DESIGNER / NEW YORK
Beyond his creative work, Stefan Sagmeister offers thought-provoking insights on watches and contemporary design.
New York-based graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister is no ordinary creative mind. He has designed album covers for Lou Reed and the Rolling Stones among others, won Grammy awards for his original packaging as well as many international design awards. His collaboration with Ressence in 2020 on the TYPE 3X exemplifies his ability to merge design, artistry and profound ideas. We sat down with Sagmeister to delve into his captivating world, exploring his perspective on watches and contemporary design. Discover the mind behind visionary designs in this thought-provoking conversation.
photos courtesy of: S.Sagmeister Inc.
I would like to start this interview by asking how and when you discovered Ressence’s watches, and what your first reaction was when you saw them?
I picked up one of those crazy fat magazines about watches that came out that year in Zurich Airport. I flipped through it in the plane. I think the only watch that I liked in that entire catalogue was the Ressence. I then looked into it and saw how it works, how beautiful and engineered it is. I thought the person behind Ressence must be totally obsessive and I just love that within a design piece. Ultimately, I did buy one. I love the TYPE 3 the most, but I couldn't really afford it, so I bought a TYPE 1, and I'm very happy with it.
What is your relationship with watches?Are you a watch collector? Do you have a specific affinity for certain timepieces?
I'm not a watch collector. I have two wonderful old watches inherited from my father. They, of course, have a very different and very special meaning. I’m interested in watches like I'm interested in any design object that is imbued with a lot of emotions.
"When you create something that is of its time, it's automatically
What do you think of the design landscape of the watch industry?
From a design perspective, I've always looked at the world of watches with some suspicion because it's so incredibly conservative. I think there's very few other fields out there, where the majority of the main players feature so many nostalgic products. There is surprisingly very little out there that is contemporary. As a contemporary designer, I am naturally drawn to Ressence, since it truly is a watch of its time. When you create something that is of its time, it's automatically relevant. If I want to buy a vintage watch, I'd probably buy an authentic watch from 1903, rather than a watch from 2021 that pretends to be from 1903. Just imagine if car design had been as conservative as watch design, we would all drive around in replicas of 1940s and '50s cars. It's unthinkable. I think one should do something that is relevant to one's time. It is certainly one of the criteria by which I would judge good design.
How would you describe Ressence watches to a friend?
Ressence watches move in mysterious ways, especially the TYPE 3 because it is oil filled. With the oil, you can't really figure out how these hands, that are clearly not hands, move. With the absence of refraction, it almost looks like somebody has magically invented a screen with the highest resolution ever possible. It’s a thing of beauty.
As a contemporary designer, how do you approach your work, particularly in terms of embracing fresh and forward-looking perspectives?
To different degrees, we do that every day. If you design a corporate logo, you could reasonably expect that it will be around for 50 years. You're probably designing it in a less up-to-date fashion than if you design a website that you know will only be read today or tomorrow and will be redesigned the day after.
I think any product and graphic designer or architect, of pretty much any period of human history, believes that present time deserves its own visual language. Considering how much innovation is going on right now, I find it silly not to create one’s own visual language that would be part of the conversation.
Since you spoke of ‘good design’, how can the design of a product achieve both optimal functionality and a sense of humanity? When striving for functionality, how do you ensure that the design retains a human touch?
I would say that at the very essence, good design has to either help somebody or delight somebody. If it's really good, it hopefully does both. The helping path is, in many cases, the functionality. Let’s take a chair for example. Of course, a chair being a chair, functionality is part of its very essence. If you push its design too hard and you can't really sit on that chair anymore, it ceases to be a chair and it becomes a sculpture. At the same time, a design piece needs a delightful quality. Otherwise, it's just engineering, and in most cases, it won’t even function as well as it could. If you design a watch that delights a wearer, chances are that it will be taken care of and will have a longer time span.
"At the very essence, good design has to either help somebody or delight somebody. If it's really good, it hopefully does both."
Is there a sense of versatility that drives you in your work, or do you prefer focusing on a particular domain?
I get bored very quickly, so I can’t design the same thing over and over again throughout my life. In the very
beginning of the studio, we designed a lot of album covers, and that definitely was a lot of fun. The 35th, however, wasn't as much fun as the first one because it did become somewhat repetitive. I had a mentor once, Tibor Kalman, who said that you should only do everything twice. The first time, you don't know what you're doing; the second time, you do; the third would be boring. So, I might want to design one more watch and then call it a day.
You briefly talked about maybe doing another watch and call it a day. Would there be space for a second collaboration between you and Ressence?
If Ressence would like to, I'll definitely jump on it, without a doubt.