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AUGUST 17, 2010

About that list...

Quote from Steven Sagmeister: Assuming Is StiflingDesigner/author Steven Heller has some simple advice for anyone planning on basing their next presentation on list of things they've learned:

  • Please
  • Stop
  • (Really)

This approach to writing/presenting a speech has become very popular in design circles. If it hasn't hit your particular field yet, wait. You'll be seeing it soon.

Heller traces the popularity of the list approach to a series of lectures (and eventually a book, video and installation) by designer Stefan Sagmeister called Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far. The illustration above shows one of those things: Assuming Is Stifling.

Heller thoughtfully avoids pointing out one huge problem with borrowing an idea that works well for Sagmeister: most of us are not nearly as interesting, thoughtful and innovative. Sagmeister is the "bad boy" of design. He famously carved the lettering for a poster onto his body, then used a photograph for the poster. The poster is now in the Museum of Modern Art.

This is the most notorious example, but there are many equally unique but less bloody. To get an idea of how Sagmeister thinks, watch this video by HIllman Curtis (highly recommended).

So, let's be clear: any list by Sagmeister is going to make a whole lot more interesting speech than whatever you or I scribble in our notebooks. In his article on the AIGA website, Heller makes a kinder, gentler argument: it's been done before:

But the bottom line is this: When Sagmeister did presented his list, it was a fresh old idea. Even shortly after, when Bruce Mau issued his “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth” (a list by any other name), the notion was fairly new. But now it is a conceit, a means of framing a talk, and enabling people to take notes. Almost everyone I know keeps lists, which is good, but hearing them at conferences has become tedious.

To put it in terms equally overused: been there, done that. Don't go there.


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