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Pay Attention and Give a Shit

Recently, I sat outside a local deli, soaking in a pleasantly bitter eighty-five cent cup of coffee. It’s the same coffee I drank three or four times a day in grad school. And it’s the same coffee I still end up craving at least twice every winter week. The taste and olfaction combined for one of those startling flashback moments.


There I was, with that same coffee cup two and a half years earlier, on the first day of class with Stefan Sagmeister. After introducing himself, Stefan started class the way he did each of the following weeks: by asking as what we’d seen in the past week that was memorable or touched us in some way. I later realized this exercise was a lot less about us sharing what we’d seen. It was about looking to begin with, about noticing.

And then I noticed the vibrating phone in my coat pocket. I pulled it from my left breast, feeling like a 6 year-old dressed up for Sunday school and proud of the sport coat his grandmother made for him from one of his grandfather’s old suits.


An email. An invitation to introduce Stefan at an upcoming lecture. Serendipitous, exciting and paralyzing. It’s another in the series of lectures and events surrounding the release of his new book Things I Have Learned In My Life So Far.

I immediately jumped through all the thoughts. Coffee? My mouth is dry. I’ll talk about learning. No, that’s expected. I really did learn from him. Who cares if it’s exactly what people would expect. Learn this, teach that. Student/teacher blah, blah, blah. I don’t even deserve this, so I better not over-think it.

But, Stefan liked thinking.

And it left me thinking, what have I learned? And more importantly what have I learned that I could share. Of late, I’ve simplified some lessons-learned into two ideas I keep repeating to myself: Pay Attention and Give a Shit.


Notice what’s special and important around me.

Giving attention and time to everything is impossible. Very few things are as important as the people I love and trust.

Finish every book I start. When reading it, try not to make it be what I want it to be, but let it be what it is. Let it change me.

In order to give proper attention to anything, I need to spend long spans of uninterrupted time with it. Reading email, instant messaging, taking phone calls and long meetings are wasted time disguised as being “productive.”


Now that I’ve noticed…care about it.

I need to speak up early and often.

When I send an email: I can’t say “I will do this.” Say, “I did it. Here’s what’s next.” If I can’t say “I did it” don’t reply until I can.

Listen, learn and wait. Then act.

Sitting idle, reading another blog post, re-blogging a re-blogged blog post: this is consumption. I know where a culture of consumption got me, and I want to change it.

I need to be effective, not efficient.

If I don’t fight the compulsions, I’m doing myself and everyone else a disservice.

I’m creative. I should create at least as much as I consume.

It doesn’t matter if someone gave me the responsibility or not, I should take it. If I could have made it better and it remains unchanged, I’m responsible for mediocrity.

“Another coffee to go, please. Milk. No sugar.”


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PUBLISHED ON Mar.20.2008 BY Randy J. Hunt
Renata Graw’s comment is:

As I sat at my computer trying to find energy to work on my thesis—that is due in two weeks—I read your entry. I am still drained and exhausted, but these words gave me the courage to open my files, spread my layouts and get through the night.

I do give a shit.

On Mar.20.2008 at 10:39 PM
triciabee’s comment is:

beyond design, these are the keys to strong friendships and a full life.

On Mar.21.2008 at 12:20 AM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

Renata, I know the feeling. After I finishing school it became very clear to me that just about every project we do is another thesis project.

On Mar.21.2008 at 09:26 AM
John Mindiola III’s comment is:

all this rapid consumption out there. people say that good design doesn't matter. i say it doesn't matter if it isn't designed well.

On Mar.21.2008 at 09:52 AM
alex pearson’s comment is:

Unfortunately we live in a society that encourages consumption... mass consumption. 100 years ago everything that was made was to fill a need, now probably 80% of products and gizmos create new "needs." In addition to just paying attention, we need to wade through a lot of crap just to know what is worth pay attention to, because there are alot of distractions that want us to give a shit about them too.

On Mar.21.2008 at 12:02 PM
Zach Bulick’s comment is:

This was encouraging and prodding. The statement "I'm creative. I should create at least as much as I consume" is so true. Thanks!

On Mar.21.2008 at 03:03 PM
Sam Potts’s comment is:

I have said it before in public, to little avail, but I for one am in favor of less talk about one's commitment and passion in the design profession. Let me immediately clarify: I respect and admire the attitude and commitment that Randy describes, and I am wholly convinced he is sincere. Further, sincerity and commitment are extremely good and valuable qualities in all things.


The design profession does not need chest-pounding about passion and commitment and such, in my opinion. To be precise: Do we need passion? Yes. Do we need proselytizing about it? No. I think the proselytizing sets a tone that's essentially haranguing, and while it may be cathartic for the speaker, it is ultimately unproductive for the rest of us.

Put another way: Don't tell me I have to give a shit. I'll give a shit or I won't, but it's my business. (Wow, that makes me sound like a Republican or a Libertarian.)

I personally believe in giving a shit, and so I agree with Randy. But, and this is my motive for posting: let's do it humbly. Let's aspire to greatness humbly. Let's walk the walk of humility and leave out talking the talk entirely. Show your passion, don't tell it as they say in fiction workshops.

Also, who is this Stefan of whom you speak? Where can I learn more about him?


On Mar.21.2008 at 05:02 PM
Casey Gollan’s comment is:

This is brilliant.

On Mar.21.2008 at 07:29 PM
Larry’s comment is:

Great post. Thanks.

On Mar.21.2008 at 09:19 PM
james puckett’s comment is:

I’m pretty sure that Randy is right…but how do I make myself keep giving a shit when I’m past the point of caring? How do some of you keep pumping away for a crap money shot when all you really want to do is walk away and chase the better fuck that’s right around the corner?

On Mar.21.2008 at 11:03 PM
minus five’s comment is:

james--if you can do it, i'd chase the better fuck around the corner. because if you got into this for a crap money shot, you'll be lucky to make your five bucks back.

randy--thanks for what you wrote. i think most everything in life comes back to those two things.

On Mar.22.2008 at 06:59 PM
Peter Whitley’s comment is:

I've spent my entire professional career in the graphic arts and it never, ever moved me. It wasn't until I applied those skills to the things I loved that they gained relevance and meaning.

There's a funny thing that happens to design, I mean as far as I'm concerned, when I have a constant client. (That constant client is me.) Everything is applied to the client's needs, tastes, and desires. Everything from the trivial speculations on the lighting inside the evening bus to the epiphanies of multi-generational shopping spaces has a context when there's a thirsty client ready to devour any ideas that pass its way.

I think it's important to live this way. I liked your spot, Randy...it inspired me.

On Mar.22.2008 at 10:13 PM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

To Sam's point, while I certainly share thoughts in hopes that they will resonate with other people, my intention is not to be prescriptive.

I think that I'm talking less about the need to "be passionate" and more about putting whatever passion you do have to work. I know the line is a fine one; I love details. Putting it to work requires some level of self discipline that, for me, is beyond what's required to "get the job done."

If I'd framed these same conclusions with the stories of how I'd struggled through much self-criticism and uncertainty as I attempt to live up to standards I'd set for myself, perhaps they'd be seen less as proselytizing.

On Mar.23.2008 at 01:01 AM
Niki’s comment is:

Am I inspired? Yes. But I've always had the passion. It's convincing my employers and clients to give a shit that's the challenge. When we're constantly competing with substandard quality that causes others to lower their standards, when clients can't even see the difference between good and bad design, well then, giving a shit doesn't do me much good.

On Mar.23.2008 at 06:21 PM
Rebecca’s comment is:

This post stuck with me all weekend long...an impactful and resonating post. Thanks!

On Mar.24.2008 at 12:05 PM
agrayspace’s comment is:

great stuff. Effective not efficient. Awesome.

I also like the finishing a book thought. But it somewhat precludes the idea that all books are worthy. There are some bad books out there. Are they all worth finishing?

On Mar.24.2008 at 01:34 PM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

Rob, you bring up a good point. It's like feeling obligated to watch all of every YouTube video that gets forwarded to you. That would be a waste of time.

Hmm, my advice to myself: don't pick crap books ;).

In less specific terms, I meant "finish what you start."

On Mar.24.2008 at 05:22 PM
David S.’s comment is:

Giving a shit is something I talk with other designers about and they feel giving a shit can be gotten out of client work, which I think is nigh impossible. You have to care about what you're doing before you can care about what you do.

What a killer post, Randy. Love the sketches too.

On Mar.24.2008 at 11:27 PM
Tselentis’s comment is:

There are a number of reasons this article resonates with me right now:

a-last week, an Art Historian colleague of mine (PhD in contemporary art), saw Helvetica the movie, he remarked to me how very observant designers in that film are... he wants to get his art history students to do the same

b-I am re-reading the Cheese Monkeys and Professor Sorbek tells his students to do the same, take in all of their surroundings.

c-We all have to give a shit, whether we're designers or not. Work, family, life... or whatever order you put it in, you should always give a shit. Question is: What will you give a shit about?

On Mar.25.2008 at 09:38 AM
Suziegd’s comment is:

I would like to thank you for all of your very inspiring words. I am a print designer that has being designing for a low end web design company for about a year. It has been extremely frustrating, I haven't been able to get the clients to care about good design. It is just refreshing to remember that it is my pleasure in life to care about great design and continue to push my clients to care the same. Again thank you for the inspiration.

On Mar.25.2008 at 12:05 PM
Greg Scraper’s comment is:

Sitting idle, reading another blog post, re-blogging a re-blogged blog post: this is consumption.

Ha! That statement reminded me of the commercials by Captain O.G. Readmore during my Saturday morning cartoons when I was a kid. Turn off the TV and read a book! Stop reading the blogs and design! Awesome.

On Mar.25.2008 at 04:54 PM
schwa’s comment is:

thanks as ever randy for sharing your words and deeds and sketches. thanks too for not sharing the shitty coffee.

@ sam potts: humble pie is made of offal. can't take that shit too far.

@ suziegd: give enough of a shit to spread that good shit around!

On Mar.30.2008 at 01:22 PM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

@ Schwa: We shared a conversation about actionable emails v. "will do" emails. It stuck with me. And you're to credit for the introduction gig. No, not credit, thank. So...Thank You.

On Mar.30.2008 at 03:10 PM
Matthew Eide’s comment is:

Thank you for this.

I give many shits to many things.

On Apr.02.2008 at 02:44 AM
Nicole’s comment is:

Thanks for the inspiration! I am working for a crummy agency that doesn't give a shit about good design——they only shit for CASH. I am inspired to keep pushing, creating and caring.

On Apr.10.2008 at 04:30 PM
Erica N. Nielsen’s comment is:

Thank you.

On Apr.15.2008 at 07:18 AM
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

Allan Chochinov's pooper-scooper assignment for MFA Design students at SVA is all about giving a shit.

On Jun.15.2008 at 09:56 AM
Aerial Photography Maps’s comment is:

I totally agree with minus five’s! Nice posts, keep up!

On Jan.15.2009 at 02:28 AM
Rebecca’s comment is:

Great post. Spot on.

A lot of people would agree, we just need to makes sure we act on it regularly too.

On Jan.16.2009 at 04:35 PM
Becky’s comment is:

This same idea put another way, I believe it is Mother Theresa as quoted by David James Duncan:

"There are no great acts, just small things done with love."

This thought sticks with me because its about being present in your life. That takes practice and concentration, especially in an age of instant gratification and the onslaught of quick, cheap distractions.

On Jan.16.2009 at 10:30 PM