Tonight I saw one of my favorite graphic design peers, Stefan Sagmeister, speak before a crowd of about 500 designers, students, fans, and friends at the University of Washington. He is a very entertaining speaker, and I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation. Among other things, I found him to be gifted in the art of infusing profanity into his presentation in a smooth manner that seemed to offend no one, and certainly made many people laugh. I think perhaps his accent helped. Of course, his rock star status in the design industry probably doesn’t hurt either.
Even though I have never been much of an autograph collector, I stood in line to have him sign my copy of his new thought-provoking book, Things I have learned in my life so far. For most of the line-waiting, I found myself wondering what I might say to him for my ten seconds of face time. The young woman behind me suggested I tell him that I disagreed with his comment that creative advertising no longer works for mass-marketed goods. ‘Why would he care?’ I wondered. So I indulged in the opportunity to debate with a great mind in the design world. And he did care.
In another setting, we could have had a good long conversation on the subject, but instead we took a couple of minutes before both of us realized that we were holding up the line of autograph seekers. Before reaching that point, however, I think we may have both sparked thoughts in each others’ minds, which seems like not such a small thing for someone whose design expressions are so innately thought-provoking. I have long felt that he is extremely adept at stimulating new thought connections in people, which is precisely what I strive for in my own work. His work is slightly more prolific than mine, but it isn’t a contest.
While it was clear that we could have kept talking, he brought the brief conversation to the same conclusion that today’s most prolific marketing authors repeatedly waive in the air like a flag made of a big bloated bum: the phenomenon of Google Adwords. While I will not debate that Adwords has become a prominent and effective advertising medium, I stand firm in the belief that advertising of mass-marketed goods (and small-scale marketed good and services for that matter) works extremely well, as long as it is well-executed on every level. I will say, however, that companies most often do not execute their advertising well. That said, one need only look at Apple’s website to see effective branding and advertising of mass-marketed goods in action.
I enjoyed talking with him, though I wish I would have thanked him for his spankingly wonderful contributions to the world (and my library). My desire to debate cost me the opportunity to tell an admired master that I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation. And to thank him for his thoughts and laughs. Perhaps another time.
1. Being humble helps me keep focused on the important things.
2. Cussing is ok, as long as it’s with good intent. (I already knew this.)
3. Always save time for thank you.