Interview with Stefan Sagmeister

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DEBBIEMILLMAN: Many years ago, in one of our previous interviews, I asked you whatkind of project you’d like to work on that you hadn’t yet had an opportunity todo. You said it would be the redesign of a global identity. You have nowaccomplished that with EDP. Was it everything you hoped it would be?

STEFAN SAGMEISTER: Oh, yes. EDP, thePortuguese electricity utility, was in many ways an ideal client. They have anexcellent product; 60 percent of all the energy they produce right now isrenewable. To put this into perspective, Obama is trying to achieve 20 percentby 2020. Their CEO, Antonio Mexia, provides clear leadership, and we had access to him for all important decisions. They had a properbudget and timeline. Although they are a global company doing business inEurope, South America, and (to a much lesser extent) the U.S., they are nottotally visible around the world.

DM:Did you have to pitch the business or did they call you with the commission?

SS: They were very aware of the CasaDa Musica identity we had designed for Porto in Portugal, and came to us withan outright commission. For any client, I do think this is the strategy thathas the biggest possibilities for a successful outcome.

DM: Did you approach this work any differently from any of your other clientwork?

SS: Over numerous meetings we workedhard to create a very, very short list of brand attributes together with theclient: flexible, open, innovative.

The identity system we wound up withis clearly flexible; it can transform into all different forms and shapes whilestill speaking clearly in a single language. It is open and transparent, notjust in its formal layering of lucent layers but also conceptually in itsopen-ended possibilities and conversion into a complete design language. It isinnovative in its avoidance of rubber-stamping all of its materials. Itreflects EDP’s values of always customizing its solutions.

DM: Can you tell us about the creative processworking with EDP?

SS: I went toPortugal and talked to many major players within EDP. We worked very hard onthis, with every phase of the project taking up lots of our attention, passion,and energy. The goal was to visualize energy—the main product of EDP —andsimultaneously capture the energy of the company and its people.

DM:Did you show your client more than one solution?

SS: Of course, internally we triedout a numerous directions, but we presented just one to the client. I havealways thought that showing many directions to the client displays incrediblelaziness on the part of the design/branding house. Nothing is easier thanpresenting two or three dozen solutions (which often are half-baked bynecessity) and forcing the client to pick and chose.

DM: Did the client undertake any research?

SS: Yes, they had commissioned astudy on how their brand, as well as their competition, is seen withinPortugal.

DM:There are many digital, interactive, and motion-graphics applications for theidentity. Why?

SS: EDP is Portugal’s main utility, andits digital presence plays an enormous role. They are also an avid sponsor ofcultural events, where interactive, projected versions of their identity seemvery appropriate.

DM: Did EDP’s environmental stance figure intoyour design?

SS: Yes! As they are the world leader(number one on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index) when it comes to producingrenewable energy, we did not have to go down the usual energy-rebranding routeof depicting a green sun or a leafy tree. When you actually are green, youdon’t have to flaunt it.

DM:You created a custom type family for EDP named Preon. How did you go aboutdesigning it?

SS: We designed the custom EDPtypeface with the help of the typographer Ondrej Jób. Our designer JessicaWalsh, who was in charge of much of the work done on this project, had knownand loved his typeface Outliner, a quirky monospace typeface. We liked theregular uppercase version of the font and asked Ondrej to create a completetypeface, custom for EDP, that worked in upper/lower with all the glyphcoverage that could work well in all sizes.

DM: What is next for Sagmeister Inc.?

SS: There are a number of cultural projects going on, and we are working on our little documentary film on happiness as well as designing an exhibition for the ICA in Philadelphia. After rebranding a Middle Eastern department store, we are also creating their campaigns.

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