Sagmeister & Swoosh

I’ve been reading through “Made You Look” by Stefan Sagmeister and it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life. I absolutely love Sagmeister’s sense of humour and his inhuman ability to think outside of the box. Absolutely all of his work displayed in the book has some kind of humanising concept behind it, and nearly all of them are pure genius. There are also a number of quotes that I love from the book, my favorite of which is his explanation of good graphic design:

“Recieving a piece of graphic design is like going on a date. If my date is dressed very well (i.e. has style) I am most certainly happy. And if she is beautiful (i.e. has good form), then all the better. But if she has nothing to say (no concept/bad content) or has a mean heart, it will be a short relationship anyway”

Sagmeister's business cards. Text is masked until the card is removed from the holder

My course tutors have been essentially saying the exact same thing for almost three years now, but something about stumbling across this quote has opened my eyes to how design should be. Maybe I found the book at exactly the right time since one of my lecturers keeps going on about how style/trend obsessed creative jobs will be automated away soon, maybe something about the way that Sagmeister personifies a piece of design opened up a new perspective to me, maybe both. It could also be the fact that everything in this book has such a great concept behind it, there’s posters of a variety of formats, books, comics, business cards, branding and product design - Sagmeister has his fingers in all of the pies. That said some of the works are very self indulgent, there are a number of occasions where his work is needlessly explicit (seemingly for shock value), I can confidently say I know Sagmeister’s body better than I wanted or needed to. He’s certainly a confident man.

A poster for a lecture at AIGA Detroit. Those cuts are real. Ouch.

In the book, Sagmeister also briefly covers a method for coming up with ideas that he adapted from a book, which I’ve tried and I’m not sure it really works for me, maybe someone else will find it useful:

  1. Think about the project from any other point of view - your mum’s, yours, a colour, a form - and write each response down on a single index card

  2. Spread the index cards on a table and see if you can find a relationship between the different thoughts.

  3. Forget about the whole thing

  4. The idea will strike you miraculously when you least expect it

Personally, I think those last two steps leave things up to chance a little too much for me, but I like the idea of thinking about project from other points of view, it certainly gives me more to put in my sketchbook.

Sagmeister's CD cover for Jamie Block's "Timing is Everything", featuring a cigarette in the spine

In terms of visual style, Sagmeister doesn’t seem to have one, he seems to experiment very broadly with visuals, focusing more on how he can manipulate the medium in a way that will interest him. I think that’s quite admirable, especially since he’s so good at coming up with interesting concepts and being playful/humorous with any subject he’s given. That’s a lot easier said than done though, the thing that I seem to struggle with the most is coming up with something fun or interesting to make for my projects, and the closer the project deadline is the more I relate to this guy…

AIGA New Orleans Poster