Last Friday we headed to the Cotswolds and back to my hometown to see Stefan Sagmeister at the Cheltenham Design Festival. Cheltenham has a rich history of festivals with The Jazz, Literature and Gold Cup, however, this was the CDF's first year. The Festival was held over three days in the fantastic Parabola Arts Centre and there were some great speakers. Few of these were as hotly anticipated as the Austrian-born Designer Stefan Sagmeister.
Creative Review's Patrick Burgoyne joined Stefan on stage and it quickly became apparent that there would be no work shown on screen or any other visual aides. This didn't matter in the slightest, the hour long talk was honest, insightful, amusing and inspiring. Alongside the many antidotes that he had accumulated from a remarkable career, three things really stood out for me.
TIP 1. Having recently formed Bread our ears pricked up when he expressed his thoughts on starting your own company. He explained his reasons for keeping his company small, the main one being that, in his opinion, small agencies produce better work and a provide a more personal and desirable service to the client. He conceded that there were some things that larger companies could offer clients (such as a research/marketing dept) that smaller agencies might struggle to, but these things mainly serve to satisfy corporate bosses and rarely improve the actual design work. This excerpt from his website reflects his opinions on a small studio and his main reasons for hiring staff;
You often refer that one of the best decisions you had made, was keeping your firm small (i.e., normally you have two other employees besides yourself). This makes the selection of talented individuals very personal to you. What are your main selection points when hiring?
1. A sweet personality. Matthias and I are spending more time in here than me and my girlfriend do in a typical week, so the fact that we get along well is important. 2. Good work. Hopefully not the same kind of work as I did before (I know how to do that, I don't need another version of me in the studio), but somebody who complements what I do (and loves to do the things that I don't know how to do, like most of the computer work).
He also stated that he didn't go into to design to be a manager and this would inevitably have been the result if he had decided to grow his business further. On the whole he was strongly in favour of the idea and as long as you work on the basic principle of 'having more money coming in than going out' you'll be fine!
TIP 2. The next interesting point was his thoughts on the importance of self-initiated work. He is just in the process of producing a feature length film (The Happy Film) and when questioned whether his intention was to use the film as a self-promotional tool to get paid work he honestly remarked 'I couldn't give a shit whether the film gets me other work, that is not my intention at all.' He believes that if you put love into something then people will respect that and the outcome will reflect that. It is clear that money isn't what drives him, which is refreshing.
TIP 3. The final thing that really stood out was his opinion on pitching. He basically doesn't pitch. You might think 'that's easy for him but not something that is realistic or attainable for most designers or design agencies', however he put forward a strong argument (using the three projects around the ground zero site as supporting case studies) and explained why it's becoming more in the US for people to refuse to pitch. Some of the other reasons are posted by Patrick Burgoyne on the CR blog today. All in all, a really great talk. We met him afterwards and he was a really nice guy too, we even got a pic (see below).
After the talk I showed the others around Cheltenham and took them to some typically picturesque Cotswold-y places such as Winchcombe and Upper and Lower Slaughter. We also visited the Pitville Pump Room and looked in on a carboot sale. I think that Owen in particular was in need of a bit of a rural education, once remarking 'Oh look a sheep'... it was a horse.