I admire the work of Stefan Sagmeister for his sense of humor, his hands on attitude towards his work and the sensationalism that his work inspires. His conception and application of graphic design goes above and beyond traditional notions of the practice, taking it towards performance and conceptual art. Using his own visual vocabulary, he expresses extraordinary ideas in ways that go beyond color and shape. It is this ability to conceptualize that strengthens his work to create original, potent and appropriate ideas. Stefan Sagmeister plays on surprise and sensationalism and humor, but in such an unsettling way that it can be nearly unacceptable, mixing sexuality with wit and a sense of the sinister.
His inspiration is found in places from which other designers hide. Sagmeister holds a mirror up to the viewer, challenging them to look deeper. I think it is one thing to create something that depicts happiness, but to provoke happiness in the viewer is something else entirely. Sagmeister, I believe, achieves this emotional communication through his work. The ability to become personally involved in his work, and not view it as merely a job shines through. The viewers curiosity is piqued. The personal involvement can easily be seen in such work as the AIGA Detroit poster. His technique is so simple to the point of banality, slashing text into his own skin, satirically bringing to attention the pain that accompanies most design projects.
The humor and hand-made quality pervades all his work, even his very early creations. In 1987 his then girlfriend asked him to design business cards that would cost no more than $1 a piece. Sagmeister's solution to this design challenges was to simply print them on dollar bills.
Budget can be a great challenge to many designers but Sagmeister seems to shine with the added pressure of low budget projects. His Asian fashion designer girlfriend, Anna Kuan, wanted a brochure created of her latest range. On a very small budget and it being the year of the Horse, Sagmeister solved the problem in a memorable way, shrink wrapping a crumbled piece of newsprint featuring her collection wrapped around a little plastic horse. Each cost around 10cents.
Asked to create the packaging for a new perfume, "Unavailable", Sagmeister saw the product as more than a new fragrance and soap. He saw it as a philosophy. This lead him to create a book containing the 15 "Unavailable" principles in which the perfume bottle was packaged. On the soap, the embossing of "Un" was less deep that the rest of the logotype. As you start using the soap, you gradually do become available.
A paper company (NEENAH Paper) commissioned a number of New York designers to design a poster using one specific single punctuation mark. Sagmeister was given the apostrophe. Yet again approaching the project with humor, he positioned it as the trigger of a gun since the apostrophe is in the letter elimination business.Taking advantage of the fact that newsprint paper yellows significantly over time, Sagmeister designed this poster. After exposing the paper under stencils on the roof of his building the text darkened. It was then shipped to it's location where it continued to discolor, the typography slowly fading away giving depth of meaning to the message.
In designing the award for the Vilcek prize for honoring achievement in the fields of the visual arts and biomedical research, Sagmeister created a trophy representing a visualisation of the pinnacle an individual or group can reach. Each trophy was individually designed and cast for each winner using 3D digital imaging and plating techniques.
Even though the style of his design differs to that of mine as it is now and that which I aspire to, Sagmeister's work is inspirational to me in the way that he obviously has great passion for it. Having such a personal approach to many of his designs makes it obvious to me that there is much more to design as a profession than merely advertising and business cards. It is an art form which can evoke emotion, send a message or purely entertain. Sagmeister's work encourages thought and discussion. With humor as a dominant theme he is able to solve a design problem, even on a very small budget.