05:
List That Dominate Visual Culture

Lists—and specifically hierarchical ones—have evolved into a new superspecies of the lazy article. In a consumer society obsessed as much with the meta language of consumerism as it is with actually buying things, the demand is certain. Though they are seductively easy to read and apparently provide a way of getting to the “essence” of a subject, do we lose something by reducing valuable (or even not so valuable) information into a series of bullet points?

The proliferation of lists in magazines results from a collision of conditions such as dwindling editorial budgets, the popularity of search engines, such as Google, that allow editors to generate lists in infinite

combinations and mean that readers are familiar with viewing information through a listing lens, and the aesthetic appeal of a neat vertical story that provides the illusion of order and completion.

Having previously been a student where weekly presentations on varied topics and significance are required of me. The Powerpoint software has since become the primary interface directed towards the construction of any presentation outlet of sorts. PowerPoint also has a private, interior influence. It edits ideas almost surreptitiously, a business manual as well as a business suit, with an opinion about the way we should think.” PowerPoint templates that insist on a heading followed by bullet points. Apart from the bullet point, the other visual elements that make a list recognizable include: white space; linear arrangement (vertical or horizontal); the use of a colon; a deliberate system of organization (an order indicated by numbers or letters) or non-organization (to expand its free associative potential); and a choice of arrangement on the page (centered, or ranged left, for example.) All these play their part in signaling listness.

List culture does not only embrace the trivial. Some lists reflect life or death situations: Schindler’s list or the anxiously awaited list of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Then there are memorials that lists its dead from world wars in a cut stone monument. All such quiet memorials and roll calls make a virtue of the respectful, unsentimental quality of an unadorned list. Lists too, have attained a new prominence. Indexes, directories, checklists—the organizational principles of many graphic design artifacts, especially books, catalogs, and Web sites—are retrieved from ignominious locations in their structures and celebrated. Indexes spill onto book covers, checklists of artists’ work become the primary content of promotional posters, and the normally hidden programming language of Web sites is prioritized. This contemporary fascination with the formal characteristics of lists and indexes echoes, to some extent, the sentiment that surrounded them at their first invention.

The lists of mundane found data assembled each week. Such concepts don’t sit well with graphic design’s traditional role as organizer of information and, yet, seems to hold the most promise for the designer interested in building and evolving the genre. Contemporary graphic design’s engagement with the list is primarily archaeological; the humble list is being retrieved from obscurity, thrust center-stage, and enjoyed as an end in itself. Listing, as a device, fits well with the popular systems-based approach and affords designers distance from their subject matter. But compilers, writers, artists, and designers—or anyone seduced by the simplicity of the list’s form—all risk taking a merely passive stance and ignoring the need to make critical choices. In terms of its investigation in design practice, the list still has many possibilities left unchecked.