How to Become a Design Genius: Take Time Off. Lots of It.

Stefan Sagmeister is one of the most talented graphic designers working today, so he knows a little bit about keeping his creativity flowing. His trick? Taking really, really long vacations. In fact, every seven years, he takes an entire year off.

As Sagmeister describes it in his recent TED talk (which just made it to the Web), we spend our first 25 years learning, the next 40 years working, and the last 15 retired. “I thought it might be helpful to cut off five of those retirement years and intersperse them in between those working years,” Sagmeister says. And what’s more: “That’s clearly enjoyable for myself but probably even more important is that the work that comes out of those years flows back into the company and the society at larger rather than benefiting just a grandchild or two.”

You have to admit it’s a pretty great way of looking at things. And incidentally, it’s one that neoclassical economists such as Milton Friedman would endorse–those types are always rattling on “consumption smoothing“–the idea that consumers will spread their income or goods (such as leisure) over time, so that overall consumption is even. Sagmeister channeling Friedman? Who knew?!

Sagmeister notes that the first sabbatical wasn’t terribly useful because it wasn’t structured enough. But when he segmented his day into activities–from “storytelling” to “future thinking”–things started to pop. In fact, Sagmeister argues that all seven years of work after his time off sprung from ideas that were formed during the previous sabbatical. His proof is his own charming portfolio–including one example of a brilliantly flexible logo system he designed. Check the video for more.