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Interview with Stefan Sagmeister

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

STEFAN SAGMEISTER: Oh, yes. EDP, the Portuguese electricity utility, was in many ways an ideal client. They have an excellent product; 60 percent of all the energy they produce right now is renewable. To put this into perspective, Obama is trying to achieve 20 percent by 2020. Their CEO, Antonio Mexia, provides clear leadership, and we had access to him for all important decisions. They had a proper budget and timeline. Although they are a global company doing business in Europe, South America, and (to a much lesser extent) the U.S., they are not totally 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 Casa Da Musica identity we had designed for Porto in Portugal, and came to us with an outright commission. For any client, I do think this is the strategy that has the biggest possibilities for a successful outcome.

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

SS: Over numerous meetings we worked hard to create a very, very short list of brand attributes together with the client: flexible, open, innovative.

The identity system we wound up with is clearly flexible; it can transform into all different forms and shapes while still speaking clearly in a single language. It is open and transparent, not just in its formal layering of lucent layers but also conceptually in its open-ended possibilities and conversion into a complete design language. It is innovative in its avoidance of rubber-stamping all of its materials. It reflects EDP’s values of always customizing its solutions.

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

SS: I went to Portugal and talked to many major players within EDP. We worked very hard on this, 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 —and simultaneously capture the energy of the company and its people.

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

SS: Of course, internally we tried out a numerous directions, but we presented just one to the client. I have always thought that showing many directions to the client displays incredible laziness on the part of the design/branding house. Nothing is easier than presenting two or three dozen solutions (which often are half-baked by necessity) and forcing the client to pick and chose.

DM: Did the client undertake any research?

SS: Yes, they had commissioned a study on how their brand, as well as their competition, is seen within Portugal.

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

SS: EDP is Portugal’s main utility, and its digital presence plays an enormous role. They are also an avid sponsor of cultural events, where interactive, projected versions of their identity seem very appropriate.

DM: Did EDP’s environmental stance figure into your design?

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

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

SS: We designed the custom EDP typeface with the help of the typographer Ondrej Jób. Our designer Jessica Walsh, who was in charge of much of the work done on this project, had known and loved his typeface Outliner, a quirky monospace typeface. We liked the regular uppercase version of the font and asked Ondrej to create a complete typeface, custom for EDP, that worked in upper/lower with all the glyph coverage 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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