• Lakshmi Pratury

#50over50: Stefan Sagmeister

The Person Behind Personality in my #50over50 list today is a Grammy-award winning designer! Read how Stefan Sagmeister finds his muse.


The first thing that I noticed and loved in Stefan’s apartment is the diner-like setting in the kitchen where a few of us gathered and shared a meal. Part home, part diner, part a cozy terrace-garden: the home was a reflection of all things Stefan.

I have known Stefan for over a decade and I still don’t know how to categorize him. I only understand that he is a graphic designer, typographer and is literally worshipped by graphic designers around the world. He loves mixing metaphors, throwing in the unexpected, and making everything come alive in the most magical way. He can compress years of data into one simple visual, make a huge social statement through his art in public spaces, and stir the audience with the image that pops up when the elevator doors close. His sense of humor is wicked, his heart is golden, and his friendship is for lifetime. 

I am fascinated by creative people and wonder how they keep replenishing their ideas. For Stefan, he recharges by stepping away from work. Every seven years, he takes a sabbatical and goes away without any client assignments. And he lets anything and everything from the surroundings inspire him. To celebrate the 90-plus stray-dogs that we were hanging out with, he hand painted each of them on each t-shirt and created a chair / sort-of-throne resting on the shoulders of two wooden dogs. He succumbs to the surroundings and let it influence him. Even though it is difficult for his 6 ft 5 plus frame to blend in easily, he does his best to blend in wherever he goes. When Stefan came to Kerala for an INK Conference, he put on off-white with golden border veshti (South Indian attire), danced on the streets with the local entertainers, and had a Sadhya meal (a traditional meal in Kerala where multiple dishes are served on a banana leaf).  

Stefan pays attention to the form, passionate about bringing beauty into our lives and throw in an element of surprise. Be it a book that moves by remote control to a moving sign that reveals a message, from famous album covers to designing books, from converting statistics from a book into live museum-shows to holding a light to best work, be it his or not – Stefan is unabashedly married to his profession. 


And the best gift he has given me is to introduce me to a musician whose movie defined the genre of concert films for me. The first Christmas I moved to Portland State University, my friends took me to a movie that started with someone placing a tape recorder on to the stage. The movie unveils a concert from beginning to end and started my personal interest in going to live concerts. I still remember the movie theater and the snow on the sidewalk that greeted us as if it was yesterday. To this day, Stop Making Sense is one of my most favorite movies and David Byrne, object of my adoration. Stefan worked closely with David Byrne on his album covers and many projects. So the best gift Stefan gave me was to have me meet David and make the plans to bring him to India. Unfortunately, a conflict arose and David could not come to our conference but I was happy to have met him and still hope to host him someday.


I am always amused and even amazed by how things come together in our lives. As a wide-eyed 20-something, Stop making Sense was my introduction to indie music and if someone told me that a few decades later, I would be meeting him; I would have never believed it. Time passed, memories faded until one day suddenly: an icon from the distant past pops up and you go right back to that day, that moment and get to talk about it. I met David at a café. He rode on his bike and sat across from me and had the most normal conversation. Often meeting idols breaks your heart because they end up being too full of themselves. So, this was a great relief for me because I did not, in any way, taint the image of my past. That’s the thing about friends: they bring an array of people into your life that you would have never expected to encounter and thus enrich your life.

My friendship with Stefan enriched my life with design, beauty, humility and humor. And I look forward to being continuously surprised with what might come from his studio to continue coloring the canvas of my imagination.

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