Stefan Sagmeister: «Renunciation as a happiness charm, I can't directly understand that from my own experience»

The Austrian graphic designer and typographer lives and works in New York. Sagmeister has created CD cover designs for Lou Reed, the Rolling Stones and David Byrne, among others. In the pre-interview for the 18th European Trend Day, he talks to us about happiness, beauty and design.

Stefan Sagmeister

GDI: In one of your projects you explored happiness. You come from Bregenz and currently live in New York. What constitutes happiness - on both sides of the Atlantic?

Sagmeister: You can divide different types of happiness according to duration. There is the very short, like the second-long moment of happiness or the orgasm, a medium-long happiness like contentment (which can last for hours, for example on the sofa with the newspaper and the dog on Sunday afternoon) and the whole long happiness: finding what you want to do with your life, your life's purpose, that is, something that is very closely connected with meaning.
I myself have been one of the happier people for most of my life, I would say between 7-8, on a 10 scale. I tried a little recipe in Bali: take an iPod filled with a bunch of new, good songs (that don't yet evoke old memories), a yellow scooter, an untravelled beautiful road, no helmet so the wind can be felt, mix these encores and drive through Bali with no destination, just for the sake of driving. So far, this has produced a real moment of happiness every time, including goosebumps, repeatable, but probably not endless.
And my experience shows that, in general, many and good social relationships make me happier than being alone. Studies say the same.

In our affluent society, renunciation is worshipped as a bringer of happiness. Can you understand that?

Renunciation as a happiness charm comes, I think, from the religious, Lent as a means of self-indulgence and a kind of salvation. I can't directly understand that from my own experience.

Is it possible to do without design?

When I live in a city today, everything that surrounds me is designed. The clothes I wear, the chair I sit on, the flat I live in, the house and the street, the park and the district, everything has been well - or badly - designed by designers. This means that design has the same influence on a contemporary city dweller as nature has on a jungle dweller. The jungle dweller can no more do without nature than the city dweller can do without design.

Three years ago you opened an exhibition on beauty. What makes things and people beautiful?

Beauty is the combination of shape, colour, materiality, composition and form that appeals to my aesthetic senses, especially my vision.

 Why do beautiful things make us happy?

I know that I behave better in beautiful surroundings. I also feel better. I myself walk on the High Line in New York every morning, and I have never seen a discarded piece of paper there. Fifty metres from the High Line in the neighbouring Meatpacking District, there is a lot of litter in the gutters. The care with which the High Line is designed changes the behaviour of visitors.

How does innovation succeed in the design business?

Something new always involves something surprising, something unusual. Since we all get used to everything quickly, something new has the chance to break the monotony, at least for a short time. The new in design is often linked to new technologies, currently therefore it is often linked to VR, AR or AI.

The sad thing about innovation in graphics is that a lot of energy goes into faster and cheaper comparatively, but little into better. I saw a photo book by Richard Avedon from 1962 last weekend. The print quality would be difficult to reproduce today. 50 years of unbelievable innovation in this field have strangely brought little progress.

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