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Where do you find inspiration?

Stefan Sagmeister:
One of my most frequent sources of inspiration is a newly occupied hotel room. I find it easy to work in a place far away from the studio, where thoughts about the implementation of an idea don’t come to mind immediately but I can dream a bit more freely.
Many designers I respect create (non client driven) experiments as a regular part of their practice. The key word here is ‘regular’. I found that experiments which are not part of a regular schedule, have a tendency to get pushed out by more ‘urgent’ jobs simply on account of having a deadline attached to them.
And: Edward DeBono – a philosopher from Malta, – wrote a lot of books about thinking. And he shows many exercises about how you can improve your thinking. There are a good number of tricks in there that I use all the time that help me come up with ideas. He says our brain is an incredibly sophisticated computer which is best in thinking in repetition. It has to be that way, otherwise, if you want to pick up, – say, a business card, if the brain would be creative all the time, I would have to think: oh, hands go forward, go down, fingers, move, now lift it up. It would be too complicated. The brain, by necessity, is very good at thinking automatically. But when it comes to creative ideas, the brain also wants to think in repetition. So DeBono shows you some ways to trick the brain out of thinking in repetitions, to throw it out of its regular paths.

Obsessions make my Life worse and my Work better.
An installation of 300,000 euro cent coins. Click to see more.

Who has been your biggest influence?

Stefan Sagmeister:
Tibor Kalman was the single most influential person in my design life and my one and only design hero. 15 years ago, as a student in NYC, I called him every week for half a year and I got to know the M&Co receptionist really well. When he finally agreed to see me it turned out I had a sketch in my portfolio rather similar in concept and execution then an idea M&Co was just working on: He rushed to show me the prototype out of fear I’d say later he stole it out of my portfolio. I was so flattered.

When I finally started working there 5 years later I discovered it was, more than anything else, his incredible salesmanship that set his studio apart from all the others. There were probably a number of people around who were as smart as Tibor (and there were certainly a lot who were better at designing), but nobody else could sell these concepts without any changes, get those ideas with almost no alterations out into the hands of the public. Nobody else was as passionate. As a boss he had no qualms about upsetting his clients or his employees (I remember his reaction to a logo I had worked on for weeks and was very proud of: “Stefan, this is TERRIBLE, just terrible, I am so disappointed”). His big heart was shining through nevertheless. He had the guts to risk everything, I witnessed a very large architecture project where he and M&Co had collaborated with a famous architect and had spent a years worth of work: He was willing to walk away on the question of who will present to the client. Tibor had an uncanny knack for giving advice, for dispersing morsels of wisdom, packaged in rough language later known as Tiborisms: “The most difficult thing when running a design company is not to grow” he told me when I opened my own little studio.

“Just don’t go and spend the money they pay you or you are going to be the whore of the ad agencies for the rest of your life” was his parting sentence when I moved to Hong Kong to open up a design studio for Leo Burnett. These insights were also the reason why M&Co. got so much press, journalists could just call him and he would supply the entire structure for a story and some fantastic quotes to boot. He was always happy and ready to jump from one field to another, corporate
design, products, city planning, music video, documentary movies, children books, magazine editing were all treated under the mantra “you should do everything twice, the first time you don’t know what you’re doing, the second time you do, the third time its boring”.

He did good work containing good ideas for good people.

Levi’s Billboard – “We Are All Workers”. Click to see more.

Are there works by someone else you would like to have done?

Stefan Sagmeister:
Tons and tons, just for example: The first Sony Bravia TV commercial, the second issue of Colors Magazine, the films Adaptation and Magnolia.

Art Grandeur Nature – Trying To Look Good…. Click to see more.

When and how did you realize that you wanted to be a designer?

Stefan Sagmeister:
When I was 15 and got stoned and stared at album covers for a long time.

Art Grandeur Nature – Trying To Look Good…. Click to see more.

What would you do if you weren’t a designer?

Stefan Sagmeister:
I would be a terrible musician.

60 second advert for the conservative (and socially
conscious) bank Standard. Click to see more.

Are there certain moods or surroundings which facilitate your best creative work?

Stefan Sagmeister:
Inside a train. The moving landscape is interesting enough to keep my eyes occupied and boring enough to allow thoughts to develop.

Adobe Design Achievement Award poster. Click to see more.

A big thank you to Stefan for taking time to do this interview.
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