Beauty and The Sagmeister
By Jesse Sharpe-O’Hare
A couple of weeks back I spent the morning at the D&AD awards, and although getting a free mug and putting my face on a bottle of ginger beer was certainly a thrill, the best part of the day was a talk on beauty by designer Stefan Sagmeister. He took the audience on a journey through aesthetic history, from the end of the 18th century to today, describing the change in attitudes towards beauty. Not only was it fascinating, but I think it had some good lessons for our portfolio work.
Above all, his message was beauty is essential. It adds value, makes us feel better about the world, and gives us more time to consider our surroundings. In his talk he compared two train stations in New York, Penn Station and Grand Central Station, and tweets from the public about both. Penn is ugly, dingy, functional. Grand Central on the other hand is a work of art, spacious, ornate and beautiful. Tweets about Grand Central conjured up images of grand romantic gestures and the possibility of adventure. Penn station on the other hand was described as, and I quote, ‘the butthole of the universe’. Both are the same idea, and serve the same function, but engender drastically different results. Kind of like a piece of work. A great, functional idea is the most important thing, but you can attract, enthral and then convince your audience much more easily with craft and beauty. People are simple. We like looking at pretty things, be it pretty images or pretty words.
The Sagmeister (nickname pending) then went on to discuss how, in the early 20th century, there was a huge shift against beauty in favour of sheer uniform functionality. This was spearheaded by the trio of Adolf Loos, Mies van Der Rohe and Le Corbusier, who between them created the ‘international style’. Basically, imagine any big building or skyscraper that looks like any other big building or skyscraper anywhere in the world. They turned a world full of German gothic buttresses, English thatches and Tibetan pagodas into homogenous, squat, grey-brown boxes. Safe to say, Stefan was not a huge fan.
Now watch out, another ham-fisted architecture = portfolio work metaphor is coming.
While we obviously share a huge number of briefs, everyone has been busy curating their own personal style, and that’s vital. We all want to make the best work we can, but it all looking the same isn’t going to get anyone anywhere. It’s safe to say finding that unique personal style is still working progress, but I think everyone is pretty much there. Hopefully it shines through, because after all, no one wants work to be homogenous, at school or later at agencies.
Above all, his talk told me that craft is incredibly important. An apt lesson as term three really steps up a gear.