stefan sagmeister interview
stefan sagmeister interview stefan sagmeister interview
may 23, 2006

stefan sagmeister interview

stefan sagmeister© designboom



designboom met stefan sagmeister at his office in new yorkon may 23rd, 2006.



what is the best moment of the day?

in the early evening and the early morning.when talking about design Iwould say the morning becauseit’s quiet in here (his office) and there is then time to reallythink about concepts. the evening because then most of theday is over and so it’s a more playful time, specifically whenall the tasks are done.



much of your work is related to music…

I have always been interested in musicalthough now a diminishing part of my life.growing older (I’m 43 now) I can say that looking backmusic was much more important to me when I was 23.



douglas gordon’s ‘the vanity of allegory’ ,a collection of postcardsfor the guggenheim museum, berlin by stefan sagmeister 2005.the wedge cut in the lid has a strip of mirror-foil on the right sideto reflect the other half of the word ‘vanity’.



what kind of music do you listen to at the moment?

what you just heard there (music playing in the office)is ‘cat power’ we’ve been listening to her extensivelyrecently.



do you always like the music of the bands you work with?

we always try not to have to work with musicians orany other clients who we don’t like. there is absolutelyno excuse to work with ass-holes.




talking heads box set ‘once in a lifetime’ by stefan sagmeister(paintings by vladimir dubossarsky and alexander vinogradov), 2005



do you listen to the radio?

I used to love listening to the radio when I was in austriabut here (NY) much less. the level of advertising betweensongs drives me nuts. I haven’t been very diligently lookingfor stations lately. we have a new intern every three monthsand we always ask them to bring with them their favorite music,so there is quite a little bit of vocation going on.



what books do you have on your bedside table?

I just finished ‘the brooklyn follies’ by paul auster which I loved.last week I read a picasso biography and I have just started’the last true story I’ll ever tell’ by john crawford, it’s anaccount of a soldier in iraq. for pleasure I read fiction,non-fiction really whatever comes my way.






do you read design magazines?

the studio has subscriptions to a number of them,and I flick through them usually for pleasure not forinspiration, and not usually in office hours.



where do you get news from? newspapers? TV?

not from TV, I cant stand TV news in america,I read the new york times, which I find a good newspaperalthough it is slanted towards one’s probably my prime news-source.



‘to look’






do you notice how women are dressing?

I do now much more than I used 10 years agobecause my girlfriend is a fashion designer. now I noticethings here and there. she’s influenced how I dress for sure(heavily), and she has given me more of an eye for things.



do you have any preferences?

also through her influence, simple grounded ideas.






what kind of clothes do you avoid wearing?

basically anything that isn’t made by my girlfriend,or isn’t sold by my brother. he also has a men’s fashionstore. so between the two of them I would say 95%of what I wear comes from either of them.



do you have any pets?

no I don’t, when I was very, very young I had a turtle.



‘my life’ (trying to look good limits my life) by stefan sagmeister, 2004.part of an on-going typographic project ‘20 things I have learned in mylife so far’.




when you were a child, did you want


to become a designer?

not as a child but as an adolescent, when I was around15 or 16 I knew that I wanted to become a designer.



where do you work on your designs and projects?

everywhere, obviously the execution of them mostly in theoffice. the conception of them everywhere, I travel quite a bitand now I find it easy to work on a plane and I love to workin a hotel room. I love to work in new fresh surroundings,a new country…also i prefer working on concepts that don’thave a deadline attached where I can work freely.



AIGA lecture poster by stefan sagmeister, 1999.sagmeister had the words carved into his skin to tryand vizualize the pain that accompanies each of hisdesign projects.




do you discuss your work with other graphic designers?

we have a group called ‘second tuesday’ and we meet everysecond month. there are about 15 people who run design firms.we always meet at someone’s home or studio, that person hasto organize dinner and a subject. sometimes these subjects arequite practical such as finances. lately the topics have beenfocused more towards administration and business rather thancultural aspects.



please describe your style,


as a good friend of yours would.

for a long time we prided ourselves not to have a stylewhich to uphold became impossible. this is because if youreally switch your stylistic approach from project to projectit is impossible to come up with a new one on a weekly ormonthly basis, without ripping-off either historical styles or aparticular designers’ style. although it would not cover all ofour work I would say we are probably best known for ourhand-made quality.



AIGA biennial conference – new orleans poster by stefan sagmeister, 1997




… and ‘style = fart’?

yes i said this but I had to give up. it was the headline ofa theory that style and stylistic questions are just hot airand meaningless. I discovered that this is simply not true.through experience I found that if you have content that isworthwhile the properexpression of that content, in terms ofform and style is actually very important. it can be a veryuseful tool to communicate that content.I don’t think that it is actually hot-air anymore.



‘david byrne feeling’s album cover designed by stefan sagmeister, 1997



rolling stones’ ‘bridges to babylon’ album cover designby stefan sagmeister, 1997



which type of project has given you the most satisfaction?

well the cop-out answer would be projects for good clientswho have good products or good services. that could beCD packaging for a band that I love or for people who are kindor a pleasure to work with, or smarter than me so I can learnsomething. projects where I have the guts to work on themhard enough so that they become good in my eyes,they always tend to be more rewarding than the ones whereI was lazy.



who would you like to design something for?

a person who I have always wanted to and tried to work withis the guitarist ‘robert fripp’ from the band ‘king crimson’because it is a band that I have admired since I was far as a particular product is concerned I would love to dosomething ‘big’ and with a big impact in terms of its distribution.I would love to re-design the coke can, or an identity that is truly‘worldwide’. I always felt that these type of jobs used to be donevery well by small design companies or single designers forexample IBM or coca-cola. in the last decades though these jobstend to have been done by larger branding consultancies.they often have a very different agenda and in my eyes generallydo terrible jobs, though there are some exceptions. I think thatit’s a pity that designers avoid this type of work in favor of moreobscure projects, because today how children learn what theworld looks like is determined by these type of jobs. so I wouldlove to be involved there. in a small studio though this type ofproject rarely happens, big companies like working with otherbig companies.




lou reed ‘set the twilight reeling’ posterby stefan sagmeister, 1996



and your studio is small…

we very purposefully remain small. we started in 1993 andthere would have been many opportunities to grow through thenineties. other than not being involved with the size of brandingI definately think that a small studio only has advantages(apart from not being involved with the branding projects).to keep the studio small was actually advice i received fromtibor kalman.



is there any designer/ architect from the past


you appreciate a lot?

my old boss, tibor kalman.



and those still working?

many, we would be here forever if I were to list them all!in industrial design I would say the ‘dutch bunch’,marcel wanders etc. in graphics, especially in the USA I wouldsay rick valicenti, and in the UK mark farrow, but there aremany people.



‘mountains of madness’ album cover for h. p. zinkerby stefan sagmeister, 1994. when the album is removed fromthe transparent red case the facial expression changes.




do yo have any advice for the young?

try to be a good person and work your ass off.



what are you afraid of regarding the future?

hmm (thinks) not much, I wouldn’t call myself a verygutsy person but I can’t say that I am scared of anythingregarding the future… not at all. I think that it’s going to be fine.humanity adapts to all kinds of situations, and right now I thinkis a good time to be alive.

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