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Sagmeister essay

sagmeister essay

Stefan Sagmeister

Stefan Sagmeister was born in the quaint town of Bregenz, Austria in 1962. While growing up, his parents worked in the fashion retail business. After high school Stefan went on to study engineering but soon after switched to graphic design. He started his design career at the age of 15 when he designed layouts and illustrations for the Austrian youth magazine Alphorn.

When he turned 19 Sagmeister moved to the city of Vienna, Austria in hopes of being accepted to the University of Applied Arts. His first application was rejected and he enrolled in a nearby art school to build up his talents. His second application was accepted and he went on to earn an M.B.A. from the university. While studying, he was introduced to musician Alexander Goebel, who was dating Stefan’s sister at the time. After seeing his talent, Goebel introduced him to the Schausipelhaus theatre group. Stefan designed a few posters for the group by way of the Gruppe Gut collective. The posters designs made fun of traditional theatrical images by paring them with rough, grungy, punk typefaces.

In 1987 Stefan was granted the prestigious Fulbright scholarship to study at Pratt University in New York. The work the he produced at Pratt had great wit and humor embedded into design. This theme of humor was prevalent in many of Sagmeister’s designs and can be seen in his current works as well. In 1990, he returned to Austria to perform community service in a refugee camp outside of Vienna in order to fulfill his military conscription.

The following year Stagmeister moved to Hong Kong to work with Leo Burnett. The advertising agency wanted Stefan to become a typographer for them. One of Stefan’s more memorable projects for the company was his poster design for the 1992 4As Advertising Awards Ceremony. The design consisted of an image of four nude Cantonese male’s backsides. The poster design was very controversial and some advertisement agencies boycotted the awards ceremony in protest of the poster. Stefan left Hong Kong in 1993 and spent a couple of months working in Sri Lanka before he returned to New York.

Back in New York, Sagmeister began to design for Tibor Kalman’s graphics studio M&Co. One of Stefan’s most memorable projects of M&Co was his first project for the studio. He was in charge of creating an invitation to the Gay and Lesbian Taskforce Gala. His design consisted of a small, neatly packaged box of fresh fruit, which to say the least became a bit of a nightmare to keep from rotting in the summer heat. Only a few months after Stefan joined the team, Tibor Kalman decided to close the studio in order to move to Rome. Stagmeister had made a name for himself in the design industry and decided that it was time for him to start up his own studio.

Stefan started his New York-based design studio Stagmeister Inc. in 1994. Following one of his design philosophies and the advice of Kalman, Stagmeister keeps his company very small. His team only consists of himself, one other designer who compliments his work, and an intern. One of the studios very first commissions was from Martin Sagmeister, Stefan’s brother, for his new chain of jeans stores in Austria called Blue. Stefan created a brand identity for Blue, which consisted of black lettering of the store’s name on an orange background.

When Stefan created his own studio his dream was to create music graphics and design album covers for some of musicians that he liked. His dream came true when H.P. Zinker asked him to create the CD Cover for his album entitled Mountains of Madness. The design consists of a CD case with a red plastic sleeve over it. The image seen when the sleeve is on is of a calm and peaceful looking face of an aging man. When the sleeve is taken off the images changes to the complete opposite and the man’s expression is livid and dangerous looking. This CD cover design got Sagmeister his first Grammy nomination.

Stefan received more commissions for album designs by other famous musicians including Lou Reed, David Bryne, The Rolling Stones, and Talking Heads. One of his more difficult jobs was his design for The Rolling Stones’s album Bridge of Babylon in 1997. Stefan had to do a lot of convincing to have his original design accepted by the band’s management. He was inspired by an Assyrian sculpture of a lion which became the main image in the cover’s design. The lion also symbolized Mick Jagger whose astrological sign is the Leo. Stefan believed that the image of the lion could be easily reproduced for the album’s tour merchandise. After it passed through management, the design was very well received by the band and their fans.

During this time Stagmeister Inc. also took on many commercial commissions, most notably the AIGA lecture poster created between 1996 and 1999. He thought up three different poster designs for three different lectures in New York, New Orleans, and Detroit. The design for the New York Fresh Dialogue series consists of texts overlaid with two elongated, wiggling tongues coming from both sides. The New Orleans’s poster is an image of a headless chicken running across a field with prominent red lettering in the top right corner stating “Hurry!”. The text on both of the posters seems like it is handwritten and is not evenly spaced or straight. The last and most unsettling poster is the Detroit poster created in 1999. The image consists of a photograph of Stagmeister’s torso. Stefan had his intern carve the text for the poster into his skin using an x-acto knife. The photograph has a grotesque and depressing feeling to it that defiantly caught the eye of many viewers.

In the summer of 2000 Stefan decided that it was time for him to take a break from his studio work. About every seven years or so Stefan takes one of these yearlong sabbaticals to focus on more experimental work and to look back at what he has done. Stefan believes that if his work is too much then it becomes a job and he starts to not enjoy it anymore. These breaks allow him to not let this happen. In 2000 Stefan looked back on all the work that he had accomplished since he started the studio and compiled a book entitled Made You Look: Another Self-Indulgent Design Monograph. The book recounts all of Stefan’s past projects, even the ones that he is not proud of. In 2001 he returned to the studio and published his new book.

Over the course of the next few years Stefan created a couple more album designs, most notably the Once in a Lifetime box set design for Talking Heads in 2003. Stefan received a Grammy for Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package in 2005 for this album design. He also received a second Grammy in 2010 for Best Recording Package for his design for David Bryne and Brian Eno’s album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.

Stefan’s latest project is one that he has been working on since 2004. It is a series of typographic billboards captured in print images, moving media, installation work and on film called Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far. In 2008 he gave a lecture for TED.com on this series of work. In the lecture he lists his small philosophies which include the following statements: “Having guts always works for me.” “Keeping a diary supports personal development.” “Trying to look good limits my life.” “Worrying solves nothing.” “Complaining is silly. Either act or forget.” and “Everybody always thinks they are right.” Sagmeister originally wrote this list down in his own personal journal. He was able to make them into a very compelling design series with the support of his faithful clients. Stefan has published a book of images from the series entitled Things I Have Leanred. He also has asked his fans and followers to submit their own philosophies via his website thingsihavelearnedinmylife.com.

Currently, Sagmeister is on another one of his breaks from the studio. He is working on some personal projects while living in Bali, Indonesia. While on break he has turned down many tempting offers including a poster design for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.


Artist Series: Sagmeister 08. Hillmancurtis: Film |Video | Design for the Web. 2008. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. .

“Stefan Sagmeister/ Design Museum Collection: Design/Designer Information.” Design Museum London. Web. 03 Apr. 2010. .

“Stefan Sagmeister.” Interview. Designboom. 23 May 2006. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. .

Sagmeister, Inc. Web. 03 Apr. 2010. .

Sagmesiter, Stefan. “He Will Make You Look, an Interview with Stefan Sagmeister.” Interview by Brandon Luhring. Scene 360 - The Online Film and Arts Magazine. 29 Nov. 2002. Web. 04 Apr. 2010. .

Stefan Sagmeister On What He Has Learned | Video on TED.com. By Stefan Sagmeister.

TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. Sept 2008. Web. 04 Apr. 2010.


Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far. Ed. Stefan Sagmeister. Web. 04 Apr. 2010.


Examples of Work

Bridge to Babylon: The Rolling Stones. Stefan Sagmeister. 1997. CD Cover and Sleeve.

AIGA Detroit. Stefan Sagmeister. 1999. Lithograph, 39 x 27 1/2"

Keeping a Diary Supports Personal Development. Stefan Sagmeister. 2008. Video of Installation.

Influential Words Sagmeister, Stefan 1158 Designer an - Essay


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