stefan sagmeister: the happy show.


Ask any good parent what their ultimate hope is for their child and the answer is usually the same: they want them to be happy. As adults, it’s the beginning of a new year, everyone is back at work and our resolutions – everything that seemed so possible mere weeks ago – are already being tested. While we strive to improve ourselves, in little and large ways, I think that if we distilled all of our resolutions into one succinct, combined, communal wish it would be “I want to be happier.” Don’t all personal roads we yearn to travel really lead to a place where we simply like ourselves more? And that’s why my visit last weekend to Stefan Sagmeister’s The Happy Show at Design Exchange came at exactly the right time.


Sagmeister’s hand-written style lends itself perfectly to the energy of the entire exhibit. It’s more like a note passed in class than a formal letter. We’re not sitting down to study the official manual of happiness; we’re wandering, loosely, through the thoughts of someone that admittedly isn’t any more sure of the answers than we are. But he’s trying – and that’s what matters. From the hands protruding out of the wall offering Sagmeister’s favourite ginger candies (I took one) to the first 14 minutes of his eventual feature length documentary “The Happy Film” (I watched it twice), all of it gleaming in a beckoning coat of sunshine yellow, there was a feeling of wandering, like Alice, into an over-sized handwritten journal with past lessons come to life in a serene, contemplative Wonderland. 


The show is a balance between information and experience. The walls in the first section are covered in stats and figures revealing truths and examining how we, as a society, define the idea of happy and how we all strive to get there. The other aspect is interactive, offering mini-challenges that, in the case of the “Happiness Instructional Card Dispenser” where a card shot out of the wall telling me to text a joke to a number I’d never heard of, don’t really seem to have any goal greater than the fact that you allowed yourself to follow your curiosity and just do it. The “Gumball Personal Happiness Survey”, while delightfully retro, is more than just an easy attempt at interaction. The world’s psychologists do much of their research in the exact same way: they ask. Sagmeister writes “This seemed laughable to me until I learned that when freshly interviewed people were put into an MRI scanner, the data matched neatly. When their family & friends were also questioned, ditto, it all conformed.” (For the record, I took mine from #8.)


And if we could find happiness, what would it look like exactly? As part of crowd-sourcing visual ideas of hand-drawn happy by collecting them at the exhibit and asking for them to be submitted to The Happy Show’s TumblrI just started drawing and didn’t think about it too much. Apparently happiness for me is being on a boat with a husband (sounds about right). That little nugget next to the sail is either a small child or a large dog – haven’t figured that part out yet. Clearly I’m much better at writing about art than drawing it, but my jellyfish (lower right) is pretty bad ass.


At the risk of sounding delusional, I felt like a bit of a kindred spirit with Sagmeister. Creative types probably have some of the same psychological hurdles and the things that obviously resonated enough for him to become part of the show struck me plainly. His explanation behind “Trying To Look Good Limits My Life”, while ironically also an exercise in really good-looking typography, felt like it could have been written by myself had I had the right moment of lucidity to get it out:



But my favourite moment of the entire show was “Actually Doing the Things I Set Out to Do Increased My Overall Level of Satisfaction.” In the middle of the room sat a white bicycle on a metal riser, with instructions to ride it. My first thought was that it would be too embarrassing to hop onto a bicycle for an unknown reason in a room full of strangers. Then I asked a Docent if I was really allowed to ride the bicycle (so Canadian of me…) Then, brilliantly, across from the bicycle, I saw that Sagmeister had written: “Every single time I think ‘I should do this’ or ‘I should do that’ and then don’t follow through and actually do it, the uncompleted action creates a little nagging but otherwise empty space in my mind. I’ll also miss out on the satisfying feelings that comes with the completion of a project.”

He caught me! After that, there was no way I could live without getting on the damn bicycle. So I rode, and as I did the unlit matrix of neon tubing, in four simple phrases, taught what for me was the most significant insight of the day:


If you don’t feel uncomfortable sometimes, you’re not doing anything worth doing. Lesson learned. It happened so simply and the sensation of realizing it so implicitly was a bit like getting up too quickly and seeing stars. I had one of those moments that you stop after and say to yourself “try to remember this.” It was fulfilling and invigorating and as I walked out of the exhibit onto the street I felt something palpable and tangible and easily defined. I was happy.

The Happy Show runs until March 3, 2013 at Design Exchange.


Shapeflow is an open-membership French art collective that seeks to engage and inspire designers, artists, and illustrators to share and contribute their work to the collective. The work on the site is divided into “issues”, each with a theme that then puts out an open-call on the site for anyone to submit their work for inclusion.

The current theme, “Springtime” (which I find pleasingly optimistic since most of Northern Europe is locked down in a record-breaking cold snap right now) has brought forth some bright, geometric, and inventive work, including some illustration and some interesting web-sourced data visualization.

Via Yay! Everyday!

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isaac tobin.

Isaac Tobin is senior designer at the University of Chicago Press. That’s his title. What he really does is create book covers so succinct, so pleasing, so enticingly balanced and sparsely enigmatic, that you won’t know whether to read it or hang it on your wall.

Personally, I’d go with the latter.

Via The Post Family

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mtv international + universal everything.

Universal Everything is my favourite motion design studio in the world. Yesterday MTV International rolled out a brand new identity – to umbrella across all of it’s 64 channels around the world – created in collaboration with Universal Everything. So basically I just shit my pants…


Lots of people like to chirp that MTV is becoming increasingly irrelevant since it basically stopped playing music videos.  Depite MTV’s undeniable shift to creating reality programming rather than promoting videos, you can’t exactly say that reality TV has been a big pop-bust. It’s culturally less worthwhile, arguably, but MTV has a history of innovative identity and design. If MTV exposes a lot of mainstream, Hills-watching folks to a level of design they wouldn’t normally see, then I consider that relevant. You never know when some kid is going to be zoned out in front of MTV, see a new ident from Universal Everything, and be inspired to learn more about art.


I’m so pumped to see this new work from Universal Everything. It is absolutely stunning. Working similarly to their epic series of sound sculptures “Advanced Beauty” (which is my favourite project of all time, just sayin’…), Universal Everything founder Matt Pyke again collaborated with a series of filmmakers to create each ident. Sound design, also just like “Advanced Beauty”, is by Pyke’s genius brother Simon (a.k.a. Freeform).

This stuff is all epic:

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Via Creative Review

maxim zhestkov: modul.

Ah, I know when I want to physically dive into a work that it’s some good motion design. When I’m rich, I want a room in my house that does this and only this. “Modul” is Maxim Zhestkov’s diploma project, though I couldn’t dig up from where. The Big Ol’ School Of Kicking Design Ass, I suppose. BOSKDA.

If you like this, then maybe you’ll remember Zhestkov’s amazing work with Matt Pyke and Universal Everything for Nokia.

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Via Motionographer

alex mcleod.

Toronto designer/artist Alex McLeod’s 3D digital renderings of various fantasy landscapes are seriously off the charts. They’re so gloriously, glossily fake that for a second they almost seem real. They’re like snapshots of dreams, or brochure photos to some sort of surreal, plastic, rainbow-filled holiday spot. The kind of spot where volcanoes erupt with spring water and clouds are transparent helium balloons. It’s landscape photography meets Saturday morning cartoons.


His site also offers up some completely kick ass wallpapers – like this one, which is up on my computer as we speak. If you’re going to be in Toronto, McLeod has a solo show coming up in June at Switch Contemporary. I wanna see these bad boys in person. And maybe buy one. A guy can dream…










format + moxy creative: nu nouveau.

Summer’s almost here, and if you’re a guy like me that means it’s time to buy a ridiculous amount of tee shirts. Artsy tee shirts are design-geek crack. Not douchebag hipsteronic wannabe tee shirts, I’m talking about the real shit. High design, with illustrations hot enough to be created on cotton or canvas. You know it when you see it, and if you don’t know the difference then you don’t know what I’m talking about. 


Throwing some spice into the hunt is Format’s Nu Nouveau Lookbook for Spring/Summer ’09. Inspired by art nouveau (and with a Lookbook as hot as the goods, designed by Moxy Creative), shirts by heavyweights like MWM Graphics, Blaine Fontana, Brand Nu, Eepmon, Lemar & Dauley, and Mishka are only being produced in runs of 300 per design. So you won’t only have better taste that the other guys, you likely won’t run into anyone with the same tee. Unless you do, in which case some sort of font-identification face off may be required to determine design-saavy dominance…


simon page: cuben.

More science meets design, this time in illustration. I love the prismatic, Isaac Newton-esque vibe of “Cuben”, a poster series inspired by the properties of a cube, by Simon Page.




Via Changethethought

sebastian lange: flickermood 2.0.

Created by German designer Sebastian Lange and My Name Was God (the interactive agency, not the deity),”Flickermood 2.0″ is described by Lange as “The next level of this experimental typographic orgy.” Like a combination of Will Rogers and R. Kelly, I’ve never met an orgy I didn’t like. And this one has typography. Really, what more do you need to know…?

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Via Ventilate


This just goes to show how important visual identity is to any form of media, and how much it can enhance the total experience. I stumbled onto this poster for a Chicago-based band called Chandeliers over at The Post Family. I was like a robot – I didn’t even hesitate for a second and I was clicking to hear more. Just because the poster is so damn hot. I want to dive right in there…


Luckily, the Chandeliers are kick ass (I’m especially into “Mango Tree”…) but their design work is so royally killer that I fell right in love. Part of record/tee-shirt/design/all-around awesome collective Obey Your Brain, Chandeliers’ brand energy is like visual Skittles; it’s filled with raucous colour, laser lights, rainbow fonts, acid trips, and night skies. Even their mySpace quickly phases through the colour wheel.  I dug around and wasn’t able to find any design credits (it could be the band members themselves) so if anyone knows who’s behind all this goodness, please clue me in because whoever it is they deserve some massive shout out.

Check out the design work for their first two albums and some of their concert posters. They’re glowy, sleek, and feel like the future:




sonothequewoyb2 copy


But we’re just getting started. On their Blogspot (these guys have a lot of sites…) I also found links for some of the video art used in their shows, directed by TJ Hellmuth:

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