stealing eyeballs 09

Interview with Stefan Sagmeister

The written version follows the original e-mail interview.

Simon Hadler: what led you to become a cover designer?

Stefan Sagmeister: at 17, i was in a number of bad bands. then i discovered that i enjoyed designing the packaging much more than producing the music.

SH: you say that you enjoy the packaging more than producing the contents - what is it then that so fascinates you about cover design?

SS: i said that i enjoyed it most, but that's not a general value judgement.
- small and portable
- international
- the cover is generally not thrown away, unlike most other graphic design.
- visualising music (without having to start from pre-produced images, like boring old film posters)
- producing ideas to music
- meetings with musicians have the edge over meetings with middle managers
- indestructible (just kidding)

SH: is there a particular process involved in working with musicians whose covers you are designing?

SS: musicians generally bring a first raw version to the first meeting, so there is something to listen to. i try to find out as much as possible from the person who wrote the music and lyrics about the development, the direction and the influences of their work. i try to completely avoid talking about the cover itself. then it's back to our studio, where we let the tape play without working straight away on the cover. 
after this it's down to work. after about four weeks we show our prototype. if it pleases, that's wonderful. if not, we start again from the beginning. 

SH: do you have an all-time favourite cover? 

SS: sticky fingers (rolling stones, designed by andy warhol & craig braun), and xtc go2 (hipnosis).

SH: if i look at the range of covers in the record shops, i sometimes have the impression that most of them are repeating old ideas. how do you manage as a designer to create a cover that will be seen, will attract attention and stand out from the masses?

SS: yes, i also get this impression. every music genre has its look and the clichés that go with it, a formula that's rehashed again and again. it is easiest to avoid the clichés when the producer has interests outside graphics or music graphics, and draws on influences from elsewhere, such as science and gymnastics.

SH: and what interests do you draw upon? how does this show itself in your covers?

SS: as i said: 1. science: postcards which are sundials and which can play records, cd covers that can decode text, posters that contain goldfish. 2. gymnastics

SH: you seem to have achieved most of the goals on your net-published "wish-list" - running a design studio in new york, taking time out (your sabbatical) - you could now sit back and relax if you wished. what are your future plans? 

SS: my studio starts again with client commissions in october 2001. there are several things i'd like to do:
- the coca cola can
- a packaging design for austrian electronic music.
- a purely experimental book.

SH: the coca cola can? wasn't the coca cola bottle also designed by an austrian? in the 70ies, wanting to do such a thing would have caused an outcry - the symbol of capitalism etc. - no problems with this?

SS: there are many excellent graphic designers who work exclusively for obscure bands and small films. at the same time, objects that have a global influence on culture (such as the coca cola can) are designed by the idiots in the marketing department. that's regrettable.

SH: who comes to mind as a possible partner on the viennese electronic scene? 

SS: i really like louie austen, but also the dorfmeisters and Hans platzgummer (who's actually a tyrolean). 

SH: are you actually still in touch with the design scene in vienna? 

SS: a little. elisabeth kopf is a good friend (and an excellent graphic designer), and i'm in contact with cordula alessandri, christian hochmeister and clemens schedler.