Everyday arts & poetry magazine

Shortology: If you can’t tell a story in five seconds you ain’t…

Shortology is a project by H-57, Milan-based creative design and advertising studio. Picture credit H-57

Shortology is a project by H-57, Milan-based creative design and advertising studio. Picture credit H-57

Some years ago, Conway Williamson, chief creative officer of Saatchi & Saatchi New York, gave a short lesson on storytelling: “If you can’t tell a story you ain’t shit”. Today, this imperative doesn’t sound that challenging anymore (sorry, Conway) as agencies like H-57, Milan-based creative design and advertising studio, set new and tougher ones: tell a story, yes, but do it in five seconds. That’s what the young Italian creatives have been doing for the past 12 or more months. The results of their work have been summed up in a splendid book, available in bookshops and online, in a bunch of languages: Italian, Shortology; English, Life in Five Seconds; German, Das Leben in 5 Sekunden; Spanish, La vida in cinco segundos; and French, PICTOlogies 180 histoires en bref.

Bastart spoke to Marco Dalbesio, managing director of H-57, to find out more about the Shortology project and beyond…


An excerpt from the introduction to Life in Five Seconds:
“/…/This book is about all of life (from famous people, historic moments and iconic places to little everyday things like pizza) but with the useless and boring parts stripped away.

It’s the apple pie without having to peel the apples.
Cats without scooping the litter.
Kissing on the beach, under the moonlight,
Without sand in awkward places.

How did you come up with this title, Shortology? An outcome of an ordinary brainstorm or maybe there’s some curious story behind?

The answer is in the middle: it comes from an “ordinary” brainstorming done with the intention of finding a term that would wink to English but, at the same time, could be easily understood in Italian. Ironically, unfortunately, the English version of the book was then renamed and became Life in Five Seconds.

As for Shortology, it is, however, a neologism which we are very proud of… even though it is “dangerously” close to the name of the well-known discipline invented by Ron Hubbard.

H-57 Shortology, Life in Five Seconds - God

Picture credit H-57.

Beyond the pages of your book, how would you define the concept of Shortology: is it a science, a philosophy, a new school of graphic art, or else?

Shortology is first of all philosophy, a way to represent, in the shortest and funniest possible way – through the use of a few graphical icons – biographies, historical events, movies, inventions, social phenomena and pretty much anything else. A redesign of the old saying “less is more”.

United Kingdom Kingship Ranking, one of the many “instant-stories” you can find on the Facebook page of Shortology.

United Kingdom Kingship Ranking - Shortology. Picture credit H-57

Picture credit H-57

To read your stories is sheer fun but what about creating them? Tell us more about ‘the making of’ part: is it hard to shortologize a given story? Once it’s done, do you test the story’s readability on someone?

I cannot deny that for some of the stories we had to go back to school, read up the history and deepen our knowledge. Some others arise very easily. For example, on our Facebook page we have experienced the instant-stories, born in just a few hours from the occurrence: the “resignation” of the pope, the death of Margaret Teacher, etc. However, after dozens of requests for “tailor-made” stories, I must also admit that not everything is translatable into a Shortology story!

Finally: the first judges of our work are we ourselves and – I assure you – we’re very strict!

For more stories about the King of Pop, check out a special Shortology album Michael, we miss you

Michael Jackson - Shortology. Picture credit H-57

Picture credit H-57

The first stories to kick-start the Shortology project were: Marie Antoinette, Hitler, Michael Jackson, Jesus, Julius Cesar, and Napoleon. Why these 6 personalities, not someone else? Do they bear, for you, some particular value or symbol?

My answer links to the previous question: we chose the lives of characters who, in some ways, were interesting or fun “to be played”. Perhaps it will surprise you, since in our story we have not certainly treated him well, but I assure you that we – well, some of us more than others – are all fans of Michael Jackson.

Boris Becker - Shortology. Picture credit H-57

Picture credit H-57

The book consists of the before-mentioned 6 + other stories. Can you tell us more about those others? What were the criteria of your selection? (If there were any)

We are publishing the book in different countries and in each of them there are specific stories (i.e., Boris Becker for the German, the tortilla for the Spanish, Queen Elisabeth for the English, etc.).

As for the “common part” of the different editions, there’s no particular selection criterion: the stories we choose should simply make us think or just be entertaining.

Daft Punk – Get Lucky by Shortology. A dancing tribute to Daft Punk by H-57.

The splendid Daft Punk Get Lucky video was a true gift for Shortology fans this summer. Can we expect new works any time soon?  

Thanks a lot for your appreciation. These are extemporary works that take up a lot of time… but it is obviously not to be excluded!

In the past we have, however, already “animated” some of our stories, and last year we made a Christmas video too. Both projects had excellent feedback on Youtube!

Any ‘to be continued’ in your editorial plans? Shortology 2, 3, 4?

Of course! In the UK – always with Quercus Books (publisher of Life in Five Seconds) – we are publishing the follow-up of our first book: Films in Five Seconds.

For more information about the Shortology project, please visit a respective Facebook page: Life in five seconds for English-speaking folks, Shortology for Italians. 
Words and interview by Jurga

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