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Master of design


Design icon Stefan Sagmeister tells Subhadra Devan about his upcoming plans

GLOBAL design icon Stefan Sagmeister has worked on several design projects since his days with Leo Burnett’s Hong Kong Design Group in 1991.

The Austrian-born now has his own design firm, Sagmeister Inc, now called Sagmeister & Walsh, with the addition of Jessica Walsh as a partner. Based in the Big Apple, the firm has a motto: We Will Do Anything For Design. He and his partner proved this by posing nude for the launch.

Sagmeister also has an art exhibit called The Happy Show at various art institutes in the US. The show is scheduled to travel to the Museum Of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in winter 2013 and is based on his decade-long systematic research on happiness.

Sagmeister is well known for designing album covers for Lou Reed, Aerosmith, and the Rolling Stones. He won a Grammy Award in 2005 for Art Direction for the Once In A Lifetime box set by Talking Heads, and another in 2010 for Best Recording Package for David Byrne and Brian Eno’s Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.

His very creative way of looking at things also sees him closing shop for a year. He’s had two so far, with the first in 2001 and the last in Bali, in 2009.

Asked if he would consider spending a sabbatical year in Malaysia, he says in an email: “Yes, I could absolutely see that.”

One outcome from the sabbaticals is for Sagmeister to move into socially responsible projects. His most exciting social responsible effort so far, he says is “likely the work we have done for Move Our Money, an organisation that wants to cut the Pentagon budget and move it over to education”.

He has talked about his outlook on work, time off, design at TED, a nonprofit organisation that is “devoted to ideas worth spreading”.

He will offer a presentation called A Creative Journey In Kuala Lumpur, at Boot Camp, an annual event hosted by Commercial Radio Malaysia. This is his second visit here.

He says: “The last time I was in KL, I was involved in making a TV commercial with a wonderful team and it was a very pleasant process and outcome, so I have nothing but very fond memories.”

On The Happy Show, he says: “The feedback has been completely and utterly positive, almost scarily so. If you are aware of critical voices, please do forward them to me, I’d be very much interested.

“I just looked at comments on various blogs again, say on Behance, nothing but positive comments. This happens basically never.”

Out of curiosity, one asks if this search for happiness has made him a happier person today.

He replies: “I hoped it would make me 50 per cent happier, and it made me about five per cent happier.”

On how much does humour play a big part in achieving his end design, he says: “Surprise plays a big part. Humour and surprise, of course, are very much linked. There is no such thing as a joke without a surprise (punch line).”

For example? “Well, I’d say some people found the fact that they were asked for a donation of US25 cents to enter the Happy Show and could then watch that quarter run in a transparent channel outside of the museum and drop into a bucket labelled ‘Take some money, please’. Funny.”

He feels his best audience reaction (on your presentations and work) to date was when one visitor to the show mentioned that she visits it 2-3 times a week to just be in it and meditate.

After all that effort on his happiness research, what is happiness personally? He says: “I do think that it is possible to train my mind in the same way it is possible to train my body, with a desire to elevate my wellbeing.”

Sagmeister’s presentation at Boot Camp, with TM Berhad as the principal sponsor, will be moderated by John Merrifield at the question-and-answer session. Merrifield is often dubbed the Don Draper of Asia. He has won several awards for his work.

Boot Camp with Sagmeister is on today at Eastin Hotel, from 2.30pm.

Call 03-7660 8535 or email


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