053: Emily Oberman – Beautiful Weirdness As A Principle For Life In Design

053: Emily Oberman – Beautiful Weirdness As A Principle For Life In Design

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053: Emily Oberman - Beautiful Weirdness As A Principle For Life In Design

Guest Overview 

Emily Oberman – a partner at the international design firm, Pentagram, was born and raised in New York, to a graphic designer father and illustrator mother, discusses her prolific life in design and branding. 

In part one of this two-part episode Emily recounts the impact of her upbringing based on the idea of art, discovery, and joy, how humor and singing were never far and explains how the work ethic her parents instilled has served her well through her three decades in design. 

Emily discusses how her parents introduced her to Monty Python, The Marx Brothers, and MAD Magazine and how the idea of being a beautiful weirdo has remained with her throughout her career as she seeks out oddness in everyone she meets

We cover Emily’s serendipitous journey from studying design at Cooper Union in NYC, her sojourn into film studies and how that set her on her path to a life in design, content, and storytelling. 

We discuss Emily’s early design influences, her approach to design and the role of story and ideas in her work. We end part one with Emily recounting how she ended up working under her mentor Tibor Kalman at design firm M&Co 

In part two we explore how Emily met and formed a 17-year partnership, with Bonnie Siegler, in the New York design firm Number17 before we dive deep into her 20 seasons of driving the identity of Saturday Night Live. 

We also discuss her leadership experience at Pentagram and the challenges of combining that with motherhood 

Finally, Emily and I discuss diversity and of course her quick-fire questions and answers.

I hope you enjoy this curiosity, humor and design principles of Emily Oberman 

What we discuss 

  • The environment of art, discovery, and joy that defined her upbringing
  • How her parents injected humor and wit in everything they did 
  • Her appreciation for art, design and the power of idea-driven design 
  • The impact of her parents instilled in her from an early age
  • The idea of being a beautiful weirdo 
  • How she embraces the off and seeks oddness in all places 
  • Why her family all share that goal of beautiful weirdness
  • Emily Oberman shares the impact of a teacher who recognized her talent and nurtured it
  • Emily explains how she introduced her to Greek literature. 
  • Emily breaks down her decision to go to Cooper Union
  • Studying acting 
  • Why she is a worrier
  • The illustrators she was inspired by 
  • Emily Oberman and how her love of theatre and film led her to take a year to study acting 
  • How this led her to love film and ultimately motion graphics 
  • Design as performance 
  • Examples of how she approaches design using examples Ready Player One and the women’s co-working space, The Wing 
  • Forming Number17 With Bonnie Siegler
  • Working for smart good people and products she likes 
  • The experience of creating the credits of SNL 
  • The challenge of motherhood and leadership in design
  • The hard work she has had to do
  • Driving diversity in Pentagram and leading by example 

Social Links 



Links in the Show 

Debbie Millman

Cooper Union

Tibor Kalman

Milton Glaser 

Max Fleischer 

Bob Kane 

Jack Kirby 

Mort Drucker 

Stella Adler

Colors magazine 



DC comics

Ready Player One 


Lorne Micheals 

Saturday Night Live 

Monty Python 

MAD Comic 

Marx Brothers

Metropolitan museum 

The Highline

Hudson river park 

Devil in the White City Book 

Don’t Stop Here

More To Explore

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