Spring 2008

Learning in public

Things I have learned in my life so far

By Stefan Sagmeister
Abrams, $40, £19.99

Why should the musings of a celebrity designer on existence, truth and freedom merit any more attention than those of anyone else? Aren’t they bound to be a vehicle for self-referential visual titillation? An attempt to give self-initiated graphic design ‘meaning’? Yet the fifteen booklets in Stefan Sagmeister’s Things I have learned in my life so far, are a series of thoughtful and humble texts, enlivened by anecdotes and small personal observations. Some booklets explore one aphorism, in text and images – big pieces of commissioned public work that act as calls to action. Others explore several. Much of this is not earth-shattering – we learn at our mother’s knee that ‘money does not make us happy’ or that ‘helping other people helps us’.

Their value is in demonstrating that experience substantiates these ideas, and that in the pursuit of happiness we often fall prey to counterproductive desires or fears – as explained in an essay by psychologist Daniel Nettle. Once the universality of the sentiments is accepted, it seems no bad thing to be reminded that ‘worrying solves nothing’ or that ‘thinking life will be better in the future is stupid’ and to ‘live now’.