Stefan Sagmeister By Hand

By Hand is a new feature on Question Market. It’s something I’ve been doing privately for years. Writing a letter with some specific questions about creativity to someone I admire and hoping they write me back.

There’s an incredible site called Letters of Note that explores hand written correspondences throughout history. That’s what inspired me to start this. I love the layer of context that’s added by getting something in writing. You can tell if the person was in a hurry, or took their time enough to add drawings, or extra notes, or anything else. Maybe the envelope gets beaten up along the way. It’s added character. There’s intimacy to it.


If you’re a designer, there’s not much new I can tell you about Stefan Sagmeister. He’s towards the top of our food chain in terms of success, knowledge, and talent and I assume you know that already.

For anyone else that stumbles across this…Stefan’s body of work as a designer is heady and pure. He runs the studio Sagmeister & Walsh with his partner Jessica Walsh and has landed some of the biggest gigs you can aspire to have as a designer. Album covers for the Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Jay-Z, and others. Work for Levi’s, BMW, and the New York Times. He’s exhibited and discussed his work all over the world.

He’s fascinating and someone I think all creative people can look up to. In addition to his success as a designer, he’s also one of the deepest, most sincere, and intellectual creatives working. He’s active in the design community and always trying to put more meaning in to what we do as designers and humans.

When I was first learning and practicing graphic design, there were designers and artists that I admired, and imitated. But when I saw Stefan’s work…things like this, and this, and this…I realized design’s ability to be thought provoking and expressive.

I know this seems obvious, but how creative design can be. His work unlocked that for me. I was learning the basics…grids, letter forms, color theory. Laying out things like letterheads, stationary, websites, advertisements…in pretty standard formats. When I saw his work, my design brain took the next position on the evolutionary chart towards being upright. I’m still working on it…

In 2010, I wrote Stefan a short letter and asked him:

  1. What is something all creative people have in common?
  2. What was one creative habit you had as a child?
  3. What is one creative habit you have now?

He generously wrote back the following… (transcript below as well)


His insight is wonderful and I can’t read these answers without his voice in my head. And, I love that he plans for certain tasks to be completed in the morning. I have a feeling that is something that’ll be explored again here.


Hey Derek,

Here are some quick answers:

  1. A desire for the new. A certain amount of fearlessness & guts
  2. I don’t remember being particularly creative as a child
  3. a) Work on many projects simultaniously. Switch to another one when I get stuck.
    b) Start with the difficult parts first thing in the morning.

Good luck and many greetings,
Stefan Sagmeister

Thank you for reading, and thanks to Stefan for allowing me publish this.


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