Stefan Sagmeister: Design and Happiness

Originally published June 2015. Tractor 

Wednesday evening saw members of the Tractor family spend a few hours at the AGDA NSW's event 'Design and Happiness' talk by Stefan Sagmeister. Renowned for album covers, typography, a string of well known clients and his book of life lessons 'Things I have learned in my life so far', designer Stefan Sagmeister definitely has a different way of looking at things.

Over the past 10 years, Stefan has explored the possibilities of achieving happiness as a designer and has developed tactics to make sure his work remains a calling without deteriorating into a job.


The evening consisted of a comprehensive presentation of his recent work and his motives behind them and for us lucky ones in the audience, achieving happiness for ourselves. Not only did we get a sneak peek into his process, we got to view insights into how to achieve happiness through different strategies and techniques.

Stefan navigated us through his findings during his exploration of happiness including ‘the Happy Show'; an exhibition in Philadelphia, Toronto, and MOCA Los Angeles in 2012/13. The interactive exhibition explored mediums through print, infographics, and interactive installations aiming to demonstrate Stefan’s pathway into his happiness via mediation, cognitive therapy, and mood-altering pharmaceuticals.

 Stefan Sagmeister 'The Happiness Show' - Source: Sagmeister and Walsh

Stefan Sagmeister 'The Happiness Show' - Source: Sagmeister and Walsh

He spoke about how “thankfulness, sympathetic empathy and humility” are all things he’s had to work on and that “worrying solves nothing.” Stefan expressed his personal journey in overcoming the hurdles and obstacles, and referred to an Ideo talk which advised that during the ‘idea generation time, there is no room for negativity’. There are no bad ideas when brainstorming. Get all the negativity out, so you can let the great ideas fall into place.

Idea generation time, there is no room for negativity.

In one of his many studies, Stefan researched into how singing changes your brain and that more specifically singing in a group “soothes your nerves and elevates your spirits”. It turns out you don’t even have to be a good singer to feel the happiness, as demonstrated in last night’s audience karaoke session with Stefan… yes, that’s right, karaoke session! We had quite the bonding experience singing about client jobs and how tirelessly we work. We let loose, and at Stefan’s pleasure, demonstrated that group singing can indeed lift spirits.

 Stefan Sagmeister 'The Happiness Show' - Source: Sagmeister and Walsh

Stefan Sagmeister 'The Happiness Show' - Source: Sagmeister and Walsh

The evening ended with a Q&A session with guest speaker Kevin Finn joining Stefan on stage. Kevin Finn is not only one of our Industry Advisors but founder, editor and designer of Open Manifesto. Kevin and Stefan sat and discussed the possibilities of Stefan's next sabbatical, his business partnerJessica Walsh and how cities like Sydney make Stefan feel 'happy to be human' due to how we have shaped and developed the world around us.

A big thank you to AGDA National, AGDA NSW, Think Education, Kevin Finn and of course the legendary Stefan Sagmeister for whom many of us seek to him and his work for inspiration, aesthetic pleasure and most importantly, happiness.