Stefan Sagmeister

The designer's obsession with happiness, our surroundings and the link between the two

Stefan Sagmeister Portrait
Photo: John Madere

Visitors to Stefan Sagmeister’s travelling exhibition, The Happy Show, often find themselves heading home with a souvenir. First, there are a series of yellow cards with instructions: ‘Do five push ups now’, ‘Try to make a stranger in the museum smile’, ‘Go home and have sex’,  ‘Walk around the exhibit and pretend to be Stefan Sagmeister – tell people about the work’. Then there’s the ten giant, numbered dispensers that give out yellow gumballs corresponding to each visitors’ level of well-being (with a polite request for each person to please only take one.)​

The Happy Show is an artistic playground – a mixture of infographics, typography, film, sculpture and interactive installations – that brings together 10 years of personal research into emotional well-being by the Austrian-born New Yorker.

“I would define good design as work that either helps or delights people,” says Stefan, who created a wall of text at the exhibition’s entry forewarning visitors that The Happy Show “will not make them happier”, (though as far as exhibitions go it’s certainly on the feel-good end of the spectrum). For this artist, happiness and design are intrinsically linked.

“Right now over 50 per cent of the world’s population live in cities. For this part of the population, everything surrounding them has been designed,” says Stefan. “From their contact lens, to cloth, the chair, the room, the house, the street, the park, the city… these designed surroundings play exactly the same role to a city dweller as nature does to an indigenous person living in a rainforest. These can be designed well or badly. They will make a difference.”

While The Happy Show is Stefan’s latest exhibition, his design career is nothing short of incredible. Since forming his own design company, Sagmeister Inc., in 1993, he’s created branding and packaging for the Guggenheim Museum and Time Warner and has created albums for Talking Heads, Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones and more recently, OK Go. It’s a client list most creatives would kill for.

So what is his advice for budding designers?

“Look for a design company that does the kind of work you want to do. Try really hard to get a job with them. Work your ass off, then start your own place. It’s a great job.”

Stefan Sagmeister is speaking at this year’s Vivid Ideas event in Sydney, running from May 22 – June 8. Click here for more information and to book your tickets.

HappyShow1 BikeNeonSign

All photos courtesy of Stefan Sagmesiter

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