Stefan Sagmeister by Abbas Jamali

Stefan Sagmeister is an Austrian born graphic designer based in New York. After graduating from Pratt Institute in 1990 he lived in Vienna and Hong Kong before returning to New York City where he eventually established his own company Sagmeister Inc.

Sagmeister Inc’s first project – Its own business card

Sagmeister opened his company with hopes of designing music graphics (but only for music he liked), a goal which proved to be challenging at first as no record label seemed to be interested in his work. So in 1994 when he was presented with the opportunity to design the album cover for his friend, H. P. Zinke’s album Mountains of Madness he immediately seized the opportunity. The cover he designed for Zinke would exemplify some of the philosophies/strategies that have dominated his entire body of work throughout his career. Viewing the challenge of grabbing audience’s attention in a short timeframe as one of the most important obstacles graphic designers face in communicating their message, he employed elements of surprise, humor (which he sees as a variation of surprise), and most importantly, integration (some sort of interaction that would force the viewer into interacting with the piece) to capture the audience. [i] While designing the cover, he saw a schoolgirl on the subway reading a textbook through a red plastic filter, so he decided to place his CD cover inside a red-tinted plastic case. The complete packaging shows a close-up of a placid man’s face, but once the CD cover is slipped out from the red plastic, the man’s face appears furious in shades of white, red and green.[ii]

The album cover for H. P. Zinke’s “Mountains of Madness” which earned Sagmeister his first Grammy.

“…I think that, [these strategies] are all pretty logical; I mean you’d have to be pretty much an idiot as to not employ them since they clearly work and they clearly work in a short period of time.”[iii]

“Being Not Truthful” – Interactive installation by Stefan Sagmeister and Ralph Ammer

The album cover for Rolling Stones’ Bridges to Babylone

Sagmeister’s latest book, “Things I’ve Learned In My Life So Far”

Another concept that has heavily influenced Sagmeister’s work over the years is his belief that a piece of design should reflect the process. He deeply believes that when a final work has the ability to work as a narrative and “tell” the story of its production it will be enabled to connect with the audience on a deeper level. This is embodied in his 1990 poster for an AIGA lecture in Detroit that gained him notoriety. He explains: “At the time I looked at the other posters and sort of felt that they all say what a colorful and happy profession we’re in and I knew that I didn’t want to do that…”[iv]

1999 Poster for AIGA Detroit

And so to reflect the “fear and anxiety” that he viewed as a big part of graphic design profession, he asked an intern cut all the type on his skin. The photograph was taken with a large 8”x10” camera to make it clear to viewers that the poster is not retouched.[v]

2003 poster for Adobe Design Achievement Awards which was created using coffee in paper cups

A poster advertising design exhibitions in Osaka and Tokyo for which Sagmeister gained 23 pounds in one week by eating everything in the bottom picture.

More recently Sagmeister has been in the spotlight for creating what he calls generative, “chameleon-like”, identities for Seed Media Group, a science media company, and OMA’s Casa da Musica in Porto, Portugal.

Seed Media Group’s logo on employee business cards

Because of the diverse range of scientific subjects that Seed deals with, a phyllotaxis was chosen as the formal base for the identity, “it’s a form that is found everywhere from Seashells to Greek architecture” he explains.[vi] But the logo has the ability to take the form of the image it’s placed upon, and regenerate itself. (e.g. a flower for a botanical documentary or an employees portrait on their business card)

Further variations of Seed Media Group’s logo exhibiting its versatility

Similarly, a generator was created for Casa da Musica to “freshen up” the logo for each event. The unique architecture of the building that makes it identifiable allowed for more flexibility; the generator uses a 17 point “color-picking-mechanism” and randomly assigns them to the 17 facets identified on the building to create six logos from various angles. [vii]

The 17 point color selecting system used to generate logos for Casa da Musica

A customized software was created for the client for utilizing the identity.

Logo generating software designed for Casa da Musica

To further enhance the flexibility of the identity, the logo can be used in an infinite number of freeing ways.[viii]

Posters advertising various events at Cada da Musica

[i] Designing Minds: Stefan Sagmeister. Directed by MagnetMediaFilms. Produced by Zio. 2008.


[iii] Designing Minds: Stefan Sagmeister. Directed by MagnetMediaFilms. Produced by Zio. 2008.

[iv] Ibid.


[vi] Ibid.


[viii]] Ibid.


Curtis, Hillman. hillmancurtis :: film and video :: Artist Series: Sagmeister 05 :: 347 756 5049. 2005. (accessed 2010 йил 9-May).

Design Museum. Stefan Sagmeister / Design Museum Collection : – Design/Designer Information. (accessed 2010 йил 8-May).

Designboom. Stefan Sagmeister. 2006 йил 23-05. (accessed 2010 йил 7-May).

Designing Minds: Stefan Sagmeister. Directed by MagnetMediaFilms. Produced by Zio. Performed by Designing Minds. 2008.

Helvetica. Directed by Gary Hustwit. 2007.

Sagmeister, Stefan. Stefan Sagmeister on what he has learned | Video on 2008 йил September. (accessed 2010 йил 05-May).

—. Stefan Sagmeister shares happy design | Video on 2007 йил April. (accessed 2010 йил 05-May).

—. Stefan Sagmeister: The power of time off | Video on 2009 йил October. (accessed 2010 йил 05-May).

TED. Stefan Sagmeister | Profile on (accessed 2010 йил 3-May).

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