Graphic Designer Stefan Sagmeister on Success

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Haegwan Kim – What is your definition of the term “Success” ?

Stefan Sagmeister – Being satisfied and excited about the work I’m doing. Being able to grow with the person and in the place that I love.

HK – Why did you choose your career as a graphic designer among thousands of art-based jobs and lives?

SS – Being able to design things that live in the household of thousand’s and sometimes millions of people seemed like an extraordinarily interesting job to me. What I did not know when I started was how unbelievably wide and deep the graphic design field really is: From film titles to emergency exit cards, from furniture to CD covers, from billboards to postage stamps, from interactive installations to corporate logos, there is always a new area that allows us to explore and grow.

HK – As technology develops, how the realm of your works evolve and expand? And do you believe crossing the fields of graphic-design, architecture, web-design, and all these collaborations always bring good results?

SS – By and large I am a big believer in cross-disciplinary work, its among the most important reason keeping us engaged and interested. Clearly there are limits to its success, I’ve taught at strictly cross-disciplinary universities with mixed results, the students seemed more overwhelmed rather than inspired by the myriad of possibilities. And even in a cross-disciplinary firm like IDEO I found experts concentrating on a relatively narrow field.

HK – What about money and famousness for artists. Could you tell me how important money is and being famous is to you?

SS – Money is important until my basic needs are met, meaning that I have a nice roof over my head and can eat/drink properly.

After that every increase in spending seems less important. That is not to say that in running the studio I did not take monetary issues seriously, I did. If I would not, money issues would have started to overshadow more important concerns like what we do and who we do it for, and we would have accomplished nothing. The little bit of fame that a graphic designer can reach turned out to be the perfect kind: I am invited to strange foreign lands to give lectures, our clients tend to give us more freedom and believe in our judgment. Here and there somebody recognizes me on the street and comes up to me (almost always pleasant) and my ego is stroked a bit, but by and large I am wonderfully left alone and can live my life.

HK – How do you measure about whether your works are successful or not. Or you don’t even use any metric of success?

SS – Either by results (depending on what it is: copies of things we designed sold, members signed up, etc) or by feedback mechanisms.

HK – Your advice on achieving success?

SS – Work your ass off. Be nice.

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