Stefan Sagmeister opens up about his new project
Lasting thru time is an ability that few design projects master.
Stefan Sagmeister started his design career at the age of 15, working his way into attention-grabbing projects with profound ideas and yet simple messages. This includes impeccable album covers that continue to mark the history of some of the world's most celebrated artists, such as Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones, David Byrne, Jay Z, OK Go, Aerosmith, and Pat Metheny.
Born in Austria but based in NYC, the graphic designer, typographer & co-founder of Sagmeister & Walsh Inc. (alongside Jessica Walsh) believes in the power of time and how things that last for centuries are the very definition of sustainability.
The power of resisting thru time is embodied in a bag that Sagmeister has carried every day for the last 30 yrs: a Texas leather briefcase with clear marks of aging and an aesthetic that only time can give and translate – or, according to Stefan, "beauty just takes care of it".
But designing for today's world might not be an easy task, since the general feeling is that we cannot predict what's coming. Or maybe that's exactly where design gets its magic: from showing us how there's in fact a way of feeling positive progress with the passage of years.
We chatted with him to understand Stefan's vision on sustainability and what we can expect (and be surprised) from his new work.
Swipe to read the full interview 🔦.
Deep emotions can influence design. How do u see design evolving in a post-COVID world?
My hope is that we are moving from an overall more/faster strategy to a less/slower/better direction. Having lived through 9/11 in New York and experienced that many predictions for a post 9/11 world did not come to pass, I don't see gigantic changes happening after COVID either. But I do feel that the world of the office will change significantly.
A leather briefcase that you used to carry every day once took you on a path towards thinking about sustainability, in which beauty is an excellent strategy for long term survival in design. Would you say we're close to focusing only on sustainable design?
Yes. The most sustainable building in the world is the Pantheon in Rome which has now been in constant use for 2000 years, its copper roof was recycled into the altar in St. Peter’s Cathedral by Bernini, the rest is still standing today, preserved by generation after generation because of its beauty. The Elbphilharmonie by Herzog and De Meuron in Hamburg (or say, the Sydney Opera House) is very much likely going be actively in use for many centuries to come, the functionalist housing projects from the eighties will not.
How has internet influenced the designs that are produced today?
Totally, completely, inside out.
Attention is one of the main factors for creating something. So, how can design amaze and not overwhelm the attention span of users in today's world?
I find that any good design has to help and delight the viewer. This is true in the world of business, as well as in the world of culture.
In a world of virtual content, do you believe everyone can be a creative?
In both the real and the virtual worlds, everyone can be creative, but clearly, not everyone is. There are many people who have other priorities, and more power to them.
There is an idea that on social media we tend to be pulled in a similar direction aesthetically. In this context, beauty itself may be lost in the ocean of information. Which is more essential, the beauty or the message?
Good content in an ugly package will find few takers, bad content in a beautiful wrapper will be quickly found out. You will need both.
Based in an NYC that has been through challenging times, do u find yourself in a time-off period or a full creative moment?
I am working full power and I find the additional time that came to me as all my travel has been postponed invigorating.
You’ve been studying and practicing through essential thematics, such as music, happiness, and beauty. Is there a new subject on your mind RN?
Yes, there is: I am working on a larger project that deals with long term thinking. Short term media like Twitter and hourly news create an impression of a world out of control, with democracy in peril, ubiquitous conflicts, and an overall outlook of doom. But if we look at developments concerning the world from a long term perspective - the only sense-making way - almost any aspect concerning humanity seems to get better. This is also true if we look at pandemics: the current time is often described as unprecedented, which is demonstrably wrong. We’ve lived through many pandemics before, and many much worse than this one.
Fewer people go hungry, fewer people die in wars and natural disasters, more people live in democracies – and live much longer lives – than ever before. Two hundred years ago, 9 out of 10 people could neither read nor write, now it is just 1 out of 10.
So I am working on creating intriguing visualizations of these developments with the goal that viewers might want to place them into their living rooms, as reminders that the latest tweets are just tiny blips in an overall rather healthy environment.
We can't wait for your next move, Stefan 🎰.
If you'd like more on the designer, we also chatted with him about the inspirations behind one of his game-changing works: Thinking That Life Will be Better in the Future is Stupid. Check it right here.
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