Lists for Life

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When I was a kid, I collected everything. Comic books, hockey cards, stamps, rocks, shells, feathers—you name it, I had it in some sort of box under my bed. Having a collection was fun. There was always something to strive for and claim as my new prized possession. It was exciting as a kid because what did you really have besides the things people gave you? It was my first crack at building my identity and exploring my interests.

As I grew older, rocks, shells, and feathers became less important. As an anxious and curious preteen, I became engaged in building my identity by exploring musical genres, expressing myself through my clothing, and finding the perfect curse words to accentuate my angst. My tastes changed in high school. More independence led to more freedom, which led into a time to collect ‘firsts’. First road trip with friends, first case of beer, first kiss, first car, first credit card, first pack of condoms, and the list goes on.  

And now as my list of firsts dwindles down, my collecting habits has once again shifted. It’s become more abstract and less physical or experiential. My tastes are more true to myself and less involved with the collective habits of everyone else. It may sounds strange, but now I collect lists.

It’s not typical, but I like it because it’s manageable. No boxes, no photo albums, no jars filled with sand, or closets filled with jerseys. Just words, numbers, and bullet points.

I live on paper, so it’s no surprise that I’m not an average list-maker—I’m an avid list-maker. My apartment and work desk are covered with lists of things I need to do on a day-to-day basis, things I need to remember, things I want, things I need, lists for this, lists for that, and the list goes on. Keeping short-term lists is my most effective tool for time management and organization.

Long-term lists are a different story. I’m not so good at those. Why? Because long term lists involve staying true to ideas over time, and I’m not that type of person (yet?). I’m too indecisive with my needs and wants right now. Example: I’ve tried many times to establish a personal listed code of conduct for myself. A personal manifesto of values, insights, and rules on how to do things. It’s a very hard thing to define. I’m envious of anybody who has the self-confidence and intrinsic understanding of their being to, as Rousseau puts it, to “know thyself.”

Having a set of guiding principles is a romantic idea. I’ve always had a soft spot for moral codes, but like I’ve said, it’s never worked for me. It’s an incredibly difficult goal to follow. I’m not sure how many people feel this way, but for me, there’s way too much change in my life to keep my thoughts streamlined over long periods of time. Long story short: I can’t be trusted to stay dedicated without changing who I am. Sports broadcaster, Tim Micallef, once said, “show me a man with the same views on life at twenty as he does at fifty, and I’ll show you a man who’s wasted thirty years of his life.” That I believe. Unwaveringly.

What type of motivations inspire somebody to make a list outlining the “right way” to do something? It’s a fascinating way to model personal opinions. Whether it’s a list for personal use or for other people to follow, there’s a bit of ego attached to it. Maybe that’s why I have such a strong urge to establish my own set of principles?

I think everybody has a moment when they want to draw their line in the sand and say, “this is me—this is what I stand for.” I love the bold spontaneity of these types of moments. It gleams of medieval nobility and altruism. It often lives in the gray area between opinion and fact. I’ve come to call these “Lists for Life”.

I began making and collecting lists in college when I was a young and impressionable student who looked everywhere for inspiration and influence. New ideas excited me—especially ideas that were wrapped in morality and deeply mined personal insight. I was seduced by lists written by philosopher giants and wordsmiths like Descarte, Bacon, and Marcus Aurelius. Inspired by their pursuits of “how to live”, I became an avid list-maker and collector.

Most of the lists I’ve collected are harvested from my “design bubble”—a series of book, feeds, and conversations that have been the fertile soil that has grown my design career. But every so often I stray and stumble upon something unique and new to my palette. Example: I like industry-specific lists because they speak to a very particular audience, AKA: not me. They’re exciting to me because they share universal notions that I do understand, but there’s also niche elements I have no experience with. Together, they create a tension—a juxtaposition of feeling that I get, which makes me concentrate and focus more deeply than I would when I’m within my insulated design bubble.

My collection is quite varied, but all lists share qualities that aim to make thing better by creating order, comfort, systems, and predictable behaviours. I don’t agree with everything of these lists; however, I’ve highlighted (in yellow) the parts that resonate and make me think a little bit deeper about myself.


My Design Bubble

One of the things I love about design is how all successful projects are a marriage between form and function, but the processes to reach that point are always different. Each designer or design team has their own creative process that drives their decision making. I like looking behind the scenes at their process work. It makes me feel like a surgeon who’s looking into an open chest cavity to see how all the internal organs are making the processes of the body work. In many ways process is more interesting to me than the final product (and I would challenge more important) because I can see the life stages of the idea grow from infancy to maturity. This is why I’m always eager to look into guidelines or rules that designers or firms have established to govern their process. Can you systemize creativity? Can the creative process become a replicated equation? Is there a way to catch lightning in a bottle?

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I tend to gravitate towards short and simplified lists for their brevity and economy of words. Some lists are quite long and archival like George Lois’ Damn Good Advice or Bruce Mau’s An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth, but I don’t plan on diving into those behemoths.

I’m sure every designer who was educated in the 2000’s held Stefan Sagmeister in very high regard for his adventurous subject matter, messaging and execution. Like myself, he’s an avid journaler and list-maker; insomuch that he compiled his own life list of personal discoveries that have become inspirational pillars that govern his work life. Things that I’ve learned in my life so far has been made into a book, numerous client-work installations and Sagmeister has spoken about it extensively on his speaking tour, as well as his popular TED Talk videos. His dedication to his own self-discovery is inspiring to me not only because he turned it into a very cool series of projects, but also because he challenged himself to be incredibly introspective and honest.

Stefan Sagmeister – Things that I’ve learned in my life so far

  1. Complaining is silly. Either act or forget.
  2. Thinking life will be better is the future is stupid, I have to live now.
  3. Being not truthful works against me.
  4. Helping other people helps me.
  5. Organizing a charity group is surprisingly easy.
  6. Everything I do always comes back to me.
  7. Drugs feel great in the beginning and become a drag later on.
  8. Over time I get used to everything and start taking it for granted.
  9. Money does not make me happy.
  10. Traveling alone is helpful for a new perspective on life.
  11. Assuming is stifling.
  12. Keeping a diary supports my personal development.
  13. Trying to look good limits my life.
  14. Worrying solves nothing.
  15. Material luxuries are best enjoyed in small doses.
  16. Having guts always works out for me.

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Dieter Rams is a German industrial designer. Not too many people outside of the design community know who he is or how monumental his contributions to society have been. Rams comes from the “less is more” school of design, or “functionalism” style as some call it. In the 1960’s he worked with Braun to design beautiful and timeless consumer products that still hold up today in both functionality and aesthetic appeal. If there was something opposite of planned obsolescence, then his body of work is its antithesis. Companies like Vitsœ have continued Rams’ legacy of functional design to this day. I’ve always appreciated Rams’ Ten Principles of Good Design because they embody the simplicity and problem solving that I look for in my own creative process.

  1. Good design is innovative. The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
  2. Good design makes a product useful. A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
  3. Good design is aesthetic. The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
  4. Good design makes a product understandable. It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.
  5. Good design is unobtrusive. Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
  6. Good design is honest. It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
  7. Good design is long-lasting. It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.
  8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail. Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
  9. Good design is environmentally friendly. Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
  10. Good design is as little design as possible. Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

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Snask is a creative studio out of Stockholm, Sweden. I became aware of them because of their beautiful work with branding and video. I like to use them as an example of how an agency/studio can successfully brand themselves. They have created a very clear and direct vision about who they are and who they want to work with. It’s brilliant how their “we’ve drawn our line in the sand” tone has defined their brand. Their website has a section called the Snask Manifesto, which features 10 commandments. Their list is short, direct and perfectly unapologetic.

  1. If you don’t like your job—quit.
  2. If you love someone—let it show.
  3. Generosity always pays itself back.
  4. Always achieve greatness yourself before pointing out the faults and mistakes of others.
  5. Bureaucracy is spelled Bureaucrazy.
  6. Talk with clients like you talk to your family, friends and pets.
  7. Social skills are as important as being good at type or knowing how to spell.
  8. See people as people, not as target groups.
  9. Just because you wear a black suit, doesn’t mean you’re a goddamn professional.
  10. Having enemies is a good thing. It proves that you stood up for something sometime in your life.


Adventures Outside the Bubble

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Carlos Gracie was the head of the Gracie family and one the godfathers of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Him and his brothers were directly responsible for evolving the jiu-jitsu fighting style and revolutionizing modern day mixed martial arts. I have no experience with combat sports, but I find a lot of truth in the insights found within a life of combat. The combination of force and aggression, balanced with patience and control is the epitome of a yin and yang relationship.  

  1. Be so strong that nothing can disturb the peace of your mind.
  2. Talk to all people about happiness, health, and prosperity.
  3. Give to all your friends the feeling of being valued.
  4. Look at things by the enlightened point of view and update your optimism on reality.
  5. Think only about the best, work only for the best, and always expect the best.
  6. Be as just and enthusiastic about others victories as you are with yours.
  7. Forget about the past mistakes and focus your energy on the victories of tomorrow.
  8. Always make those around you happy and keep a smile to all people who talk to you.
  9. Apply the largest amount of your time on self-improvement and no time in criticizing others.
  10. Be big enough so you can feel unsatisfied, be noble enough so you can feel anger, be strong enough so you can feel fear, and be happy enough so you can feel frustrations.
  11. Hold a good opinion about yourself and communicate that to the world, but not through dissonant words but through good works.
  12. Believe strongly that the world is on your side, as long as you stay loyal to the best of yourself.

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Rene Redzepi is the head chef of world-renowned restaurant, Noma, in Copenhagen, Denmark. I first discovered Redzepi and Noma on an episode of Bourdain’s CNN program, Parts Unknown. I was amazed at how Redzepi was using foraged ingredients from his local ecosystem in his dishes. I thought it was so creative, and have always looked at his work ethic and vision as a source of inspiration.

  1. Find your inspiration—driving force—work to make it grow.
  2. Keep surprising people.
  3. Listen to your intuition.
  4. Every step of the process offers inspiration.

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Bill Hicks was a legendary comedian who worked out of Houston, Texas. He is highly respected in the comedy world for his fearless and unique insights into politically charged issues like drugs, racism, and war. His principles of comedy reads like a roadmap for young comedians—guiding them through uncertain terrain and providing essential survival skills needed to be a professional comedian.

  1. If you can be yourself on stage, then nobody else can be you and you have the law of supply and demand covered.
  2. The act is something you fall back on if you can’t think of anything else to say.
  3. Only do what you think is funny, never just what you think they will like, even though it’s not that funny to you.
  4. Never ask them is this funny—you tell them this is funny.
  5. You are not married to any of this shit—if something happens, taking you off on a tangent, NEVER go back and finish a bit, just move on.
  6. NEVER ask the audience “How You Doing?” People who do that can’t think of an opening line. They came to see you to tell them how they’re doing, asking that stupid question up front just digs a hole. This is The Most Common Mistake made by performers. I want to leave as soon as they say that.
  7. Write what entertains you. If you can’t be funny, then be interesting. You haven’t lost the crowd. Have something to say and then do it in a funny way.
  8. I close my eyes and walk out there and that’s where I start, Honest.
  9. Listen to what you are saying, ask yourself, “Why am I saying it and is it necessary?” (This will filter all your material and cut the unnecessary words, economy of words)
  10. Play to the top of the intelligence of the room. There aren’t any bad crowds, just wrong choices.
  11. Remember this is the hardest thing there is to do. If you can do this, then you can do anything.
  12. I love my cracker roots. Get to know your family, be friends with them.


My Guilty Pleasure

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I have one guilty pleasure list. I call it that because I have no idea who wrote it. I’ve scoured the internet looking for the original author, but haven’t found anything definitive. 7 Cardinal Rules for Life has a bit of a FitSpo feel. But I like it. It’s brief, concise, and absurdly simple. The anonymity of the author and its commonsensical tone makes this list very zen to me.

7 Cardinal Rules for Life

  1. Make peace with your past, so it won’t disturb your present.
  2. What other people think of you, is none of your business.
  3. Time heals almost everything. Give it time.
  4. No one is in charge of your happiness. Except you.
  5. Don’t compare your life to others, and don’t judge them, you have no idea what their journey is.
  6. Stop thinking too much. It’s alright not to know the answers. They will come to you when you least expect it.
  7. Smile. You don’t own all the problems of the world.

I’m still searching for my own manifesto. Part of me thinks that having a list of personal truths is a worthwhile goal to accomplish. But another part of me thinks that it’s a complete waste of time. What I do know is that I still appreciate a good list. Collecting lists and not pursuing my own keeps me right in the middle of indecision. I’m going to leave the possibility of penning my own personal manifesto open, but not actively compile my thoughts. Is that laziness? Or is it patience? I’m not sure. Either way, I’m having a much better time collecting lists than stamps or hockey cards.

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