbury Park beach. I never saw Springsteen…Harris witnessed him many times. For Harris, his inspiration comes from hockey and his beautiful wife Denise.
Another example of inspiration coming from anywhere, including your environment, is Wayne Kamidoi’s Subway Series logo, which was inspired by the iconography for the NYC subway system…pure brillance. Harris, Wayne and I were always so psyched for each other when one of us really hit on something that effected people, like that logo. For that, he taught me not to be envious of others’ talent. We each have our own and there’s beauty in different approaches.
Harris taught me to look at design holistically…to create a whole story, not just a page. An example of this was our talk in San Diego, Sports Design and Beer. I was really stressed out about the talk. Harris just wanted to make sure the room was designed to be a Sports Bar. He always thought on a bigger, higher level.
Harris stoked my passion for Design. I don’t know that you can teach Passion, but I do know that someone can ignite it. Harris did that for me. He showed me that I have an ability to tell stories visually. He also encouraged me to believe in myself.
Harris is a great teacher. When I was in Asbury, he’d critique me regularly and would tear me apart. My favorite was when we’d be talking about kerning and he’d draw a truck through 2 letters if they weren’t kerned tight enough.
Another random memory that Harris remembers fondly. We used to take a figure drawing class together that (I think) George Frederick, who was the graphics director in Asbury at that time, taught. Harris and I lived down the street from each other. I’d roll out of bed after working until 3am and he’d pick me up. I’d always throw on my Syracuse baseball hat backwards and he remembers that.
To answer Harris’ question, he was a GREAT mentor. Tough, but appropriately so and knew I could handle it. I wanted to do great work…he taught me how, showed me I was ok at this thing, and taught me life lessons along the way. Kinda what Nancy did for him. He also made hard work fun. He didn’t rip up the truck-driving-through-the-letters page because I kept it (not sure if I still have it.) But he definitely literally ripped up other pages after critiquing them. Part of the Harris drama!
Simply put, Harris was the most creative person I ever had the pleasure of working with. His ideas and concepts– often hilarious and always inspired– came at you so fast it was at times near impossible to keep up. We’d work crazy hours to bring his ideas to life, but it was hard to complain when it would involve something so clever like full-page “Electric Football” toys. I’ll always remember the time his NHL Preview concept required me to create illustrations of tin hockey-table game players– his perfectionism drove me nuts that time (“It’s supposed to be Mark Messier, Ed! Make him look more mean! Now start over, and this time think evil!), but the award-winning results were impossible to argue. And if his insane cleverness wasn’t enough, regardless of the deadline pressure Harris always found a way to make work fun. In another life he could have been equally successful as a stand-up comic– he always had the staff rolling with his rapid-fire jokes and expressions.
To this day, when I’m brainstorming with a bunch of peers, no matter how great our ideas and concepts might be, I always step back and reflect for a moment, and say to myself, “What would Harris do with this?”… and often right then some crazy, inspired, out-of-the-box idea pops into my head.
I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of amazing journalists over the years, but I have never found anyone as creative or who was able to get creative work out of other people as Harris Siegel.
Harris made me better. Of course, Harris made almost everyone better.
As a young designer, Harris could do that rare thing that only truly gifted people can do — he could tear down your work in a critique and help you build it back better than it was before, all the while imbuing you with the confidence to take risks and be a better designer and a better journalist.
I am a fairly unsentimental person. I like looking forward more than I like looking back. But I would give almost anything to have the time that I worked with Harris back and do again — it was rewarding, it was hard … but most of all it was fun. When I look at what news design has been over the last 25 years, it is incomprehensible to think of it without Harris and the legion of great designers he mentored.
Harris Siegel is charismatic, brilliant, and hilarious, he could certainly host his own Daily Show—move over Jon Stewart, here comes Haaarrrriss!!!!
I remember once, when he was designing the SND annual awards book, he kept me on the phone for over an hour while he went on and on explaining this wild and wonderful concept. Harris puts passion into everything he does, be it volunteering for SND or designing a sports cover, and, he can challenge you to a pretty mean game of pool too.
Harris really never should have gone into newspapers. He probably should have been inventing cool stuff in a lab or worked for MAD magazine or been a writer for some sitcom or a standup comedian. The bucket list of jobs he could have excelled at other than “managing editor for a newspaper” could go on and on. He definitely would have left the business if Nike or the N.H.L. ever called him.
We started only days apart as part of a newly-formed news design desk at the Detroit Free Press. For a guy who bailed after 3 months in the pre-bankrupt Motown to go back to the Boss County, it seemed like years that I tapped his creative brain for ideas. He was definitely ahead of his time. I had worked only a year at a small paper as a copy editor/designer. Harris had about the same experience, but he was a DESIGNER with an awesome portfolio at the Asbury Park Press. And he knew how to use a Mac! (O.K., we’re talking 1989 here. So, it was a big deal.) I leaned on him for direction because I was out of my league at the Freep. And he certainly gave me direction whether I wanted it or not.
He has made a career of killing my designs. Thing is, he was usually right about his wry critiques and eye rolls. If he didn’t like you, he probably didn’t kill you. And there were plenty of times in my career where I stopped what I was designing, and thought to myself, “Harris is going to have a field day with this page, if he ever sees it.” One of his best newsroom lines: I was a nervously designing Page 1A at the Freep, and Icalled him back to my desk to show him my full-page mockup that I had worked on for a while. Hoping he would say, “That’s freakin’ cool, Wayno!” Instead, he says without hesitation while peering into a dark corner of the newsroom, “All right, where’s the real page?”
For two decades, Asbury Park became the place to go for creative talent that Harris recruited. By no coincidence, many made a name for themselves — Janet Michaud (Boston Globe, Time, Washington Post, Politico); Ed Gabel (Time, Joe Zeff Design); Tim Oliver (The New York Times, Golf Digest); Annette Vazquez (Detroit News, Wall Street Journal), among others. Harris hated it when they left, but he was secretly happy if they got a better opportunity.
If you didn’t know Harris for his “suh-weet butter” designs, you knew him as the guy with the bandana and hockey jersey that made SND events a bit more irreverent. His impact is huge. He is the Kevin Bacon of news design. Pretty much any designer of any repute had a 1-degree Siegel separation. Since he’s been out of newspapers, we’re missing out on the truly great visuals from down the Jersey Shore.
For most designers and SND members, the humor of Harris — both intentional and unintentional — was the headline. But the heart of the story was that he was fearless, crazily creative, and able to devise and sell ideas that we could only dream about. He could do graceful, but he was much more comfortable on the edge, Jersey brash with lots of brass. He set a standard that so many aspired to, and ushered audacity into the designers’ toolbox.
Harris is the inspiration behind the Joe Zeff bobble head doll. It was Harris who started the trend with a custom bobblehead for his hockey team, and he introduced me to his manufacturer. He also introduced me to Ed Gabel, the magnificent 3D artist who became my sidekick at TIME magazine and JZD. And I’m also indebted to Harris for turning an illustration that Newsweek rejected — two glowing candles to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 — into an icon on the front page of the Asbury Park Press.
Without a doubt, Harris is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. Sitting in a hotel lobby at an SND event many years ago, a group of us watched Tom Bodkin walk toward the front desk to check in. Harris didn’t know Tom, just knew of him as the most important designer at the most important newspaper in the world. And that was all Harris needed to improvise a fictitious exchange between Tom and the front-desk clerk. Harris, in an aggravated voice: “It’s B as in Bodkin, O as is Odkin, D as in Dkin, K as in Kin, I as in In and N as in Nnnnnnnnn!” I can still hear Archie Tse laughing. And see Harris ducking.
Harris is one of the most talented people I’ve ever met. The SND annual was his portfolio, a showcase for his unrivaled imagination and talent. He inspired a generation of designers, myself included, in how he turned everyday objects into extraordinary concepts. He singlehandedly turned a tiny newspaper in New Jersey into a titan, a newspaper that everyone everywhere looked toward for inspiration and invention. Congratulations Harris on your lifetime achievement award. You are sorely missed, and appreciated.
How exactly was Harris coaxed to SND Louisville?
Did someone trick him into thinking it was a Springsteen concert?
Harris Siegel pushed us all to think bigger, and deliver better design. He did that by playing bigger than most, and sweating the details like no one before him, adding entire levels of detail and complexity to the game no one else could imagine. (He also likely drove Ed Gabel and others nuts doing it, but still, being a pioneer is never easy.)
Harris delivered striking visual tributes that played on pop culture in meme-like ways — in an era before memes were, well, memes. He added visual context, flair and savvy to storytelling.
And it goes without saying: he single-handedly set the Lord Stanley-level silvery standard for hockey design.
Harris Siegel is to newspaper design what Vladislav Tretiak is to hockey goaltending, though that reference may seem a little obscure. Obviously, we all know who Vladislav Tretiak is… but who is Harris Siegel?
Well, many years ago, Harris was an SND legend. He won countless awards in the annual design competition, in categories such as “Most Contest Entries” and “Biggest Illustration.”
As time went by, everybody started stealing Harris’s design ideas, a practice that became known as “Harrissing.” You’d often hear art directors say things like, “Geez, we’re really harrissing our readers with that big illustration.”
I confess, that I, too, used to tear the hedders off his ARTS and SPORTS pages and replace them with Oregonian logos. When I’d show people my portfolio, they’d say, “Wow, I didn’t realize Springsteen was from Portland.” Or: “When did the New Jersey Devils move to Oregon???”
Sadly, Harris’s glory days came to a sudden end when it was revealed that he’d stolen all his ideas from Wayne Kamidoi at The New York Times. Siegel left newspapers, joined the Army and began harrissing our troops.
And SND swore they would never, ever again give Harris an award of any kind. Ever.