Born in Bregenz, Austria, in 1962, Sagmeister earned an MFA at Vienna’s University of Applied Arts in 1985 and went on to study at Pratt Institute on a Fulbright scholarship. In 1991, as a designer with the Leo Burnett Hong Kong Design Group, Sagmeister continued to develop his interests in humor as a way to undermine convention and confuse the senses in design. His poster for the 1992 4As advertising awards ceremony—a traditional Cantonese image created with four, bare male bottoms—resulted in many advertising agencies boycotting that year’s awards, along with numerous letters of complaint to Hong Kong newspapers.
In 1993, Sagmeister realized a longtime dream of working for one of his design heroes, the similarly convention-defying Tibor Kalman, of M&Co. Six months later, M&Co abruptly closed and Sagmeister opened his own design studio, where he went on to create iconic work for musicians such as Lou Reed, David Byrne, and the Rolling Stones. In 1999, he was invited to design the poster for an AIGA lecture he was to present at the Cranbrook School of Art. Sagmeister’s poster—an image of the event details carved into his flesh—has become representative of his style: a striking mix of the sensational, humorous, sinister, and unsettling, couched in sensuousness.
Since 2008, Sagmeister has refocused his practice to concentrate on the broader implications of design in society, working on projects that explore how design might alter perception or change behavior. His 2012 exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia gave viewers an inside view of his “rules to live by” though interactive digital and analog typographic investigations.
Stefan Sagmeister will be presented with his award at Bright Lights: The AIGA Awards on April 19 in New York City.