Stefan Sagmeister

Please introduce yourself although you should need no introduction.

My name is Stefan Sagmeister, I am an Austrian designer working in New York.

What have you been up to the last few years? Any important projects, trips, or life experiences you would like to share?

After working in design for the music industry for a long time, (we had done covers for the Stones, Aerosmith, Lou Reed and the Talking Heads) I got bored and I identified four sectors I am interested in: Art, Science, Social and Corporate. We roughly devote 25% of our time to each of these areas. This means, for example, in art: books for the Guggenheim, in science: the complete redesign of a science magazine, in social: the identity of TrueMajority, a group which wants to cut the Pentagon budget by 15% and move it over to Education and in corporate: an annual report for a lighting company. This mix has proven fun with lots of diverse and interesting clients to learn something from.

So, What does Stefan Sagmeister do to unwind? Do you like baseball, fishing, chess, searching for rare and vintage vinyl etc?

None of the above. I read a lot and I travel a lot, and specially enjoy doing both at the same time.

Speaking of rare and vintage vinyl are there any collections that you have that are rare and nostalgic in anyway?

Well, I am not a big collector, the need to own many things always felt suspicious to me. Having said that, I do own an Empire State Building collection (but just because I have a window in the studio where you can see the real thing and the 100 models placed on glass shelves in that window make for an interesting juxtaposition). And I also have a toilet paper collection right in the lobby with 36 paper rollers installed, so you can get a 'feeling' for all the countries the various toilet papers are from.

So I always ask this question to everyone I interview/have a conversation with so please bear with me, as it is somewhat generic. I only ask because I love hearing about others musical preferences and I love the possibility of stumbling across something new. So with all of that long-winded garble said what have you been listening to music wise and how does music factor into your design if at all?

As I get older, music play a lesser roll in my life. Nevertheless, we listen to music in the studio constantly. At the moment Austrian artist (and my friend) Zebe's new excellent CD is running, earlier we had a recent Amadou & Miriam on and this weeks favorites also include CocoRosie and Antony and the Johnsons.

Seeing as you still like to read from the newspaper and spend little time in front of the television screen I think it would be fresh to see you direct a music video. Would you ever consider this and is there anything else that you haven’t done that you would like to?

Yes, we have done a music video for Lou Reed. We put him in a chicken suit for the song Modern Dance, you can check it out on It is not a masterpiece, but ok for the first time.

I was thinking about “Style = Fart” vs. “Be Like Water” which is obviously a Bruce Lee quote. “Be Like Water” has recently affected the way I have been approaching design. It seems like there is so many people just trying to have the coolest cluster fuck of graphics and not really focusing on designing for communication and client purposes. It’s cool to be innovative but it sucks to be stagnant. What are your thoughts on these two when compared as well as your thoughts on the current state of design?

Well, I do think "Style=Fart" as being rather different from "Be like Water…" For one, I do not believe into "Style=Fart" anymore. This was originally a little wooden sign in the studio, put up there to underline our then believe that style is hot air and of no importance at all. We then tried to reinvent our formal and stylistic output with every project. This proved simply impossible to do, instead of inventing our own style every time, we ran danger of simply quoting a historic style or, worse, copying a style developed by another designer. We now allow ourselves to stick with one stylistic direction over several projects. And I do think that good content has a bigger chance of being heard when put into considered form and style.

Where can design go? Where do you see it going?

Considering absolutely everything human culture produces is designed, this is a fairly large question, akin to: Where is the world going? In my much more narrowly defined world of graphics, I can say this: The still image will continue to lose much of its current importance to anything animated, anything in motion, anything interactive. In the world of printing advanced versions of ink jet technology will likely replace most other printing methods, allow for rapid 3-D printing heralding in a world of instant products. Considering even that ink jet printing of live tissue is being experimented with at the moment for medical purposes, it is conceivable that we are looking at meat products coming out of an ink jet printer in the medium future.

From the appetizer to main course, the drink to the dessert, please let us in on what your perfect meal would entail?

Appetizer: Anni's Chinese dumpling
Main course: Zurich shredded veal with Roesti
Dessert: Austrian Cheese cake
Drink: Sparkling apple cider

Has there been project that you have done that you have regretted and has there ever been a job you have turned down that you wish you had taken, why or why not?

Yes, we recently turned down to design the cover of Zadie Smith's new book On Beauty, because they could not give us a manuscript and there was no way to know the quality of the book from the 10 pages we did get. I read the book after it was published and it turned out to be one of my very favorite books of the year. Would have LOVED to have designed the cover.

What was a movie that you have watched that really left an impression on you and why do you think it left this impression and what type of impression did it make.

Recently I'd say Brokeback Mountain. Mostly because of Ang Lee's incredible versatility. I was always a fan of the "changers" (I prefer the Beatles to the Stones, Warhol to Liechtenstein), and he pushed that concept to a new level: To think that this movie was made by the director of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Eat Drink Man Woman and the Icestorm is just astonishing.

I am as interested in what people are reading as what they are listening to, are there any books, magazines, websites etc. that you are reading at the moment that you would like to share with us?

Eric Larson, The Devil in the White City
Haruki Muarakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun
Zadie Smith, On Beauty

Are there any websites that you frequent on a regular basis? If yes which websites?

Well from all of us here at the Marma Spot I¹d like to thank you for taking the time out to chat it up with us.

You are welcome. It was a pleasure.