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I’ve always been fascinated by reading or watching about not necessarily famous but definitely exceptionally interesting people. So it’s not surprising that one of my most favourite channels is Biography, while Wikipedia and Google are the quicker alternatives to books for finding out more about those outstanding people who pique my curiosity.

The truth in Design

loureedFor the last several days I’ve been reading a lot about probably one of the most provocative Graphic Designers of our generation – Stefan Sagmeister, an Austrian designer, who works in New York but draws his design inspirations while traveling all over the world. His designs are characterized by an overpowering honesty and raw feelings. He’s most famous for his CD cover designs for such well-known artists like Lou Reed, David Byrne, Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones.

In one of his interviews Stefan said that when working on a project he prefers to start with the hardest part first and leave the easy things at the end, confessing later that the hardest part for him is the thinking one. I wonder how much thinking did he have to go through to come up with the scandalous concept of using his own body to deliver the message on the 1999 AIGA Detroit lecture poster?

Most design lectures talk about the beauty of being a graphic designer. Stefan Sagmeister didn’t want to hide the painful truth about the “anxiety and angst” that accompany designer’s life. So he asked Martin, the intern working for Sagmeister, to cut the lecture details on his body with an X-acto knife, photographed it and used for a stirring AIGA poster. “We probably could have Photoshoped that AIGA Detroit poster, rather than cutting the type in my skin. I think the results are more authentic and the process more interesting (and painful)”, revealed Stefan.

Questions to ponder upon

adobeOne can only wonder what other extremes designers can go to in the name of design? Should Graphic Designers put their own emotions into the design, bring their own point of view into the concept or should they stay away from expressing their feelings and be as involved as needed?

Stefan Sagmeister himself has changed his mind about this: “I used to think that it’s about problem solving and that the designer should stay out of it as much as possible. Having seen how much bland, forgettable work this kind of thinking produced, I now think that it is very important for the designer to bring his/her own point of view into the proceedings.”

Movies to watch

There are some excellent short movies available on the Web that feature Stefan Sagmeister. Definitely worth checking them out when you have time.

Hillman Curtis, who was named as one of the “world’s best Flash designers”, the author of a number of great design books, has produced a short feature film on Stefan Sagmeister for Adobe. It’s fascinating to listen and watch the maestro himself talking about his design principles.

Don’t miss Sagmeister’s presentation on “Yes, design can make you happy”, where he discusses that it’s quite easy to visualize happiness with design (any smiling face will do the trick), but to produce design that “provokes” happiness when looking at it is a different story, much more complicated one and more interesting. He also shares three design projects that made him happy. One of them was done by the designer Ji Lee who glued blank speech bubbles on top of advertisements all over New York City. Later on Lee returns to those ads, photographs them and posts on the site “The Bubble Project”.

Interviews to read

And finally, if you want to find out what inspires Stefan Sagmeister, how he deals with creative blocks, how he manages to run a small successful design studio and work on projects that interest him, why he thinks that still images and books will die in future and be replaced by videos, then head over to his website Stagmeister Inc. and check out his answers to students questions about inspiration, running a design studio, being a designer, designing for music, typography and much more.

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7 Insightful Bits in response to “What Can Be Done In The Name Of Design”

  1. He sounds more like an artist than graphic designer. I can’t imagine a graphic designer from little ole East Texas doing something like carving the design into their body. They might shave the design into the side of a cow though.

  2. Vivien

    :-) Joey, have you seen that movie Memento, where the main character, suffering from amnesia, keeps notes on his own body in a form of tattoos so he doesn’t forget about them? That’s what Sagmeister’s body carving project reminded me when I first read about it.

  3. No, I haven’t seen that one. I wonder if the movie inspired him for the project?

  4. Vivien

    No, not the movie (since it was released in 2000, and his poster was done in 1999), but maybe on the book that movie was based on? Not sure about that. Btw, it’s worth watching Memento if you enjoy following some mind-boggling situations.

  5. I was thinking exactly what Joey said. Emo artist. Most of his stuff is good, but he seems to be more of an artist than a designer. I don’t think I’ve ever gone through the kind of “angst and pain” he is talking about. It’s a job, not life! He does have some interesting concepts, though. I liked the billboard with the faded letters done on newspaper.

    I haven’t seen Momento, but I know the concept of the movie. It’s similar to The Machinist (an indy film) with Christian Bale, which I have seen. There were parts of that movie, though, that I just couldn’t stand.

  6. Vivien

    hmm… and I haven’t seen The Machinist. But after what you’ve said I’m not sure if I should watch it ;-)

    Yes, Sagmeister is more of an Art Director, than a designer. He himself admits that he lacks a computer knowledge, but compensates it with having others to do the job and implement his ideas.

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  1. Amazing World of Marian Bantjes » Inspiration Bit

    [...] and illustration is awe-inspiring. Her clientèle is overwhelmingly famous and includes names like Stefan Sagmeister, Pentagram, Saks Fifth Avenue, AIGA, TypeCon, WIRED, The New York Times Magazine, InStyle, [...]

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Hi, I'm Vivien. Thanks for visiting my Inspiration Bit. I often find myself scouring the internet looking for either answers to many questions I have or websites that inspire me, sites that I can learn from. On what topics you might ask — any topics that interest me, anything from web design to typography and art, from blogging to entrepreneurship, from programming to open source.
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When I'm not blogging, I design web sites, teach, play with my daughter and try to balance family, work, friends and a somewhat active social life on