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Stefan Sagmeister

I quite enjoyed Sagmeister’s presentation on happiness…where else but a design conference would you find a talk on that topic?[1] Early in, he suggested that visualizing happiness with design is easy (photos of someone laughing or a smiley face will do it) but that creating design that provokes happiness in the viewer is something else entirely. He then shared three designs that have made him happy recently:

  • Emma Gasson made a day-planner with room for 82 years, the current life expectancy of a British citizen. It looked to be about a foot thick.
  • Omnivisu. Richard The and Willy Sengewald constructed a kiosk in Berlin with video cameras inside. When you look into the kiosk through the viewfinder (very much like peering into a pair of binoculars), the cameras record your eyes and beam the video to a nearby location where the images are projected onto a building which rather looks like it’s got a head. When you blink into the kiosk, the building’s head blinks also.
  • Ji Lee pastes empty speech bubbles over advertisements on the streets of Manhattan, people often fill them in, and Lee returns to photograph the results.

Sagmeister wrapped up his talk with a list of things he has learned and how he’s used that list in a recent series of projects:

  • “everything i do always comes back to me”
  • “trying to look good limits my life”
  • “everybody thinks they are right”
  • “money does not make me happy”
  • “thinking life will be better in the future is stupid. i have to live now”
  • “complaining is silly. act or forget.”
  • “having guts always works out for me”

“Complaining is silly…” is my favorite, both as advice and his implementation of the design. A few of these are in this video shot by Hillman Curtis.

[1] Ok, maybe at a clown conference, but still.

Reader comments

bottomunionSep 19, 2005 at 9:04AM

Personal publishing on the web is either about pointing people in certain directions, or being the one people point to....among other things.
Anyway, glad I was pointed to these things. Thanks.

jojSep 19, 2005 at 9:55AM

Um, radio talk show host Dennis Prager devotes one hour each week (during his friday show, with some great bumper music) to the topic of Happiness and has written an excellent book on the subject: Happiness is a Serious Problem.

He's also given countless discussions on the topic over the years.

Remember, our founding fathers thought happiness was pretty important: "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Ben WhitehouseSep 19, 2005 at 11:38AM

I believe that stefan is one of the few designers who manages to create happiness in his design work. I remember seeing him talk at the lighthouse in NYC where he showed a design for an airport. The airport was designed like a huge airplane, so from the sky, as you were flying in, it would look as if the airplanes were suckling the larger plane. I smiled for a hour after hearing that.

Paul MayneSep 19, 2005 at 12:11PM

I heard Stefan speak at the Vancouver AIGA conference and later emailed him about a list of things he learned in his life. He promptly responded with the list: I posted it here.

TimSep 19, 2005 at 12:27PM

Does AIGA plan on providing audio or video of these presentations or are they keeping it solely to themselves?

Stefan HaydenSep 19, 2005 at 2:14PM


they will be providing podcasts of interviews they did after presenters got off of stage. Most were between 10 - 30 minutes.

AnneSep 20, 2005 at 4:30AM

Thomas Heatherwick had a great exhibition at the Design Museum in London a while ago. 1,000 things, many of which you might call happy design - jokes on lolly sticks, pyramid tea bags, shaped clothes pegs. It was the happiest design exhibition I've ever seen, and made a good point about what makes a product work. Sometimes simple, user-centred ideas are the most effective.

JeffSep 20, 2005 at 6:58AM

Where else but a design conference would you find a talk on happiness? At the Transvision Conference on Transhumanist Bioethics at Yale University of course.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.