Stefan Sagmeister's Bookshelf includes the survivors of years of clear outs

15 August 2018

Stefan Sagmeister of New York City-based studio Sagmeister & Walsh doesn’t need too much introduction. The studio’s work has graced the covers of magazines across the US and around the world, with Stefan and Jessica’s [Walsh] personal projects – like The Happy Show and 40 Days of Dating pulling in as much attention as their work with big clients, proving their commitment to having fun with and creatively exploring graphic design.

In October of this year, Phaidon will be publishing a 280-page book titled Sagmeister & Walsh: Beauty presenting the culmination of the duo’s recent exploration into beauty and its relevance in the modern world. It will explore how “beautiful objects, buildings, and strategies are not only more joyful but also work much better.”

We got in touch with Stefan to find out which books have helped inform this playful approach to design. “The days where I was able to keep all the books I received or bought or read or looked at have long, long been gone,” he tells It’s Nice That. About once a year, the designer clears his bookshelves and everything that has not been looked at for a while is given to a charity in San Francisco. As a result, “The survivors on the shelves are usually pretty strong”.

Check out Stefan’s top five picks below.


Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now

Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now

I have not even finished it yet, and already it makes my top five list. Pinker is able to show using massive amounts of authoritative data sets, that as far as science is concerned, the left gets it about as many times wrong as the right. More importantly, he can prove that when it comes to being alive at any time during the past 10,000 years, living on this earth right now is by far the best: even though this is counterintuitive to anybody who follows the news, we are encountering the least violent times in human history, the fewest percentage of people go hungry and the most have the biggest opportunities.

Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt: Oblique Strategy Cards

While this is a set of cards isn’t technically a book, the concept behind it allowed me to create countless pieces in any creative endeavour. During the concept phase, after I have already started thinking, I pick a card and follow the instructions. The end-results never contain noticeable or obvious remains related to that card: the card kicks my lazy brain out of its pre-ordained groove and forces it to think along a different path.

Brian signed them for me when he became one of our clients.


Happiness Catalogue Mori Museum Image via Barnbrook

Happiness Catalogue Mori Museum

This was the catalogue to the inaugural opening exhibition at the Mori Museum in Tokyo. It’s influenced my thinking about art and design forever.


Andy Warhol: Index

Andy Warhol: Index

I wrote my graduate thesis about pop-up books; paper engineering and a host of other gimmicks used in graphic design and had always dreamt of owning an original copy of the Andy Warhol pop-up book. I found one last year while on sabbatical in Japan. It sums up his various strands of interests in the most joyful way.


Tauba Auerbach: [2,3] Image via MoMA

Tauba Auerbach: [2,3]

I am not sure what the fact that two of my five choices are pop-up books says about me. Tauba is a good artist. Her book is the most beautiful one I own.

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.

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