Stefan Sagmeister (middle back) and his team at Sagmeister & Walsh Inc.
Stefan Sagmeister and his business partner Jessica Walsh in New York.
Sagmeister is a big name in a competitive industry, creating album-sleeves for the likes of Kanye West, Lou Reed, David Byrne and Brian Eno, yet he is undeterred by modern mores and pressures. Even when the work is flooding in, he shutters his studio blinds and makes for a beach or even a straight-forward change of urban scene. “I took my first sabbatical in New York City,” he says with a serene smile. “The most beautiful landscapes I have seen are in Asia, in Sri Lanka and Bali. [At the time] Sri Lanka’s civil war was still going on, so Bali it was. It’s a wonderful, very craft-oriented society.”
The break had an immediate and dynamic impact on his design, he attests. Small projects gave way to larger ones and soon he began to succeed with innovative solutions to unwieldy design problems that had once baffled him.
“We were asked to design an identity for Casa da Musica, the Rem Koolhaas-built music center in Porto, Portugal. It was a prestigious job with huge potential for industry visibility,” he says. He spent that sabbatical year pondering the creative solution and, eventually, alighted on a new approach. He conceived the task as one great logo, based on the architecture of the complex building itself. The client loved the result and the solution is still held up in industry circles as an example of greatly flexible and innovative design. (Sagmeister tells us more about how he took the solution to his creative team at Sagmeister & Walsh Inc. in detail below.)
The break clearly renewed a hunger for fresh thinking in Sagmeister and he reports that every ‘ruse’ he conjures during the year of his sabbatical is developed in the following seven years back in the studio, often to great profit. Now an influential speaker on the online and conference platform TED, he is making a name for himself by thinking about time and work differently. Even for those not in creative industries, his story makes a compelling argument.
His TED talk ‘The Power of Time Off’ (watched over 2,393,660 times) features sobering graphs that illustrate how, for long periods in many of our lives, work dominates and leisure and learning takes a back seat. People are commonly required to work until 67 or 68 years old (the projection is for longer in the future), and pressure to shorten the time spent in education is heightening. This just reinforces Sagmeister’s prognosis. Too much work and too little reflection makes enterprise a dull place.
The center of his approach is that a year’s ‘down tools’ is actually productive. Taking a break from everyday business and absorbing a fresh environment brings an altered perspective to your work and can make us all more economically productive. Definitely a message to take to the boss.
THE CASA DA MUSICA PROJECT
Casa da Musica identity
Take It On SVA campaign.
INKING OUR IDENTITY