Stefan Sagmeister on Tibor Kalman

Here a couple of words about my mentor, not very surprisingly, Tibor Kalman.

When I studied at Pratt, M&Co was my favorite design studio and its owner, Tibor Kalman, my undisputed design hero. I must have called him every week for about 6 months, a process that got me friendly with the receptionist, who week after week pronounced he really is in meetings, and he will really call back. About 30 calls later he did, we met, it turned out I had sketches in my book for something he was doing, and we were in contact ever since. A bit later he offered me a job, under the condition I would stay for at least 2 years, but I was so flaky and commitment shy I could not take it. Three years later he offered me a job again and I took it. It turned out to last for only half a year though since he got bored with M&Co and wanted to move to Rome to devote all of his time to Colors, the magazine he had co-founded for Bennetton.

At many important junctures of my designy life Tibor was there with a wise piece of advice. When I moved to Hong Kong to start a design group for advertising agency Leo Burnett, he said, “Just don't go and spend the money they pay you or you are going to be the whore for the ad agencies for the rest of your life”.

Or when I opened my own studio (after he left for Rome it was the only option for me, it did not make much sense to go and work for my second favorite studio), he said, “The only difficult thing when running a design studio is not to grow. The rest is easy”

Tibor was not just very talented at leading a design studio, he was also the best sales person I have ever seen. Much of his energy went into making sure the work got published as it was designed (I once saw him sell a campaign even after the client had pronounced his hatred for the design).

The reason it was easy to take his advice was because he lived it. He was funny, loud, crass, fearless and big hearted.

Stefan Sagmeister
Sagmeister Inc.
New York, NY