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Sometimes One Stellar Session Can Rescue a Conference Experience

While my enthusiasm for the eLearning confernce I am at may be low, largely due to my own self applied over commitment and trying to work on 8 other things while on the road… it is amazingly re-assuring that one great session can make up for all the rest. Such was the case with this morning’s keynote by Stefan Sagmeister on Things I have Learned in My Life So Far.

Sagmesiter is a designer and as introduced to the audience, was brought here to speak outside the circle of technology and tools to “how it looks on the page” (not my words, nor his I bet).

He did an overview of the 4 kinds of work his firm does:

  • design for music
  • socially responsible design
  • corporate design
  • things i have learned in my life

noting that he really does not “like number 3, but the money is good”.

His work in design for music has “sagged” along with the industry, or as he described, “It is hard to do gutsy week for an industry ruled by fear.”

I like this guy.

The design for msuic example was the iconography and logos for Casa da Musica – the geometric shape is based in the shape of their building in Portugal. After dismissing the common approach of using buildings as icons,. he showed how the shape was reduced to its geometry, how color is applied to different sides of the shape, and showed custom software that they use to scan in any art work, and generate the colors based on the ones in the photos. The shape is used extensively on the site, print materials etc.

Under socially responsible design, he described the work of True Majority an organization that is suggesting we take 15% of the US military budget and apply it to education (which was I believe, about $90 billion). This is a group of business leaders and CEOs, “not a bunch of dreamy hippies”.

The design work here was a number of visuals, real world objects, videos, that use graphics to demonstrate the massive portion of spending on military compared to social programs — including a series of piggy bank vehicles driven parade ike that are proportional to these budgets– see more at

The corporate example wen tby quickly- it was a design for a corporate report for a light manufacturer where the request was to do something that helps visualize the power of light. The concept was a series of mold printings of a vase/flower shape that was raised shape- and then it was photographed under a wide range of lighting. Cannot find the pictures for this one….

The bulk of the rest was most amazing, his work on “things i have learned in my life”– he says every seven years he stops all his commercial work and focuses on experimental ones. This is based on his long collection of sayings collected in his diaries, such as:

* Helping other people helps me
* Having guts always works out for me
* Thinking that life will be better in the future is stupid. I have to live now
* Being not truthful always works against me
* Everything I do always comes back to me
* Assuming is stifling
* Drugs feel great in the beginning and become a drag later on
* Money does not make me happy
* Travelling alone is helpful for a new perspective on life
* Keeping a diary supports personal development
* Trying to look good limits my life
* Material luxuries are best enjoyed in small doses
* Worrying solves nothing
* Complaining is silly. Either act or forget
* Actually doing the things I set out to do increases my satisfaction
* Everybody thinks they are right
* Low expectations are a good strategy

These are then all visualized, presented in mass media ways that express the words in a wide variety of media- from billboards to fadeed newspaper to… bananas. It has become a book as well as a web site where users can contribute their own versions.

For examples, see:

He described a series that was done for a series of billboatds in Europe where they took 4×5 cameras to the Arizona desert to catch scenes that the words are cleverly imposed on, and noted, “it turns out this was much more fun than Action Scripting”.

This session is hard to capture in words since it is so visual, but Stefan is obviously brillient in visualizing and expressing powerful ideas. Check out the book

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. Thanks for this. You do not know how timely it is. The things he’s learned really resonate with me, and today I made a choice after remembering the first three for myself, a choice for growth through helping others that I almost passed up because I worried “I was not ready.”

  2. Thanks for this review Alan. I was hanging out for after reading your ‘tweet’ last week that you were attending the conference. I have a fascination with nice design and I felt that Stefan’s presentation would indeed be the pick of the bunch. Wish I had been there,

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