The Graphic Designer

An Email From New York

There’s tons of stuff to read in the media about the Austrian Stefan Sagmeister. Just Google him – it will even make you a bit happier. For he isn’t just a fantastic graphic designer, he’s quite an entertaining person, too. We thought we’d ask him some things about Vienna and just publish our email correspondence. Complete and uncensored.

On Oct 21, 2015, at 9:52 AM, <Antje Mayer> wrote: Dear Stefan Sagmeister, I already asked you for an interview in spring when I was in New York, but unfortunately my request came on too short notice for you. Perhaps a short email interview for our C/O Vienna Magazine on the occasion of your “Happy Show” at MAK (28.10.15 – 28.03.16) could work. Back then I saw the New York edition at The Jewish Museum, and I always have your book “The Happy Film” in front of me on my desk. I hope it’s not too pushy when I already send the questions along with this email. It would be great if it worked out this time. Thanks a lot in advance for your efforts! Kind regards, Antje

On Oct 21, 2015, at 10:50 AM, <Stefan Sagmeister> wrote

Hello Antje,

No problem. Here are a few answers to your questions:

Antje M.-S.: You’ve made a list of things that made you really happy in your life, in Vienna they were: 1984 Idea for Ronacher in Tivoligasse 1985 Excess with Lisli in Vienna 1985 With Andrea in Tivoligasse, orgasm. No need to explain “excess” and “orgasm”. But how does “Idea for Ronacher in Tivoligasse” fit in here? That’s about design! Why did that make you so happy?

Stefan S.: Hans Gratzer, at the time the director of Schauspielhaus theater in Vienna, where we students used to design the posters, commissioned me to design a campaign to save the Ronacher theater – it was scheduled for demolition. After a lot of thinking back and forth, I finally had the idea for these posters in my student flat in Tivoligasse. I worked on them for weeks, and I was so convinced of this idea that this work filled me with true and deep pleasure. The Ronacher theater is still standing.

Vienna is – in contrast to New York – a city where it is socially acceptable to be unhappy. How is that with you?

Certainly one of the reasons why I feel so comfortable in New York is that I didn’t come across this pride of unhappiness among most New Yorkers. My sister sent me Thomas Bernhard’s prose text “My Prizes”, and although I used to be a big Bernhard fan when I was 17, today I cannot read this wallowing in misery anymore.

What makes you happy in Vienna (or Austria), in private or professional terms?

There’s lots: The Sunday call with my sister, the fabulous exhibition “Drawing Now” at Albertina, the “Smell Memory Kit” developed by Sissel Tolaas for the fine shop Supersense on Praterstraße, hiking on the Kandisfluh in the Bregenz Forest Mountains, the guided tours by my cousin Rudolf Sagmeister through Kunsthaus Bregenz, sitting together with my 11 nieces and nephews, a Leberkäse bread roll with pickles from the butchery Metzgerei Rimmele.

You go on a sabbatical every seven years. Next year the time has come again, if I calculated properly. Have plans already? I imagine it must be very hard to take a sabbatical. It’s a great endeavor, isn’t it?

No, it’s quite simple, you just need a plan. In principle, these are years of experimentation when I try out all of the things which there seems to be no time left for in the normal working years. Up to now, every year has been different: The first year I was alone in New York City. I spent much time thinking, with a few finished works as a result. The second was spent in Indonesia: five of us in a culture of handcraft brought forth some realized projects including furniture as well and the beginning of the Happy Film. One of the main achievements of these time-out years is the fact that even after 30 years I still have a lot of fun with my profession. The next sabbatical will certainly be different again: It starts in autumn next year, and I will spend it in three different locations: Tokyo, Mexico City, and in the Bregenz Forest Mountains, probably Schwarzenberg.

Have you ever thought about stopping what you do now professionally?

In our studio we work on traditional graphic design projects for clients (branding, websites, etc.) and on projects we have initiated ourselves (documentary films, exhibitions, furniture). There were times when I thought about only doing the personal projects. But until now, the commercial ones have always influenced the personal ones in a positive way, and vice versa. That’s why I will probably stay with both for while.

How happy are you right now on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 10 (very)?

7.5. I’m fine.

1000 greetings,


NEW address:
Sagmeister & Walsh
900 Broadway, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10003