Richard Saul Wurman: How I Came Up With TED


Wurman, 80, has dedicated his life to making the complex clear. He co-founded TED in 1984 as part of this journey, and he talked exclusively to Salt about where the idea came from.

He is a creator of conferences, the recognised pioneer of information architecture, author of 83 books, a cartographer, painter, architect, designer, information theorist, and teacher in a range of notable institutions, from Cambridge to Princeton.

Wurman has had an enormously varied career, but he believes in finding patterns that tie disciplines together. That’s where the famous TED concept came from: he saw there was a convergence between the technology business, the entertainment industry, and the design professions (notice the acronym).

“I hated all conferences that I’d been to”, he tells Salt, “so I tried to design some way of getting these people together so I could see if there was something that occurred if they recognised and embraced the idea.”

He explained that technology, entertainment and design were starting to do some interesting work in 1980s, but without the realisation that they needed each other. You couldn’t do technology without working with designers, you couldn’t do design without technology, and entertainment needed both.

“So they were all in bed together but they never looked to their left and right,” he explains, “but by embracing that and making more of it, it popped everything. All our technology, everything that Apple did, everything that the movies have done, everything that architecture and design has done; it all embraces each other all the time. This gave everybody permission to say yeah, ‘I can talk to everybody’”.

He adds: “The big idea was this convergence; nobody understood what I was talking about, but it was there to see. We’re still in the midst of various convergences. There is a merger going on between things in order to do clearer work and go on this strange journey which we call progress.”

Pick up the second issue of Salt from 1 July to read our full “Reluctant Genius” feature on Richard Saul Wurman.