Often provocative, always creative: meet graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister
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Designers Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh have built up a formidable reputation for breaking boundaries or a ‘design superstar’, Stefan Sagmeister is remarkably approachable; as self-effacing as his work is in-your-face. We meet at Vienna’s MAK, the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, where Beauty, the exhibition he has devised with designer and business partner Jessica Walsh, has just become the most highly attended show in the museum’s 156-year history. It breaks the designers’ own record for The Happy Show a few years ago. The first thing that grabs your attention is an ice-encrusted Jaguar E-Pace in a glass box at the entrance, with the designers’ manifesto for beauty inscribed across its surface in curvaceous letters. “Creating an exhibition of beauty is at the core of what it means to be a communications designer,” says Sagmeister, in a strong Austrian accent hardly affected by more than a quarter-century in New York. “You’re looking at a very big piece of information – ‘beauty’ is gigantic – and making decisions on what to pick out and how to communicate it.” Sagmeister’s career path is a thing of wonder, because graphic design rarely produces celebrities. Designers usually toil in the background, making sure that what they designed – whether book, brand, app, album cover, poster, package or exhibition – looks right and reaches its target audience. Tall, handsome and intense, he attracts a cluster of admirers. From academics and students at the premiere of his 2016 documentary The Happy Film, to award-winning creatives at elite industry gatherings, they are all a little star-struck. When he speaks at a conference, nobody wants to appear after him. But he remains true to purpose. Using ingenious lettering and compelling images, Sagmeister delights most in his role as a designer. He counts David Byrne (for whom he has won two Grammys for packaging), The Rolling Stones and Jay-Z among his clients, as well as classy brands (Zumtobel, Vitra) and non-profits (One Voice). He says: “The most interesting part of being a graphic designer is the large, regular audience. I found music packaging appealing because sometimes we had a first print run that was in the millions.” Sagmeister was born in the Alpine town of Bregenz, and attended Vienna’s prestigious Angewandte, the University of Applied Arts. After spells in New York on a Fulbright scholarship, freelance work in Austria and a couple of years in advertising in Hong Kong, he returned for another crack at the Big Apple. In 1993, Sagmeister launched his own practice, announcing it with a card that showed him standing naked, with a strategically placed, removable sticker. Soon, his quirky combination of highly effective client work, personal work and blatant self-promotion (such as a poster with text carved into his bare skin) made Sagmeister Inc. one of the most visible studios in New York. He hired talented assistants, but kept the team small. However in 2000 Sagmeister did something that surprised colleagues and clients alike – he closed his studio and took a year off. When he returned from the sabbatical a year later, and published the monograph Made You Look, his career skyrocketed. He has subsequently taken two more sabbaticals – a way, he says, of redistributing his retirement years throughout his life. This ample time for reflection has led to a fondness for self-help aphorisms such as ‘Worrying solves nothing’, ‘Having guts always works out for me’, and ‘Money does not make me happy’. Many of these ended up – spelled out in elaborate lettering using paint, hair, pattern, coins, inflatable monkeys, bananas and even urine – in 2008’s Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far. This PREVIOUS PAGE: PHOTOS: SAGMEISTER & WALSH (2). THIS PAGE: PHOTOS: JOHN MADERE; SAGMEISTER & WALSH (4) 20 THEJAGUAR
RIGHT XXXXX “CREATING AN EXHIBITION ON BEAUTY IS AT THE CORE OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A COMMUNICATIONS DESIGNER”
JAGUAR MAGAZINE celebrates creativity in all its forms, with exclusive features that inspire sensory excitement, from seductive design to cutting-edge technology.
The latest issue features a range of inspiring people: from Luke Jennings, creator of Villanelle, one of the most interesting television characters in recent times, to Marcus Du Sautoy, who ponders whether artificial intelligence is on the brink of becoming creative. Out on the road, we visit the US to explore the foodie heaven of Portland in a Jaguar I-PACE, take a Jaguar XE to the south of France to get a photographer’s viewpoint of the charming town of Arles, and much more.