Hailey Coral


‘The Happy Show’ & the pursuit of inspired action

For designers, ideas for new personal projects always seem to exist, and if we’re lucky (and have the time), some of these ideas can become truly great. Yet, too often these concepts are never completely carried out as we get too busy or burned out in our daily or professional lives to act on our own inspirations.

Stefan Sagmeister – one of the most successful, innovative and talented graphic designers of our time – figured out how to make the pursuit of personal creative passions a reality.

Measuring happiness

Recently, I was lucky enough to visit “The Happy Show,” Sagmeister’s North American touring exhibit (and soon-to-be movie) about happiness at the Museum of Vancouver (MOV) in Vancouver, B.C. In the exhibit, Sagmeister explains how and why he takes a year-long sabbatical once every seven years to travel the world and enrich himself with fresh ideas and creative inspirations that he can implement into new design explorations.


While he initially spent these sabbaticals making furniture for his studio, he soon realized that he needed to discover something more if he was going to justify taking a full year off from work. So Sagmeister became set on discovering something much bigger: training the mind to be happy.

Sagmeister began his research by traveling, making art and talking to locals. Throughout this entire experience, he took detailed notes to capture his observations about what made people happy — creating an extended research project that came to fruition with “The Happy Show.”

Visualizing happiness

When I entered the exhibit at MOV, I was immediately drawn to a window covered in sticky notes, where visitors had written what makes them happy. To the right of this window, there was an area displaying objects that represented good things, reminders and memories. The first room also featured 10 giant gumball machines. On a scale of 1-10, participants could take one piece from a machine they felt matched their happiness level, creating an interactive bar chart. Other walls of the room featured a collection of infographics with information and statistics about what makes people happiest in their relationships, jobs and cultures.

Sagmeister’s speeches played on screens throughout the exhibit, along with his incredible “real life” plays with typography that explored powerful words, sentences and phrases in different mediums.

My favorite room, by far, was the largest motion piece room. Three of its four walls were projected with growing and morphing typography pieces and other motion/video projects that Sagmeister created during his explorations.

The fourth (and most impressive) wall was a giant neon sign that was illuminated by participants riding a stationary bike. The sign cycled through four parts, spelling out, “Actually doing the things … I set out to do increases … my overall level of satisfaction … Seek discomfort.”

In the last room of “The Happy Show,” there was a large 3-D type installation that said “STEP UP TO IT,” which appeared to be moving because of the rotating lines projected onto the block-like letters.

This illusion in itself was intriguing, but it wasn’t until I noticed a frame with a camera in front of it that I saw the extent to which this installation went. The camera somehow detected how big your smile was and then changed the rotating projection lights from grey to flashing rainbow colors. I later stumbled upon this video of how it was made:

This room of the exhibit also featured the first 12 minutes of Sagmeister’s documentary “The Happy Film,” along with his inspiring TED talks on Happiness by Design and The Power of Time Off.

Pursuing happiness

Sagmeister’s exhibit was not only an exciting and inspiring interactive experience, but it got me thinking about how to pursue happiness in my own life. To marry your passion (whether that be for art, nature, children, travel, science, etc.) with your everyday life is probably one of the most difficult, but rewarding, perspectives to have. I cannot wait for more people to experience this exhibit, and for the film to inspire others as it did me.

Hailey ThomsonComment