2 Minutes With ... Jessie McGuire, Managing Partner at ThoughtMatter

On expanding into web3, being a Debbie Millman stan and making thoughts into things

Jessie McGuire is the managing partner at brand design studio ThoughtMatter, leading a diverse team to create daring designs and identities for global brands, local communities, art museums and foundations, institutions and non-profits. Over her career, she has produced and designed projects for Kimberly-Clark, P&G and Colgate Palmolive, raised awareness for socially progressive causes such as March for Our Lives, Girls Write Now and The Joyful Heart Foundation and supported community-minded efforts for The New-York Historical Society, Downtown Staten Island and The Center for Arts Education.

We spent two minutes with Jessie to learn more about her background, her creative inspirations, and recent work she's admired.

Jessie, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I was born in El Salvador, arrived in Miami in 1985 at 22 months old, and soon after found myself in an ill-fitting snowsuit in upstate New York. I grew up in a suburb of Albany—Niskayuna—known for being state champions of girls soccer and an atomic lab funded by GE, neither of which I engaged with. 

How you first realized you were creative.

I went to a Catholic elementary school with the same 18 boys and 6 girls from kindergarten through 5th grade. In the '80s, girl power and looking at things through a feminist lens weren't mainstream, but I certainly worked hard to stand out. I found my teachers always sat me next to their desks. I always thought it was because the teachers loved me; strangely, my mom has a different perspective. But regardless, I'm fortunate that many teachers, neighbors and my family recognized that art and creativity was an outlet for my energy and enthusiasm. Soon enough, I recognized that for myself.

A person you idolized creatively early on.

Debbie Millman. She knows this, but I was on the early cusp of online stalking. Now I'd be called a stan. I was ahead of my time. But in the mid-2000s, I was there for her early recordings of the podcast Design Matters, which broadcast from the Empire State Building. Those early essays and interviews shaped my creative world and ambition.

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

I struggled with my mental health in high school and lost direction during my junior year. I am fortunate to have wonderful friends (whom I still text) and a supportive family who didn't turn their backs on me. Instead, they helped me find purpose in creativity. They pushed me to attend a 4-year college and told me that no amount of student loans should hold me back from pursuing a career in the arts.

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

I am relentlessly curious, so there are so many musicians and visual artists that inspire me. This translates to me always being on my phone. However, my husband—who I actually spend time with IRL—is probably my biggest inspiration. As a painting major in the mid-2000s, he naturally found himself doing work in the street and introduced me to NYC street art. I continue to admire the work he did under his pseudonym General Howe. His site-specific work exploring war on our soil and multimedia work commenting on the alter egos of our politicians still rings true almost 15 years later. That, to me, is the power of great ideas.

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

I recently finished the book The Groom Will Keep His Name: And Other Vows I've Made About Race, Resistance, and Romance. I continue to wrestle with, explore and celebrate the multitude of my own identities, and I appreciated Matt Ortile's journey of embracing all of himself.

Your favorite fictional character.

I started to make a list. When I reviewed it, I realized it featured all women brought into my life by Shonda Rhimes. But with that said, if I had to pick favorite—definitely Olivia Pope. We must all work to protect Shonda Rhimes because I’m ready for more fiercely independent, slightly flawed, purely human leading ladies.

Someone or something worth following in social media.

Black-owned fashion brand Sammy B.

How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.

I had the privilege of working remotely through the majority of the pandemic. Thank you, technology! Being home 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a two-year-old, six-year-old, dog and husband, I was forced to slow down and look around to see, feel and be present in the life I've been creating. I'm one lucky lady.

One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on.

Some of my favorite work over the past six years has come from stretching beyond the projects that a branding studio usually takes on. We redesigned the U.S. Constitution, created Women's March posters and printed zines with a political agenda. We have a section on our website called In-Between, which is a place for us to make thoughts into things.

A recent project you're proud of. 

We are working on some great projects in the web3 space like World of Women, on campaigns for New York City institutions like The Green Space, on women’s health and with Harlem restaurant Archer & Goat and more—some of which won't launch until later this year. But something I recently worked on is an essay about my new role as managing partner and what it means in the larger conversation about leadership, mentorship, and diversity in our industry. This took a whole lot of support from friends, colleagues and family to write and publish. It's called "Most people haven’t had a boss that looks like me."

Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.

I was introduced to the writings of Yesika Salgado, a Los Angeles based Salvadoran poet, in 2018 after the ThoughtMatter team all presented artists who hail from what former President Trump called "shithole countries." Follow her on social and get my favorite collection, Corazón.

Someone else's work you admired lately.

Every day when I walk into our studio, I am greeted by a piece by the artist Hew Locke. It's an ornate mixed-media photo of a monument to Peter Stuyvesant. It's a reminder that histories are complicated, and we must always examine power and privilege. You can see his latest work at the Met.

Your main strength as a creative person.

I process quickly and love connecting people and ideas.

Your biggest weakness.

I'm impulsive.

One thing that always makes you happy.

Watching my husband draw with our kids.

One thing that always makes you sad.

The gender pay gap and loneliness.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising/branding/design.

President of an art school. There's still time!

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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