Designer, beauty advocate and Phaidon author, Stefan Sagmeister

A lack of beauty makes people stupid says Stefan Sagmeister

The designer makes the case for holding aesthetic enjoyment in higher esteem on Spencer Bailey’s podcast

What happens if we forget about beauty? Quite a lot of bad stuff, according to the Austria-born, New York-based graphic designer and Phaidon author Stefan Sagmeister.  

“People become awful, ugly, stupid, and aggressive if we are in environments that are not beautiful,” Sagmeister tells Phaidon’s editor-at-large, Spencer Bailey in a new episode of Bailey’s podcast, Time Sensitive. “If you’re in an environment that is lacking beauty, you are becoming an asshole.” 

So why do so few contemporary thinkers and commentators place emphasis on beauty? “In philosophy, all the way until the nineteenth century, this was a serious subject,” Sagmeister marvels; “in the twentieth century, not so much.”

Some of the blame for this lack of beauty lies with his fellow designers, says Sagmeister. “In design but also in architecture, and for sure in product design, there is a widely spread idea among practitioners that beauty is either commercial, or surface-related, or old-fashioned, or not something that a thinking person should really spend a lot of time worrying about,” he tells Bailey.  

However, Sagmeister, working with his business partner and fellow designer Jessica Walsh, is working towards changing this, with his travelling exhibition and accompanying Phaidon book. 


Stefan Sagmeister
Stefan Sagmeister

The show has been on the road for some time; it opened in Vienna towards the end of last year; but Sagmeister, like all good, attentive designers, is still tweaking his work to suit the time - and the place. 

“Right now, I’m working with changing the exhibition for Frankfurt. In Frankfurt,” he explains. “It’s a Richard Meier building, so it’s a completely different situation than the 19th-century fake Renaissance building in Vienna. And there are projects coming out of the “Beauty” project, like work for a public-housing project in Vienna that’s, in the best sense of the word, a “beautification” project. We can see how the theories we promote in the show work in real life. I’m very interested in all of that.”


Sagmeister & Walsh: Beauty
Sagmeister & Walsh: Beauty

The accompanying book too, enabled Sagmeister and Walsh to set out their ideas in greater depth. “In the book, you can be a little bit wider and a little bit deeper than you can in a talk or in an exhibition,” he says.  

To survey those beautiful depths, buy a copy of Sagmeister & Walsh: Beauty here and take a listen to Spencer's podcast Time Sensitive here.