Some Uncomfortable Thoughts About Sagmeister & Walsh’s New Identity

 


Trending: Jessica Walsh, Partner, Sagmeister & Walsh
Jessica Walsh is a designer & art director working in New York City. She is a partner at the New York based design studio Sagmeister & Walsh. She teaches at the School of Visual Arts & speaks internationally walsh2about her work.

Her work has won numerous design awards from the Type Director’s Club, Art Director’s Club, SPD, Print, and Graphis. She has received various celebrated distinctions such as Computer Art’s “Top Rising Star in Design,” an Art Director’s Club “Young Gun,” and Print’s “New Visual Artist.”

Stefan Sagmeister has a thing for self-exposure. When he launched his firm 20 years ago, clients received a postcard of the designer wearing dress socks and nothing else. (A black bar kept him from running afoul of the Comstock Act.) Last May, when he changed the name of his studio from Sagmeister Inc. to Sagmeister & Walsh, he and his new partner, Jessica Walsh, visually quoted the postcard by posing completely naked for the e-mail announcement.

When the photos hit inboxes, attention mostly centered on Walsh, who was then 25, half Sagmeister’s age. (She is also an alumna of this magazine’s art department and a recipient, two years ago, of our annual New Visual Artist awards.) There were some plaudits and a bit of paternalistic hand-wringing, but the default reaction was a prolonged leer. Internet commenters wondered if the partners were sleeping together, or simply assumed that they were.

Last Thursday, Sagmeister & Walsh unveiled a new website and identity system. The partners again disrobed, this time joined by the rest of their staff, interns included. At one point, the site was getting more than 700 new visitors per second. It is the identity, though—stationery, pencils, business cards, CDs, condoms—that has drawn the most reaction.

The CDs use the visual language of pictograms to tell a crude story of debasement: A woman performs oral sex on a man and, still kneeling, vomits into a toilet. It’s Neurath with terrible gender politics.

The pencils purport to show the average lengths of African-American, Caucasian, and Asian penises, in descending order. Printed on the reverse, alongside “Sagmeister & Walsh,” are the words “Source: British Medical Journal,” giving a well-worn stereotype the cover of scientific credibility. (Also: “Asian”? Do all men east of the Bosphorus and south of Siberia have basically the same dicks?)

It’s hard to see the pencils as anything other than racism repackaged as edginess. (Or edginess rebranded as racism.) But the pictograms are open to a more generous interpretration. Could Walsh be forcing the anonymous letches to confront the ugliness of their innuendos? Is she asserting her right to take risks with her body and control of her career, however she sees fit? As Christopher King, the art director of Melville House, wrote on the Brooklyn-based publisher’s blog, “Amid the wave of predictable publicity, we’re left to wonder: is it an elaborate act of irony? Or is it just an empty provocation?”

If the identity is more than a publicity stunt, the partners aren’t letting on. “It is not very deep,” Sagmeister told me via e-mail. “It’s our own thing, so we do what we want.” Walsh allowed that the reaction to last spring’s announcement was on their minds when they developed the new identity, but she didn’t elaborate beyond that. “Not everyone likes it,” she said, “but you can’t please everybody.” As for the pencils, Sagmeister said, “We visualized research by the respected British Medical Journal.”

But the issue, of course, is not scientific research (research that, in any event, appears to be a hoax: no such penis-size chart can be found on the BMJ’s website, though a doctored one has been floating around the Internet for years). It’s the racially charged context in which certain selectively cited “facts” have been placed. Or to put it another way: for the sake of self-promotion, two prominent white designers have created an identity that trades in ugly racial clichés, in a field where very few nonwhite designers occupy positions of power. Surely, Sagmeister and Walsh are too savvy not to realize the problem with that.

Referring to the nude photo from last June, Walsh told me, “As a piece of design, it was very functional. The goal was to announce the partnership, and it clearly worked.” It’s possible the new identity will produce a similar attention-into-clients alchemy. Or perhaps its flirtation with grotesque stereotypes will scare clients away. After all, exposing yourself doesn’t work that well when the audience doesn’t like what’s revealed.

 

(All images copyright Sagmeister & Walsh)

 

Related Articles:

ADD A COMMENT

56 COMMENTS

  1. One thing I’ll give Sag credit for is that his body hasn’t changed much in 20 years. It still looks like one that has never seen the inside of any gym in that length of time. It is astounding that this guy loves to get naked in such a public way so much. Oh yeah, sorry, it’s in the name of art.

    I get that his clients are mostly musicians, art galleries and edgy clothing designers and such, but it has to be funny to sit down to a meeting with someone (a complete stranger) who is going to shape your brand and marketing etc., and know you’ve seen his schlong. And his young female partner’s privates along with all his interns. It’s bizarre to say the least.

  2. If this identity system had been produced 40 years ago, it would have fit squarely within the then-burgeoning “sexual revolution” that saw vibrant and provocative expression in the print media of the day. Ralph Ginzburg—who has been profiled more than once in the pages of Print by Steven Heller and others—would probably have been a big fan of this identify as a new and daring refusal to hew to the long-standing and repressive norms about nudity and sexual activity.

    It ain’t 1973 any more. Western popular culture has been increasingly inundated with such imagery, in every form of media, and today it is not a new thing to depict sexual activity or to show the naked human body. The shock value is simply not what it was, and what’s left is a juvenile and sadly desperate attempt to offend one’s parents.

  3. Time to hang it up Stefan– you can’t be a star for ever. Tasteless and not at all clever or provocative. And shame on you Ms Walsh for allowing him to make you an accomplice to his juvenile sense of humor (!!??!!)

  4. First of all this is politically incorrect. Why “African-American” and “Asian” instead of “African” and “Asian”. Do Africans born in America really have bigger penises than Africans born in Africa? Second this isn’t even true as the research from BMJ doesn’t actually even exist. Yes they made us look, but have lost face, respect, and clients in the process.

    — A former ‘fan’

  5. Yeah, they got us all talking about how unethical it is. We’re gawking. There’s a difference. There has to be a difference. If not, we’re spinning our tires as communicators, as a species. We need to be discerning. We need to step back from every sparkling light, judge that light, see it for what it represents, not just how brightly it shines.

  6. When I commented that this work was created to get attention I did not mean to showcase the studio. They probably turn more work down than they accept. Sagmeister likes to shock and has always done this throughout his career. Whether this is design or art doesn’t really matter. I still believe their work stands out – so many large agencies these days produce design by committee and I think it shows. Anyway – they got all of us talking so the plan worked!

  7. Pingback: Keir Whitaker | Weekly Miscellany #004

  8. Visual literacy is concerned with the anatomy of messages and their effect. The initial thoughts when encountering the visual message above comprised of an icon of a nude woman seated on her knees in front of an icon of a nude man performing a symbolic sexual act are important to interpreting their meaning. In his argument, Hardisty mentions the icons are drawn in a similar way to “1960s institutional graphics” and he’s right. These icons are familiar to us, in fact we know these icons quite well. They grace the doors of bathrooms designating the spaces reserved for males and females. They instruct us, guide us, warn us, and they divide us. These icons can be said to be a part of a universal set of codes. Thus, the icon of the nude woman on her knees can be interpreted as representing many women, not just Sagmeister’s partner, Miss Walsh. Since we are not provided with any other information in the image besides a name and address, we have an abundance of space for hypothesizing. And that is precisely where the message meets noise and where it becomes problematic. How do other people encounter this image? How would they interpret the image having no knowledge of the other pieces of the identity nor additional signifiers of S&W’s practice/history/culture/context?

    As visual communicators it is our task to find solutions that are not just bold and concise, but also clear. For me, clarity should be concerned with freeing the work of any alienating, unethical, or ego-oriented details; anything that could distract from the intended message and generate unwanted noise. If the intention, as Mr. Hardisty asserts, is to comment “on [our] not-atypical assumptions” then why aren’t we given any other information to let us know that the message isn’t asserting that men (who make up the vast majority of the power positions in Advertising agencies and Design studios) are the dominant sex? There is simply too much slack for the viewer to run around with and still enough leftover for some like Mr. Hardisty to find justification for their own ignorance or worse. But it’s so easy, argues Hardisty. It’s right before us. All we have to do is separate the context (if such a thing can be done) in which we can have our laugh from the other one in which this makes S&W come off like scumbags. These supporters ask us to look beyond how we interpret decades of modernist iconography, look beyond the culture of male sexual privilege (aka I’m the one entitled to use sex), and discover a nonexistent zen-like vacuum of neutrality. The laws of symbols decree that there is no neutrality. It’s a war zone.

    “The Young-Girl inhabits the Spectacle just like a woman in the primitive world, as an object of Advertising. But the Young-Girl is also the subject of Advertising, exchanging itself. This schism in the Young-Girl is her fundamental alienation. To which is added the following drama: Whereas exogamy effectively maintained permanent ties between tribes, the Young-Girl’s mana slips through her fingers, her Advertising fails, and it is she herself who suffers the consequences.” (Tiqqun, Theory of the Young-Girl, 76)

    It comes as no surprise that intent is absent in the other CD design as well, this time featuring the figure of a woman hung over a toilet presumably vomiting. Is this figure Miss Walsh? Is it Sagmeister? We cannot know and shouldn’t infer. What we can infer is that this is again the recognizable icon of woman. We are left to burn like these discs and in doing so we encounter many data errors. One of these errors is that the kneeling woman is a pose that indicates submission. But does she bend to consumer metaphysics or to bad seafood? Taken together with the other disc’s image they seem to suggest the norms imposed on women by Spectacle to be young, fit, and attractive; to consume and be consumed. Is it necessary that in all the illustrations the woman is always kneeling to some other power, some ownership of her body? For what purpose? If it is an attempt to subvert these notions then the form is unsuccessful and confusing.

    “The deception of porn is that it claims to represent the obscene, making visible the point at which all representation evaporates. In reality, any family meal, any managerial meeting is more obscene than a facial ejaculation.” (Tiqqun, Theory of the Young-Girl, 72)

    I don’t think it is in a designer’s best interest to ignore the privilege of being a white male in the design practice. After all, the ignorance with which we play our roles as cornerstones of the present system of domination is part of the role. There is no excuse for a male to not be aware of the advantage that they have with respect to the access to tools and resources that enable one to even start a design studio, gain clients, gain notoriety, hire, be hired, fire people, etc. The things that just happen, the obstructions we don’t come in contact with, (to use a typographic term) our counter space; that’s our privilege. When I worked for a fair sized advertising agency I had to argue against offensive ideas on many occasions. On one such occasion, a writer wanted to name the agency’s celebratory roof-top concert series ‘Roofies’. As there were no women present in the meeting (like far too many meetings), I felt compelled to disagree with this writer not only because the name was terrible, but because as hilarious as it was to everyone in the meeting I knew it could make the women we worked alongside uncomfortable. I’ve told this to many of my male friends that work in other studios and Ad agencies and they have jokingly shared similar stories so whatever voice is telling you that this isn’t a concern is absolutely wrong.

    [...] The bravery that shows an awareness of both sides, of the actions and consequences, is one that also happens to work to shift the system of control and hierarchy. Brave work doesn’t enforce, it informs. It doesn’t divide and conquer, it brings together. That is why brave is the last word I would use to describe the sale of this position of power back to people as a joke ‘you just have to sit with for a while.’ There is no confrontation of male arrogance, only a sponsorship of it.

    “Modern racism lives in entrenched de facto inequalities, in coded language about “work ethic” and “states’ rights,” in silent negative spaces like absence and invisibility, and in Newt Gingrich’s hair. And in irony.” (A Complete Guide to ‘Hipster Racism’, Jezebel 4/26/2012)

    Like the irony in printing a scientific “fact” about racial penis sizes on a pencil. As the Jezebel article points out in several places, a joke about the expense of the powerless coming from a position of the powerful more often than not reinforces and validates status quo positions of power. So besides giving into the cult of ethnocentric scientific absolutism (something the Nazis tried), what this pencil also so ‘bravely’ reminds us of is that the male is still the center of measurable value (and humor) in the office. No man, you don’t get it, it’s making fun of dudes that think dudes are the center of measurable whatever you just said. To that I say, go lock yourself in a room and don’t come out until you have read Sean Hall’s A Users Guide to Semiotics. Again the signifiers aren’t allowing for one, sanctifying conclusion to be drawn. With that the lead snaps off, splintering across the desk. You flip over the pencil to the other end where no eraser can be found to remove this specific, alienating concept of sexuality that must humiliate other races for the sake of a hypermasculine punchline. By the end of it, is it all really worth it?

    That’s the big question for me. It is an identity. It is their identity. They chose to represent themselves in this manner. I am choosing to say there is another way. A way out of sketchy ideas and designing punchlines. The first step is to understand the divisiveness that the matrix of mandatory happiness can bring. The next step is to understand that Design can be about so much more than a witty idea, it can be about feelings. As Peter Saville suggests in the Estate book, you can understand so much of what is being communicated from “the typeface, size, position, spacing, and mood.” To that I would also add the choice of materials, the texture, the production. It’s how punks are able to recognize fellow punks. The language of signs show us what things are about. What does a banal pencil with an inaccurate statistic about men’s sexual endowment tell us about the work that Sagmeister & Walsh do?

    So far my criticism has focused on three specific objects of the identity package. I have neglected to offer my appreciation for the condoms printed with S&W’s logo. Surely this tells us that they are concerned with promoting safe-sex even if rape and sexual assault in the workplace are the least reported (24%) when compared to other violent crimes in the workplace )Bureau of Justice Statistics).

    What I have tried to do here is briefly offer some analysis of the visual representations in order to decipher the motives behind them with the goal of helping others avoid these ethical problems in the future. These problems are so often glazed over with syrupy praise by a loud community of fawning admirers and agents of purification. Many will stay entrenched in such a matrix, an easy to swallow pill of an idea that everything must be cheerful, fun, and witty no matter the cost. Saying things like we shouldn’t question other’s success because obviously they’re successful so “they must be doing something right” is simply hiding in the shadow of economy as ethics. This thinking dangerously ignores the factors that allow for such success in the first place and undermines the progress that has been made so far.

  9. Tim Blake: I think The Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Adobe, and AIGA, to name a few off the top of my head, would take issue with your assertion that SS has never taken a creative brief into account. Traditionally, he hasn’t just met creative briefs — he’s knocked them out of the park. As for his shameless self-promotion (nudies, cutting type into his flesh, etc.), they’re promoting his studio and lectures that he’s giving. You know, they’re…uh…self promotions. So.

    If you’re pitting his body of creative work against what you refer to as ‘market driven design’, I’ll take SS any day. There’s enough organic body-wash packaging and web banners telling me I could be an electrician in six months in my life.

    When it comes to this identity though, I’m perplexed and off-put. If there is an underlying message or cultural criticism, it isn’t translating. S & W is off to a disgusting and unfortunate start.

  10. Overall it looks like a break away from the messy organic Sag to the clean, modern Walsh–but then they were like, oh we need to shock people and get the blogs going. Let’s ad some sexism and racism!
    Reminds me of the mean girls at your high school who think they are funny.

  11. Pingback: Inspiration and Advice from Alt Summit SLC 2013 | Bunny & Dolly

  12. Pingback: Gravity Blog - Sagmeister & Walsh new identity is a bit of a tragedy

  13. I don’t mind sexual innuendo IF it is clever. I don’t see this as clever. It uses iconography that has been around forever. The subject matter is tawdry, sophomoric humor. Which I would find amusing if the design was clever and not so obviously whoring for attention. I am hopeful this is all a stunt and not the true branding and identity for their firm. If it is, I believe they will turn away a lot of potential clients. Businesses want professionalism and class. This just doesn’t read as classy and dignified at all. It reads cheap.

  14. I have never viewed Stefan Sagmeister as a designer. I’ve never understood all of the media attention given to him and his firm. Everything he does — even for clients — is nothing more than shameless self-promotion.

    At best, he is an artist and should be selling his crap in galleries. As far as actually “designing”, I don’t think that he has ever taken the creative brief, nor the intended audience, into account. His work is all about self-expression and nothing more.

    The press goes gaga, because they think he’s so cutting-edge. The idiot clients, who hire this guy, think that they’re hiring some design god — because the press has hyped him as so. Heck, I could be as “cutting-edge” as any designer, if I ignored my clients marketing goals and just did whatever I wanted.

    This guy has never been, and never will be, anything more than an a publicity whore! He does things simply for shock value and the New York press eats it up. This latest identity stunt is proof in point.

    There are plenty of designers out here doing creative, market-driven design. It’s time that the press got off of their lazy butts and left the city and recognized good “design.”

  15. While there are some valid points made here, and I always believe in design analysis based on larger contextual issues, I can’t allow myself to get too intellectually engaged in this discussion… I just can’t get past my initial reaction: TACKY.

  16. I’ve always admired Sagmeister’s work, in fact, much of it has been brilliant. No story there. But it has now reached the point (for me anyway) with this new identity and nude announcement where it’s borderline ridiculous to simply get attention. The nude postcard 20 years ago was edgy and clever. This current one is classless. I’d also like to see Jessica Walsh’s take on posing as the 50 year old women with Sagmeister the 25 year old man, if that was the case. I guarantee that reverse scenario would never happen. Yes, I get it. Ha, ha, we are on here talking about it, and people are racing to S&W’s new and revised site at 7k hits a minute. Yes, that’s genius. That’s the name of the game. But at what expense? Really, iconography of a woman giving a blow job to a man, and then bent over a toilet puking? C’mon, enough with the Damian Hurst nonsense. You are better than this Stefan. Much better.

    I tend to agree with Joseph in this thread (not paraphrasing): “if this was work from two unknown design students looking for attention, we would call it out for the sexist, tasteless garbage that it really is.” Because it’s Sagmeister, there has to be some inner meaning, some new tidbit of enlightenment being bestowed upon us. It seems like the joke is on us. Sagmeister, much like an aging rockstar, is putting out a schlock album and telling us, “Look, it’s still makes the top of the Billboard charts.”

    Also, the interns posing nude in the group photo is kind of like some kind of bizarre cult. They will do anything he says “in the name of art.” I’m starting to think that Sagmeister privately wishes he was a Calvin Klein underwear model on a billboard in Times Square. Or maybe he is becoming what his exhibitionism in the name of art really is: a dick.

  17. If they wanted to start a buzz, they have achieved it, obviously. If they wanted to be interesting,edgy and original, they have failed miserably.

  18. Come on, guys, if you have to take more than 50 words to explain the “genius” of something, it isn’t working. Whoever said the whole thing is just “dick jokes” is absolutely right. These people are the HoneyBooBoo of the design world: unintelligence masquerading as innovation… and a waste of time. Sagmeister himself says it isn’t really that deep…They just do what they want. That’s not design. That’s art.

  19. Totally obscene and utterly offensive. I don’t care who they are, this is just wrong. But obviously they have enough business to not worry about offending the minority of us who still care about morals and dignity.

  20. I would be impressed by any design that contained sexual innuendo if it was simultaneously clever. Using artwork derived from longstanding icon usage. Clever or cheap? It’s good for a laugh. But, so is reality tv. I grow weary of it quickly and move. And, one point to ponder: what kind of business will this attract? I personally think sexualizing your brand is not a good idea. It will turn away a lot more business than they imagine.

  21. I read what he said, but honestly – saying what you mean and meaning what you say takes all the fun out of it.

    I’m not trying to go after you with any sort of malice, I just think that there has to be something else to this. Not something genius or groundbreaking or even good – just something.

    Regarding this aspect, we may have to agree to disagree. However, I think we both do agree that the ID is, at its core, unsuccessful. The fact that we are questioning back and forth and speculating the meaning is not a positive thing.

  22. Who & who, never heard of thuis duo/firm until today. So their claim to fame is limited to NYC and some beyond. While an interesting read, I don’t see the racial side, stereotyping yes racisme nah. Looking at their website they do make good design.

  23. You’re right, Donovan, no other designer has used an ampersand as a logo or has incorporated public transit-style wayfinding imagery into their work. Nobody else at all.

    You say, “Labeling this as a low brow dick joke induced by privilege is the easy way out – like labeling Orwell’s Animal Farm just a nice story about some animals. Having it be a baseless non-conceptual work does not fit in with their portfolio or style. Logic says that there has to be something else at work.”

    Sagmeister says, “It is not very deep. It’s our own thing, so we do what we want.”

    Like I said, too much credit.

  24. Good points, Sissy. I hadn’t looked at it that way, and agree that it is likely one of the driving factors behind the controversial pieces of the identity. If I was in her position (having worked really hard and won numerous accolades for some quite brilliant work) and then had a huge (imo quite deserved) accomplishment sullied just because of my gender, I would want to send out a fuck you as well. In a way, the design community asked for it with all the gossipy nonsense. I’m actually loving that aspect of the identity more and more.

    Joseph – I agree that we shouldn’t give them more credit than they deserve, however I don’t believe you are giving them quite enough credit. You are using the example of “if another designer did it.” But another designer didn’t do it. S&W did it. Furthermore, you argue that if a different designer had done it they would be “skewered.” Is that not what is happening right now? Having numerous articles condemning your work isn’t enough skewering?

    The fact is, no one is letting them off the hook here. Labeling this as a low brow dick joke induced by privilege is the easy way out – like labeling Orwell’s Animal Farm just a nice story about some animals. Having it be a baseless non-conceptual work does not fit in with their portfolio or style. Logic says that there has to be something else at work.

  25. Sissy: If that’s the case, and it IS a big “f**k you,” that’s so crass and defeating. It’s like PETA trying to support animal rights by using sexism in their advertising. It helps nothing. If you did want to send a big “f**k you,” why would you do so by reinforcing sexist and racist tropes?

    I reiterate the fact that everyone is giving this project way, way, way too much credit as being some kind of statement. Had any other non-S&W designer done this, they’d be skewered and everyone knows it. Put aside the hero worship and look at this for what it is: A big effing mistake born from privilege.

  26. Joseph – perhaps I am giving them a bit too much credit. I understand that not everything they make is amazing. However, I also find it hard to believe that in this day and age a design studio would make such a misstep as to reinforce a harmful, baseless stereotype without undermining it in some way shape or form. Add in the interactivity of the pencil, and you see why I gave that *possible* explanation.

    Or they could have just been making a meaningless joke. I just don’t think that’s S&W’s style though.

    One thing is for certain: whether or not there is an underlying concept or joke there, as I said in my first post: it isn’t really landing. I think most would agree on that.

  27. I apologize in advance for such a long response. My initial reaction was frustration and revulsion to the distasteful imagery and the deplorable gender politics it seems to be making light of. I also concur that the most shocking, edgy and exciting thing about the whole proposition is that a woman my age has become partners with Sagmeister—that’s incredible!

    Sagmeister has always been edgy, but also conceptual and thoughtful, so I have a hard time buying that this identity system is purely shallow, cheap provocation.

    After thinking about it, I started to look at the design from a very different perspective: past my initial revulsion to the pictograms on a surface level, to what their real message might be. Consider the events leading up to this unveil, as mentioned in this article, I imagine their intended audience is us, the design community, and not clients. Joseph is right: they’re not trying to get their name “out there.”

    Sagmeister and Walsh are not letting on if this is a publicity stunt or not, but that’s really moot—I can easily believe that they will keep these until they run out regardless. The offensive bits of their identity system are printed CD’s—who really uses CDs anymore?—and limited edition condom wrappers and pencils—not exactly client-facing collateral. The meat of their new ID is a simple typographic system—these raw middle fingers are fringe applications that can, and probably will, quickly fall by the wayside.

    I could be wrong, but a middle finger is exactly what these are, and a big f**k-you to those of us (and I include myself here) who responded to their initial partnership announcement in a sexist and socially biased way: “[her being naked] is just not the same thing,” “what an attention whore” and assuming “they must be sleeping together.”

    It’s not entirely our fault for responding this way, our society is so charged when it comes to female nudity and most of us were socialized here—but you’d hope as artists and designers we could look past the nakedness and understand the message of the nudity rather than leer at it.

    My tone changed when a friend commented that “Sagmeister is the kind of designer that does these kind of things.” And if you were going to be seen as Sagmeister’s equal partner, you’d probably want to prove that you’re not too squeamish to do these kind of things too.

    The validity of these kinds of things begets a totally other conversation.

    Their announcement did an amazing job of showing how despite age, physical size, prettiness and gender, Jessica is Stefan’s equal in talent and guts. I missed this message before because I too got caught up in nakedness and assumptions about how a pretty 25 year old girl doesn’t become partner because she’s an amazing equal but because she’s sleeping with the boss—how sexist and hateful is that? I didn’t really think that they were sleeping together, but the idea crossed my mind.

    This is a f**k-you to all of us who entertained that idea for even a second; they’re saying: Yeah? You guys think that Jessica got here because she sucked off the boss to get ahead? Then we’ll go with that, in fact, it will define our identity.

    If anything, I got their message loud and clear—shame on me for being petty, jealous, and sexist.

  28. Paper Acrobat: Your comment would make more sense if Sagmeister & Walsh was a company in need of “getting their name out there.” They’re not. They’re famous. Clients seek them out.

    Donovan: Your first paragraph gives S&W too much credit.

    Just because it’s Sagmeister, people are acting like they’re doing genius-level thinking and not just making dick jokes? Come on. Pretend it wasn’t S&W and instead you saw that identity package coming from some guy’s student portfolio. What would you say?

    I think it’s a shame that the headline in this story uses the phrase “uncomfortable thoughts.” Those thoughts aren’t “uncomfortable” if you don’t give a crap how famous they are. It’s like people are afraid because they’re famous.

    “It is not very deep. It’s our own thing, so we do what we want.” Now THAT is what privilege sounds like.

  29. “It’s not deep” is the understatement of the week. YAWN. Maybe they should try harder than the average Spencer Gifts t-shirt. We get it, hetero-normative sex (or sexual harassment?) is SO edgy and awesome, but maybe spend more than 2 minutes working on your logo- you might want to impress clients. Just maybe.

  30. “It’s not very deep” is the understatement of the week. YAWN. Sorry, this looks like it took them all of 2 minutes to design. I’m glad these designers think hetero-normative sex (Or sexual harassment?) is awesome and “edgy” and makes their genitals happy. I’m pretty sure I could pick up a t-shirt in Spencer Gifts with similar design and theme, if I so desired. I wonder if the firm employs teenage boys as consultants, but then I realize that sentiment would be an insult to teenage boys. Try harder, folks.

  31. gotta salute the guy- even when he puts out drivel like this, it gets the (design) world all crazed.
    if you or i did this, it would be chuckled at by our friends and ignored by the rest. so i guess what i’m saying is, “boooooriiiinnnnng”.

  32. The identity is doing exactly what they want it to do, which is create controversy. Controversy gets blog posts like this written about it, causing more people to discuss it and try analyse it when there is really nothing to be analysed. Personally I wouldn’t want that representing me, but like they say, it’s theirs so they can do what they want. Because they are so well known they can get away with it. It’s almost got to the point where if S&W made it then it must be good design, right…?

  33. Excellent comment by Donovan. The stationery isn’t groundbreaking I wish the icons were better designed they look like the NYC subway icons that aren’t made right and don’t match anything else.

  34. Regarding the pencils – I think that the idea is to undercut the research being shown, since as you sharpen the pencil, the chart becomes less and less “accurate.” I think it is more of a subverted jab at such an irrelevant statistic rather than a cheap laugh at the expense of the racial groups involved.

    That being said, this is merely speculation, so everyone should judge for themselves. In the end, it might be a clever idea but I don’t really think it works.

    Apart from that, I find the identity rather uneventful if I’m being honest. I do applaud them for not shying away from taboo subjects. However, if we took those elements away from the identity, there probably wouldn’t be as many articles about it.

  35. Kudos to print magazine on calling s&w on this identity. Need a pencil with your logo – call it a penis measuring pencil, provide a scale and call it a day. I cannot imagine the nerve to publish baseless scientific data on a pencil – was it the interns bad day doing research? Also,
    It’s a good idea to put a website relaunch with lots of new work – I think everyone has seen the happy show on behance.

  36. I think it’s all just a bit if fun! At the end of the day graphic design and marketing is all about getting attention – and they always achieve that. Thank god there are still creatives like S&W who have the balls to do something risqué and innovative!

  37. well, first time i saw this i thought it was cheap provocation too, a quick way to get even more visibility.

    but i have to give them props for the risk, they have african balls! (source: british medical journal)

  38. Very fair thoughts. The ‘rockstar’ designer is perhaps also an increasingly difficult disposition to maintain in today’s [collaborative, open, real-time, critical-realist?] environment. And their recent ID work is nothing if not nurturing of a kind of post-modern ‘heroic’ sensibility. But overall the ‘meh’ impression is what sticks in the mind.

    Meh.