I am back with another book review for you today. This book is called ‘Things I have learned in my life so far’ and is by the graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister. Sagmeister is a Austrian graphic designer based in New York and I have known about him for a long time and been a big admirer of his work.
Now this isn’t a design book that you would traditionally expect. The book is made up of a set of zine like booklets which slot into a cover with Sagmeister’s face on and full of holes (I like the fact that if you position the zines in a different order it totally changes the look of the cover - and I'm sure that was part of the plan). Each booklet tackles one or two of the things ‘learnt’ by Sagmeister and each one is very visual and full of bright, rich typography and design work, but also includes small essays to go alongside the ‘lessons’.
I think initially I thought this book was quite self-indulgent but actually reading through it Sagmeister really does have so many interesting stories to tell and share.
Something I have heard Sagmeister talk about before and which is mentioned a lot in the book (and is really the catalyst for the work in this book) - is when he decided to take a year off from client work, to see what happened to his work when he didn’t have any briefs to work within. I suppose to a lot of designers this would seem like the ultimate luxury - just creating work for yourself, and it is so interesting to get glimpses of how Sagmeister used this time and the work that came about as a result when he started taking on clients again.
The list of ‘lessons’ come from a list he hurridly wrote in his diary on his year long sabbatical, which were then incorporated into client work later down the line.
I think something I always admire and find interesting about Sagmeister is his commitment to his work and the levels he is willing to go to, and take risks for it. There have been many instances of him doing crazy things to his body for a piece of design, like this poster with the typography razor bladed into his torso. Reading about the interesting projects that he has worked on and the lengths that he goes to, to create work inspires me and gets me excited about being a designer. Design is about having something to say and a message to share, and often we are sharing a message of the client but Sagmeister does have something to say, he has wisdom to share and that comes out through his work and his words.
His life lessons are insightful and actually come from a lot of experience which he back up with anecdotes from his life. They seem honest rather than just a list of lessons that he thought would sound good or even look good typographically.
Sagmeister is a designer to take notice of, to learn from and be inspired by. He says in his opening essay that this is a design book that is not aimed at designers and I think that is a fair assessment - I would recommend this book to anyone even if they weren’t a designer…But if you are interested in design and glimpses into the life of a prolific designer I would recommend this book even more.
Personally, I think I get stuck in a rut of only doing client work and not just creating for the joy of it, taking the risk that it might look rubbish and not work. I play it safe - but reading through these stories from Sagmeister has made me realise how important it is to experiment, how it helps you to improve as a designer, and it impacts on your work down the line. If you are feeling stale creatively (which I actually was when I read through it recently) then get this book pronto!
I hope you all have a lovely weekend. We are in York and Bradford this weekend visiting family and I’m feeling happy to be out of the city and having a bit of a break.