Stefan Sagmeister
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Winner of the Lucky Strike Designer Award 2009: Stefan Sagmeister. Photo: Elias Wessel

Graphic Designer & Typographer

Stefan Sagmeister (1962- ) is a New York-based graphic designer and typographer. Sagmeister studied graphic design at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, and went on to receive a Fulbright scholarship to study at the Pratt Institute in New York. Stefan Sagmeister formed the New York based Sagmeister Inc. in 1993 with the intention of only designing album covers for the music industry, but has since designed for a diverse range of clients such as Levis-Strauss Denim, HBO, and the Guggenheim Museum. His cutting edge designs of album covers, posters, installations, as well as a recent book, Things I Have Learned in my Life So Far, have earned him a lot of attention and notoriety in the design world and otherwise. As a graphic artist, his primary goal of capturing and holding the attention of an audience long enough to communicate the desired message. Sagmeister tends to do so with unexpected imagery and certain handmade quality that push the envelope of mainstream commercial design. He has a way of producing work that is striking and humorous but somewhat unsettling and can even border on inappropriate.


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Call for Entries poster for 4As advertising awards, Hong Kong, 1992

During his time at an agency in Hong Kong Sagmeister did a call for entries poster for the Asian Advertising Agency Association (known as "the 4 A's") design awards show. The piece featured four Asian men dressed in a 19th century Chinese style clothing shouting from what the viewer assumes is a mountain or bluff side. The caption above the shouting men simply reads "Call for Entry". In the scene below it the men are turned around flashing their bare rear-ends to the viewer, and a caption above them reads "the 4 A's." The daring piece is a fine example of how Sagmeister pushes the social boundaries in his work and apparently caused quite a stir among the audience.⁰ An interesting and ironic mix, Sagmeister interweaves a very linear, traditional 19th century setting with an almost vulgar, socially inappropriate but humorous universal gesture that is just a little too lighthearted to associate with a professional designers association award competition. Wearing a smirk Sagmeister explains in his AIGA interview video (1 of 1) that of the many complaint letters to the editor about this piece his favorite letter was one asking "who's the ass-hole that designed this poster?". ⁰



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Poster for Lou Reed’s Set the Twilight Reeling, 1996


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Sagmeister AIGA Detroit poster, "For this lecture poster for the AIGA Detroit we tried to visualize the pain that seems to accompany most of our design projects. Our intern Martin cut all the type into my skin. Yes, it did hurt real bad." 3

Much of Sagmeister’s workas a handmade quality that has apparently has lead people to assume he is afraid or unskilled on the computer, but as he insists in the AIGA video interview (2 of 3) that the balance between the handmade and generated graphics is part of what makes his design flair unique. ¹ His Lou Reed, Set the Twilight Reeling poster features Sagmeister's handwritten scrawl of the album song lyrics across Reed's face, seeming to reference to how close and personal the lyrics were to the singer/songwriter.² The lines of text seem to hug the curvature of Reed's face as though they were written directly on his skin. Some larger words written in add interest and balance. While the Lou Reed poster appears as though the text is written onto his skin, the 1999 AIGA Detroit poster features text actually carved into the designers chest, torso and arms. The conference featured him as the speaker, he was visually referencing the pain that he goes through with each design. The style he exhibits here in this piece is a strong example of what makes his work edgy and borderline inappropriate. Although his figure is nude and we are not subject to viewing genitals a great deal of tension is created with the position of the frame as the camera crops this area just in time. The same feeling is created with the picture frame at the top, it just misses capturing his face, which, personally as a viewer I have little desire to see; the bloody carved skin is enough to convey pain without seeing what I would guess would be the emotion of a painful scowl. The box of bandages is a welcome, neutral place for the eye [and imagination] to rest that adds humor to the intense scene. According to the AIGA video interview (2 of 3) the camera they used was a very large, with a high powered lens that captured every pore and displayed the authenticity of the piece and Sagmeister's painful experience.⁴


(2 of 3)


Much of Sagmeister's most recent work involves large installations and interactive pieces. Inspiration from these pieces are largely drawn from the one-liner maxims that he coined in his most recent book, Things I've Learned in My Life So Far. ⁵ The video above (3 of 3) takes to the Deitch Project in New York in 2008 where he uses these maxims to inspire concepts like wall of bananas and interactive spiderweb.⁶

(Holly Herlocker)


Bibliography

AIGA, (2008) Designing Minds: Stefan Sagmeister (Part 1 of 3) [Video] Retrieved April 22, 2011, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=si_3PBHdReg

AIGA, (2008) Designing Minds: Stefan Sagmeister (Part 2 of 3) [Video] Retrieved April 22, 2011, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1AoeRlfB5U&feature=relmfu

AIGA, (2008) Designing Minds: Stefan Sagmeister (Part 3 of 3) [Video] Retrieved April 22, 2011, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2iF0hFvAhY&feature=fvwrel

Diaz, Ann-Christine. “S=STYLE (+ CONTENT).” Advertising Age’s Creativity 8, no. 4 (May 2000): 38.

Hall, Peter, Stefan Sagmeister, and Chee Pearlman. Sagmeister: Made You Look : Another Self-Indulgent Design Monograph (practically everything we have ever designed including the bad stuff). New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2009.

Sagmeister, Stefan, Steven Heller, Daniel Nettle, and Nancy Spector. Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far. New York: Abrams, 2007.

Sagmeister, Stefan. “Sagmeister, Inc.”., www.sagmeister.com.

Sherr, Leslie. “Shaking it up.” Print 50, no. 2 (March 1996): 28.

Terstiege, Gerrit, and Steven Heller. Three D: Graphic Scenarios. Basel:, 2008.


Endnotes

⁰ AIGA, (2008) Designing Minds: Stefan Sagmeister (Part 1 of 3) [Video] Retrieved April 22, 2011, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=si_3PBHdReg

¹ AIGA, (2008) Designing Minds: Stefan Sagmeister (Part 2 of 3) [Video] Retrieved April 22, 2011, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1AoeRlfB5U&feature=relmfu, Sagmeister also briefly references his time at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna as a student designing posters for an area theater when they couldn't afford letter set transfer sheets so he gained a lot of experience rendering various letter styles by hand, see video 1 of 3. ⁰

² Diaz, Ann-Christine. “S=STYLE (+ CONTENT).” Advertising Age’s Creativity 8, no. 4 (May 2000): 38.

³ Sagmeister, Stefan. “Sagmeister, Inc.”., www.sagmeister.com., "Work" page

⁴ AIGA, (2008) Designing Minds: Stefan Sagmeister (Part 2 of 3) [Video] Retrieved April 22, 2011, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1AoeRlfB5U&feature=relmfu

⁵ Sagmeister, Stefan, Steven Heller, Daniel Nettle, and Nancy Spector. Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far. New York: Abrams, 2007.

⁶ AIGA, (2008) Designing Minds: Stefan Sagmeister (Part 3 of 3) [Video] Retrieved April 22, 2011, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2iF0hFvAhY&feature=fvwrel