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Graphic Design: Sagmeister Talks About Inspiration

Stefan Sagmeister is a world-renowned design icon and definitely one of our favorite. His designs are very modern, witty, humorous, and bold-just what we are looking for in a design. He has received a lot of rewards including his design for David Byrne and Brian Eno’s Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.

Here, the design master will teach us a thing or two about graphic design and inspiration:

What inspires you at the moments of creation?

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.

Sometimes you use real events for inspiration, how else do you find ways to inspire yourself to great concept?

Go for a walk. Sit in a sidewalk cafe watching people go by. Do serious research. Travel (or just get out of the city).

What’s your basic, first-resort working method?

Think. Making a list. Concentrate. Talking to the client (often musician). Listen to the music (in case of CD cover). Look through old sketchbooks of mine.

When you approach a project, how do you go about finding form?

Form comes out of the concept. Can go with the concept or sometimes completely against it.

Are there any methodologies/ways of working that you would like to use, but don’t?

Am trying a number out now, like doing a project really fast. We normally tend to work super slow (3 month for a CD cover) so its interesting to see the difference in output when you are doing it in 3 hours. Trying to collaborate more with other designers (and not just photographers/illustrators like in the past).


How do you define “creativity”?

to create with open perception


What do you feel is the biggest block to your creativity?


– uninteresting content (in my case: bad music when designing a CD cover)

– fear of not being able to come up with anything


Why is it difficult for design to have the same level of emotional impact as movies, music, or literature?

Because designers often sell or promote something. The desire of an emotional impact is often (and rightfully) perceived by the audience as pretentious.

The viewer of a typical design piece tends to engage with the work for seconds or minutes. I found it difficult to touch someone in a very short time frame. I myself tend to be touched more by novels than by short stories.


From what you’ve seen and experienced, what exists in the designs that have had the most emotional impact on a community?

Designs that needed guts from the creator and still carry the ghost of these guts in the final execution

• Designs that evoke memories

• Designs that are viewable over and over again and again

• Beautiful designs

• Designs whose craft levels are very high (the unbelievebalility that

somebody can be so good at something)

• Surprises

• Extremely labor-intensive designs

• Personalized designs

How are we, as designers, going to defeat the fluff?  How can we overcome frivolous design?

Some of it is fine and probably necessary in the same way listening to cheap pop music every so often can be fun. Just constantly it’s annoying.


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