Made you a new thing
Everybody likes a gift
Hello! Hola! Cómo estás?
I’m great, I’m good, always thinking positive thoughts, never thinking about, like, grade school report cards, or how I haven’t yet grasped that metaphorical brass ring of success in my muscular and very capable fingers.
We were both perfect the moment you opened this letter.
This is a special issue. Comes at an irregular time!
I made you an irregular thing, it’s right below.
But hold on, sit with dad for a sec before you open your presents.
All the usuals apply. I’m still happily holding office hours if you want to drop by for a visit. I’m still accepting feedback on the 12-step brand and content strategy framework.
And, I hope you have a great weekend.
A long one, for the Americans.
Me, I’ll be helping out a content studio with some creative concepts for a potential new client. My Go partner Rafa made a GPT-3 tool called Seenapse to help with work like that.
Maybe I’ll give ‘er a go.
zeroes and ones,
Steal these editorial guidelines
Apparently y’all like making decks.
The most-clicked link in the previous letter was Gamma, a new deck-making tool.
Gamma is what oldheads might call an outliner: you write your ideas like a doc, and the code formats that writing like a deck.
Looked fun, so I gave Gamma a whirl and created an Editorial Guidelines Template.
May it help you with whatever your laboring on post-Labor Day.
Regretfully, I’m fairly certain you can’t literally copy this template I made, not yet at least. At least I can’t find the duplicate button. Maybe you can.
But! You can get an idea of how I organize ideas, and why it’s important, and then make your own (it’s super easy). Gamma does offer templates, so I imagine that copying functionality, in some limited, Miro-like, freemium manner is on the roadmap.
In the meantime, enjoy.
Feedback welcomed and encouraged.
Do you organize your guidelines differently? Tips or strategies to share? Comments welcomed and encouraged.
A brief and diverting and incomplete history of outlines and decks
Decks: can’t do business without ‘em.
Classic. Powerful. Subversive.
Basically the Subterranean Homesick Blues of corporate culture.
How can you not be obsessed with a technology that has helped launch wars and confuse generals and contributed to military-industrial hilarity.
But more than just being a platform for the graphically disinclined, decks have an interesting history.
That history begins in the early 80s with outliners.
Outliners were simple hierarchy editors, used to plan, organize, and present ideas.
For the uninitiated or the yet-to-be-born, back in the 80s there weren’t many computer graphics. The first successful outliner, Dave Winer’s MORE, looked like this:
By the late 80s, Winer’s MORE evolved into the first presentation software.
Here’s Winer, explaining how a meeting at Apple in 1986 influenced that evolution:
An interesting thing happened when we demoed an early version of MORE to Guy Kawasaki and Alain Rossman at Apple. The Bullet Chart idea was Guy's. We showed him the enhanced slide show. He asked if it could print. We printed for him. He went to the LaserWriter down the hall and brought back our printout, marked up with a box around the text, and bullets on each of the subheads on the printout. He said if we could do that, everyone at Apple would use this product.
We got the idea! For the next couple of weeks, Peter and I iterated over the design of what would become the Bullet Chart feature of MORE 1.0. Bullet Charts were a real score for us and our users. We already knew from reading regcards that a very major use of ThinkTank was preparing for presentations. It only made sense that we should go the next step, and print the outline in presentation form.
I've always felt that graphics products like page layout programs, draw programs, paint programs, were too low-level to be useful to word and concept people. With MORE, the process of producing graphics was automated. The user didn't get control over every pixel in the presentation, that's the usual tradeoff, but you could produce a sequence of bullet charts in MORE simply by typing in an outline and flipping a switch. It was this instant graphics, it's very high leverage, that made MORE a powerful product.
You can see here, already, a tension that has always existed in communication—that is, the tension between the structure of an idea and the presentation of that idea. Gamma straddles exactly this.
As you’re likely aware, MORE didn’t succeed. Microsoft considered buying Winer’s company, Living Videotext, but eventually passed (here’s the rejection letter). Instead, Microsoft decided to acquire Forethought, the makers of PowerPoint, for $14M in 1987. That just happened to be Redmond’s first-ever acquisition, and one of the best M&A transactions of all time.
These days, you can see outliner-esque apps everywhere. Of the ones I’ve used, Workflowy is probably the purest form of the idea.
Gamma, I should note, is something of a mix between outliner and true presentation software. It’s attempting to do something that many many people have tried to do before: straddle the need for speed and structure with the desire not to be fugly.
It’s a good moment for that compromise, especially for the startup marketplace.
Every tech and media business (except Amazon) runs on presentations, but startups mostly want to move quickly with a minimum of hassle.
Agencies, meanwhile, will continue to spend beaucoup bucks on deck designs. Though watch out, AI is coming for that, too.
There’s much more to say here, but the long weekend is coming, and you need a drink.
Or I need a drink.
Somebody needs a drink!
If you’re at all interested in the history and power of decks, I highly recommend checking out Everything I Know About Life I Learned from Powerpoint by friend-of-Delightful Russell Davies (👋 Russell) and this VERY COMPREHENSIVE book on the origins of PowerPoint by its inventor, Robert Gaskins.
Ta for now.
Don’t be a deck.
More delightful resources
12-Step Brand and Content Framework
The Creative Problem Solving Reading List
You don’t get it, you’re not the point
Make relationships, not things
How can I help? This is a 100% organic, free-range, desktop-to-inbox newsletter devoted to helping you navigate uncertainty, seek the most interesting challenges, and make better creative decisions in marketing and beyond. Your host is Steve Bryant, who is for hire.
Reasons to get in touch:
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