7 Year Itch

Back stage with Sagmeister

Every seven years, Stefan Sagmeister takes a year off: The Seven Year Itch. He talked about this at the AIGA Make/Think Conference.

As humans, we spend the first 25 years learning, next 40 working, and the final 15 retiring, and then we die. So take five of the years you use retiring and put them into the working phase (big cheers for that).The first time he took his year off and stayed in New York, but this time he wanted a change of scenery. He picked Bali for its beauty and because he didn’t know Asia as well as other places like Europe. But there is actually some science to this madness of time off, he says. The restaurant El Bulli, open only 7 months a year, and widely regarded as the best and most successful on the planet. Companies at 3M give out 15% of their time to do personal projects—Post-Its and Scotch Tape came from this time off—and Google gives their employees 20%. (Stefan, in comparison, only takes 12.5% of his time off. The hardest thing about it,” he says, “is putting it on the books.” Ain’t that the truth.

Some incredible work that came out of his last sabbatical: A beautiful identity for Casa de Musica in Portugal, the book Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far, as well as the zillions of paid projects that had their origins in that time away. This time in Bali, he made beautiful typographic films which were created by animals (you can see these at TED.com). And apparently we are also the animals in his next experiment, as he gets all 1200 designers to rise and sing along to the tune of “Ode to Joy”: “All my clients drive me crazy/Never show no guts at all” and then later…“Stefan always shows the same stuff/See it all on TED.com” (which is not true if you watch the TED video, he wrote this “high end karaoke” experiment just for us!). It’s a pretty great moment, and we sound good! During the Q&A with Kurt, we learn a very little known fact: He actually said no to designing the Obama campaign because he was already planning his Bali sabbatical.