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  • I run a design studio in New York.

  • Every seven years, I close it for one year

  • to pursue

  • some little experiments, things that

  • are always difficult to accomplish

  • during the regular working year.

  • In that year, we are not available

  • for any of our clients.

  • We are totally closed.

  • And as you can imagine,

  • it is a lovely and very energetic time.

  • I originally had opened the studio in New York

  • to combine my two loves, music and design.

  • And we created videos and packaging

  • for many musicians that you know,

  • and for even more that you've never heard of.

  • As I realized, just like with many many things in my life

  • that I actually love,

  • I adapt to it.

  • And I get, over time, bored by them.

  • And for sure, in our case,

  • our work started to look the same.

  • You see here a glass eye in a die cut of a book.

  • Quite the similar idea, then, a perfume packaged

  • in a book, in a die cut.

  • So I decided to close it down for one year.

  • Also is the knowledge that

  • right now we spend about

  • in the first 25 years of our lives learning,

  • then there is another 40 years

  • that's really reserved for working.

  • And then tacked on at the end of it

  • are about 15 years for retirement.

  • And I thought it might be helpful

  • to basically cut off five of those retirement years

  • and intersperse them in between those working years.

  • (Applause)

  • That's clearly enjoyable for myself.

  • But probably even more important is

  • that the work that comes out of these years

  • flows back into the company

  • and into society at large,

  • rather than just benefiting a grandchild or two.

  • There is a fellow TEDster who spoke two years ago,

  • Jonathan Haidt,

  • who defined his work into three different levels.

  • And they rang very true for me.

  • I can see my work as a job. I do it for money.

  • I likely already look forward to the weekend on Thursdays.

  • And I probably will need a hobby as a leveling mechanism.

  • In a career I'm definitely more engaged.

  • But at the same time, there will be periods when I think

  • is all that really hard work really worth my while?

  • While in the third one, in the calling,

  • very much likely I would do it also

  • if I wouldn't be financially compensated for it.

  • I am not a religious person myself,

  • but I did look for nature.

  • I had spent my first sabbatical in New York City.

  • Looked for something different for the second one.

  • Europe and the U.S. didn't really feel enticing

  • because I knew them too well. So Asia it was.

  • The most beautiful landscapes I had seen in Asia

  • were Sri Lanka and Bali.

  • Sri Lanka still had the civil war going on, so Bali it was.

  • It's a wonderful, very craft-oriented society.

  • I arrived there in September 2008,

  • and pretty much started to work right away.

  • There is wonderful inspiration coming from the area itself.

  • However the first thing that I needed was

  • mosquito repellent typography

  • because they were definitely around heavily.

  • And then I needed some sort of way

  • to be able to get back to all the wild dogs

  • that surround my house,

  • and attacked me during my morning walks.

  • So we created this series of 99 portraits on tee shirts.

  • Every single dog on one tee shirt.

  • As a little retaliation

  • with a just ever so slightly menacing message

  • (Laughter)

  • on the back of the shirt.

  • (Laughter)

  • Just before I left New York

  • I decided I could actually renovate my studio.

  • And then just leave it all to them.

  • And I don't have to do anything.

  • So I looked for furniture.

  • And it turned out that

  • all the furniture that I really liked,

  • I couldn't afford.

  • And all the stuff I could afford, I didn't like.

  • So one of the things that we pursued in Bali

  • was pieces of furniture.

  • This one, of course, still works with the wild dogs.

  • It's not quite finished yet.

  • And I think by the time this lamp came about,

  • (Laughter)

  • I had finally made peace with those dogs.

  • (Laughter)

  • Then there is a coffee table. I also did a coffee table.

  • It's called Be Here Now.

  • It includes 330 compasses.

  • And we had custom espresso cups made

  • that hide a magnet inside,

  • and make those compasses go crazy,

  • always centering on them.

  • Then this is a fairly talkative, verbose kind of chair.

  • I also started meditating for the first time in my life in Bali.

  • And at the same time, I'm extremely aware

  • how boring it is to hear about other people's happinesses.

  • So I will not really go too far into it.

  • Many of you will know this TEDster,

  • Danny Gilbert, whose book, actually,

  • I got it through the TED book club.

  • I think it took me four years

  • to finally read it, while on sabbatical.

  • And I was pleased to see

  • that he actually wrote the book while he was on sabbatical.

  • And I'll show you a couple of people

  • that did well by pursuing sabbaticals.

  • This is Ferran Adria. Many people think

  • he is right now the best chef in the world

  • with his restaurant north of Barcelona, El Bulli.

  • His restaurant is open seven months every year.

  • He closes it down for five months

  • to experiment with a full kitchen staff.

  • His latest numbers are fairly impressive.

  • He can seat, throughout the year,

  • he can seat 8,000 people.

  • And he has 2.2 million requests for reservations.

  • If I look at my cycle, seven years, one year sabbatical,

  • it's 12.5 percent of my time.

  • And if I look at companies that are actually more successful than mine,

  • 3M since the 1930s

  • is giving all their engineers

  • 15 percent to pursue whatever they want.

  • There is some good successes.

  • Scotch tape came out of this program,

  • as well as Art Fry developed

  • sticky notes from during his personal time for 3M.

  • Google, of course, very famously

  • gives 20 percent for their software engineers

  • to pursue their own personal projects.

  • Anybody in here has actually ever conducted a sabbatical?

  • That's about five percent of everybody.

  • So I'm not sure if you saw your neighbor putting their hand up.

  • Talk to them about if it was successful or not.

  • I've found that

  • finding out about what I'm going to like in the future,

  • my very best way is talk to people

  • who have actually done it

  • much better than myself envisioning it.

  • When I had the idea of doing one,

  • the process was I made the decision and I put it into my daily planner book.

  • And then I told as many, many people as I possibly could about it

  • so that there was no way that I could chicken out later on.

  • (Laughter)

  • In the beginning, on the first sabbatical,

  • it was rather disastrous.

  • I had thought that I should do this without any plan,

  • that this vacuum of time somehow would

  • be wonderful and enticing

  • for idea generation. It was not.

  • I just, without a plan, I just reacted

  • to little requests, not work requests,

  • those I all said no to, but other little requests.

  • Sending mail to Japanese design magazines and things like that.

  • So I became my own intern.

  • (Laughter)

  • And I very quickly

  • made a list of the things I was interested in,

  • put them in a hierarchy, divided them into chunks of time

  • and then made a plan, very much like in grade school.

  • What does it say here? Monday, 8 to 9: story writing;

  • 9 to 10: future thinking.

  • Was not very successful. And so on and so forth.

  • And that actually, specifically as a starting point

  • of the first sabbatical, worked really well for me.

  • What came out of it?

  • I really got close to design again.

  • I had fun.

  • Financially, seen over the long term, it was actually successful.

  • Because of the improved quality, we could ask for higher prices.

  • And probably most importantly,

  • basically everything we've done

  • in the seven years following the first sabbatical

  • came out of thinking of that one single year.

  • And I'll show you a couple of projects

  • that came out of the seven years following that sabbatical.

  • One of the strands of thinking I was involved in was

  • that sameness is so incredibly overrated.

  • This whole idea that everything needs to be exactly the same

  • works for a very very few strand of companies,

  • and not for everybody else.

  • We were asked to design an identity for Casa da Musica,

  • the Rem Koolhaas-built music center

  • in Porto, in Portugal.

  • And even though I desired to do an identity

  • that doesn't use the architecture,

  • I failed at that.

  • And mostly also because I realized

  • out of a Rem Koolhaas presentation to the city of Porto, where

  • he talked about a conglomeration of various layers of meaning.

  • Which I understood after I

  • translated it from architecture speech

  • in to regular English,

  • basically as logo making.

  • And I understood that the building itself was a logo.

  • So then it became quite easy.

  • We put a mask on it,

  • looked at it deep down in the ground,

  • checked it out from all sides,

  • west, north, south, east,

  • top and bottom.

  • Colored them in a very particular way

  • by having a friend of mine write a piece of software,

  • the Casa da Musica Logo Generator.

  • That's connected to a scanner.

  • You put any image in there, like that Beethoven image.

  • And the software, in a second,

  • will give you the Casa da Musica Beethoven logo.

  • Which, when you actually have to design a Beethoven poster,

  • comes in handy, because the visual information of the logo

  • and the actual poster is exactly the same.

  • So it will always fit together, conceptually, of course.

  • If Zappa's music is performed, it gets its own logo.

  • Or Philip Glass or Lou Reed or the Chemical Brothers,

  • who all performed there, get their own

  • Casa da Musica logo.

  • It works the same internally with the president or the musical director,

  • whose Casa da Musica portraits wind up on their business cards.

  • There is a full-blown orchestra

  • living inside the building.

  • It has a more transparent identity.

  • The truck they go on tour with.

  • Or there's a smaller contemporary orchestra,

  • 12 people that remixes its own title.

  • And one of the handy things that came about

  • was that you could take the logo type

  • and create advertising out of it.

  • Like this Donna Toney poster,

  • or Chopin, or Mozart,

  • or La Monte Young.

  • You can take the shape and make typography out of it.

  • You can grow it underneath the skin.

  • You can have a poster for a family event in front of the house,

  • or a rave underneath the house

  • or a weekly program,