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Design legend Stefan Sagmeister steps away from commercial work for good

His partner Jessica Walsh will take over Sagmeister & Walsh’s commercial projects, and its employees will shift over to her new agency, called &Walsh.

Design legend Stefan Sagmeister steps away from commercial work for good
Stefan Sagmeister [Photo: Phillip Chin/WireImage]

Ten years ago, esteemed graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister opined in a TED Talk about how every seven years, he takes a yearlong sabbatical from his work to focus more on personal projects. Today, he’s announcing that he is stepping away from commercial work—for good.

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“I do believe it is important that people who truly care about design are creating commercial work, as commercial design influences the look and feel of our world more than most other design categories,” Sagmeister tells Fast Company via email. “At the same time I feel I have done my fair share of it.”

Jessica Walsh [Image: courtesy &Walsh]

His design agency, Sagmeister & Walsh, will split in two. Sagmeister plans to continue working on exhibitions—such as an art project that explores the history of beauty—with his partner of seven years, Jessica Walsh. But going forward, Walsh will oversee all the studio’s commercial work and current employees under a new agency name, &Walsh.

[Image: courtesy &Walsh]

Sagmeister, who became famous for his typographic wit—as well as his willingness to turn himself into a design project, penchant for nude publicity photos, and, more recently, taste for bad jokes—says he will continue to work, but only on self-generated design projects. In the past, he and Walsh have worked with clients ranging from Meetup to the Jewish Museum in New York to the New York Times.

The split got under way after Walsh told Sagmeister she wanted to leave Sagmeister & Walsh to start her own agency. As the head of her own business—one of few women founders in the design industry—she plans to take on new types of work. “In many ways, we’re the same agency—same employees, same location, many of the same clients,” she says. “However, with this new chapter we have new goals and a new vision for our future.” That includes building the agency beyond graphic design and art direction to include more brand strategy. Walsh says that her goal is to help brands “find their weird,” which she defines as an attribute that will actually help them stand out among a sea of brands that have started to all feel the same.

Walsh also currently runs a nonprofit called Ladies, Wine, & Design, which aims to help women and nonbinary people within the design field find mentorship—something she aims to inject into &Walsh. For Sagmeister, the move made sense because Walsh was already running the studio’s commercial side. “We will place all of our commercial work on Jessica’s capable shoulders,” he says. “She has been leading these projects for some time, and it makes sense to make it more official. . . . We’ve had a lovely run so far.⁠”

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and sign up for her newsletter here: https://tinyletter.com/schwabability

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