Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO

Sagmeister: Another Book about Promotion & Sales Material — book review

September 8, 2011, 1:06 AM

Stefan Sagmaister is without doubt, one of the best known graphic designers, a superstar, to be fair. His latest work showcase comes in the form of a bi-lingual (German & English) black book, ironically entitled ‘Another Book about Promotion & Sales Material’ and presenting projects developed over the last seven years. It follows an exhibition of work by Sagmeister Inc presented at the Mudac museum in Lausanne in March 2011.

The book explores the idea of selling, through four chapters: Selling Culture, Selling Corporations, Selling My Friends and Selling Myself. In the introductory interview, Stefan talks about different concepts related to selling, how they change depending on circumstances, years, about clients, organizing his work and about his roots as a designer. Mentioning one of his older works — the famous poster where he had the text carved onto his skin — he talks about the impact of the human body in graphic design, magazines especially (a point that Kit Hinrichs also made in one of his interviews, that the human face sells the most). He also mentions the pleasure of entrusting the creative helm on designing the book to his collaborator, Martin Woodtli and the reasons behind this decision — a tough one for quite a lot of designers (trusting another to design things for us, that is).

Each chapter contains one two-pages essay, written by Martin Heller (‘A Matter of Posture’), Joseph V. Tripodi (‘Winning by Design’), Marian Bantjes (‘My Friend’) and Mieke Gerritzen (‘Stefan Is a Pop Star’) respectively. None of them leaves you with anything new, but while Ms Bantjes is honest and fun, Mr Tripodi is plain annoying, wasting one and a half page for praising his company, Coca Cola, mentioning Stefan just as an afterthought, at the end. It almost feels like an advert inside a magazine — considering the topic of the book, who knows, maybe it really is.

More interesting are Stefan’s half-page stories of various life experiences, spread throughout the book. And, of course, the work itself, accompanied by extensive captions, bundled together before or after the full-page images.

As mentioned before, the book is designed by Martin Woodtli, making it quite different from Sagmeister’s previous books. The interior feels quite elegant and classic, thanks to the beautiful usage of the New Fournier BP typeface, designed by François Rappo. The cover fits the classic interior, making use of black plus gold foiling and embossing, but with a humorous tone, the illustration being a visual pun on Da Vinci’s vitruvian man.

The last essay, ‘Stefan Is a Pop Star’, while feeling quite superficial when talking about fame, does manage to provide a nice conclusion to the book:

‘Stefan Sagmeister now represents that special graphic designer who looks at the world of the 21st century and sees how large the cultural field has become. Forget the frameworks and rules […] developed in the previous century. The designer may once again become a visionary, performer, architect, and artist.’

My favourite part, however, is the short story called ‘Northern Italy’, in which Stefan recalls a talk he had with his mother:

The story that makes the book worth reading (click on image to enlarge)

 “Nothing is more difficult to endure than a sequence of beautiful days.”

BOOK DETAILS

Title: Sagmeister: Another Book about Promotion & Sales Material
Edited by: Stefan Sagmeister, Chantal Prod’Hom, Martin Woodtli
No. of pages: 176
Publisher: Abrams (01 September 2011)
Language: German & English
ISBN-10: 1419701398
ISBN-13: 9781419701399

RELATED LINKS
— more about the exhibition: Another Exhibit about Promotion and Sales Material;
— the book reviewed on the Creative Review.

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Hustling the greats — cheap bravado or a genuine “naked emperor” shout?

January 28, 2011, 12:41 PM

While reading Adrian Shaughnessy’s interesting review of Kenneth FitzGerald’s Volume: Writing on Graphic Design, Music, Art and Culture book (on the Design Observer), a paragraph caught my attention especially:

It’s not only his students FitzGerald wants to refrain from gazing admiringly at the great and the good of the design world. His own combative approach to criticism means that he doesn’t shy away from roughing up representatives of design’s elite: Alan Fletcher (“The Art of Looking Sideways … a formless data-dump of quotations, aphorisms, diagrams, reproductions, commentaries, and folderol”); John Maeda (“sterile, programmed ornamentation”); Paul Rand (… students will become even more marginalized and disenchanted with their work and status if they attempt to define themselves by Rand’s fallacies); and Stefan Sagmeister (“Made you Look … a fatiguing compendium of almost every optical, production, and advertising-creative artifice devised since Gutenberg”).

I don’t think I need to tell you that this is the design’s equivalent of whistling bare-assed inside the church on a Sunday morning. Does Mr FitzGerald really mean that? Or is he just saying it to shock and draw attention? What should we believe in then, if role models or mentors are over-rated? It’s easy to say “do your own thing”, but so few of us can actually do that.

It has always been one of the best ways to get fast on top (either in gang fights or in public opinion): pick someone bigger than you — hell, pick the biggest of them all — and make him bite the dust. Should you succeed, you’re the man (until another does it to you, of course). Should you loose, do it in style and at least you’ve made the news — more or less.

It seems these days that almost everybody worships individualism. You can see it in almost everything — large businesses are slowly fragmenting, everybody tries to be a “freelancer”, everybody wants to be their own boss — an understandable thing, after all, who likes to take orders all day?. Marriages are shorter and shorter, single parentage slowly gains ground and becomes the “normal” way of growing up a kid. It’s all fine-tuning as the ultimate self-centred society. A planet of “every man for himself only”. Well, to be more precise, a “western” civilisation of loners. And these days — go figure — most of them (us) seem so bewitched by iStuff.

Well, if Mr FitzGerald wanted attention, he’s surely got it. And maybe that’s a good thing. Shouting out that “the emperor is naked” might prove a lie, but it did make you look thoroughly, didn’t it? I still think that apprenticeship as a way of learning was one of the good things we lost during the last fifty years. Having role-models can be very useful, but only as long as we never forget that role-models are meant to be surpassed.

As post scriptum, the cover of the book looks rather nice:

And while we’re at it, here’s another quote from Mr FitzGerald’s book:

It is a delusion that the activity of fine artists is divorced from commercial considerations. It isn’t even a matter of degree. All that separates art and design is the kind of marketplace one chooses to operate in.

Now that’s something with which I totally agree.

Further reading & links:
• Adrian Shaughnessy’s review of the book on the Design Observer;
• Kenneth FitzGerald’s blog post about his book.

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