10 Questions for Richard Saul Wurman

It was a treat to pose a few questions to information design guru and good friend Richard Saul Wurman this week.

1. You’ve authored and designed more than 80 books, including “Information Anxiety” and the ACCESS Travel Guides. What percentage of your projects have been self-initiated?

RSW: I’ve actually done 82 books, and nobody has ever ASKED me to do a book, and it is highly unlikely that anyone EVER will ask me to do a book.

2. What do you think has allowed you to be so successful at selling your own ideas? What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

I’m selling my own ideas to myself – so it’s not a big challenge. The challenge is to come up with the actualization of an idea that doesn’t humiliate myself. Humiliation is the engine that keeps me running — so to speak, my means of locomotion.

3. As the creator of the influential TED (Technology/Entertainment/Design) conferences (in 1984), you were visionary in identifying the increasing overlap in these disciplines. Could you have imagined what a rapid and profound impact technological developments would have on entertainment and design? What technology has significantly changed the way you live and work?

Yes, which was why I did it in the first place. I still like the telephone. The fax machine, for a few years, allowed me to do a TED in Japan. Email and searching for things now impacts my life a great deal. But, the love of my life – my passion – and a great deal of my time are spent retrieving what two 140-hr recorders of television allows me to watch, listen and learn. My “Jesus phone” isn’t bad either.

Are you going to get a “Jesus tablet”?


4. You’ve said that the singular passion of your life is making information understandable. How do you think our challenges, as information designers, have changed with the adoption of new consumption platforms?

I need to change your question. I would have to add that my chief passion is to make information understandable to myself, so I am critical to my work. My filter is MY curiosity and MY ignorance.

5. What provides your greatest creative inspiration?

The great embrace I have with my own stupidity and ignorance.

Okay, so this is more than five questions, but are you game for a speed round?


6. What does “innovation” mean to you?

It’s a tired word.

7. What’s the very first web site you visit upon launching a browser?

CNN News. News!

8. Favorite movie seen in the last year?

I watch Zelig every year. (Woody Allen, 1983)

9. I know you love television. What is your favorite show?

I like particularly documentaries about minutiae. That somebody takes a half hour show to talk about venomous jellyfish. I like obsession. By the way, the box jellyfish has the most venomous toxin on earth.

10. Last book read and what you learned from it?

“The White Tiger.” Worth getting the Booker Prize (2008). Confirmed and much expanded my understanding – from quite a different vantage point – of modern India. It’s a political novel.

Kris Viesselman, Director of Digital Product Development at National Geographic, is the president of SND for 2010.

About Kris Viesselman

Creative consultant and former SND president

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