Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • I'm going to begin by reciting a poem.

  • "Oh beloved dentist:

  • Your rubber fingers in my mouth ...

  • your voice so soft and muffled ...

  • Lower the mask, dear dentist,

  • lower the mask."

  • (Laughter)

  • Okay, in this presentation,

  • I'm going to be putting the right side of your brains

  • through a fairly serious workout.

  • You're going to see a lot of imagery,

  • and it's not always connected to what I'm talking about,

  • so I need you to kind of split your brains in half

  • and let the images flow over one side

  • and listen to me on the other.

  • So I am one of those people

  • with a transformative personal story.

  • Six years ago,

  • after 20 years in graphic design and typography,

  • I changed the way I was working

  • and the way most graphic designers work

  • to pursue a more personal approach to my work,

  • with only the humble attempt

  • to simply make a living doing something that I loved.

  • But something weird happened.

  • I became bizarrely

  • popular.

  • My current work

  • seems to resonate with people

  • in a way that has so taken me by surprise

  • that I still frequently wonder

  • what in the hell is going on.

  • And I'm slowly coming to understand

  • that the appeal of what I do

  • may be connected to why I do it.

  • These days, I call myself a graphic artist.

  • So where my work as a graphic designer

  • was to follow strategy,

  • my work now

  • follows my heart

  • and my interests

  • with the guidance of my ego

  • to create work that is mutually beneficial to myself and a client.

  • Now, this is heresy

  • in the design world.

  • The ego is not supposed

  • to be involved in graphic design.

  • But I find that for myself,

  • without exception,

  • the more I deal with the work

  • as something of my own,

  • as something that is personal,

  • the more successful it is

  • as something that's compelling,

  • interesting and sustaining.

  • So I exist somewhat outside of the mainstream

  • of design thinking.

  • Where others might look at measurable results,

  • I tend to be interested in more ethereal qualities,

  • like "Does it bring joy?"

  • "Is there a sense of wonder?"

  • and "Does it invoke curiosity?"

  • This is a scientific diagram, by the way.

  • I don't have time to explain it,

  • but it has to do with DNA and RNA.

  • So I have a particular imaginative approach to visual work.

  • The things that interest me when I'm working

  • are visual structure,

  • surprise

  • and anything that requires figuring things out.

  • So for this reason, I'm particularly drawn

  • to systems and patterns.

  • I'm going to give you a couple of examples of how my brain works.

  • This is a piece that I did for

  • The Guardian newspaper in the U.K.

  • They have a magazine that they call G2.

  • And this is for their puzzle special

  • in 2007.

  • And puzzling it is.

  • I started by creating a series of tiling units.

  • And these tiling units, I designed

  • specifically so that they would contain

  • parts of letterforms within their shapes

  • so that I could then

  • join those pieces together

  • to create letters and then words

  • within the abstract patterning.

  • But then as well, I was able to

  • just flip them, rotate them

  • and combine them in different ways

  • to create either regular patterns

  • or abstract patterns.

  • So here's the word puzzle again.

  • And here it is with the abstract surrounding.

  • And as you can see, it's extremely difficult to read.

  • But all I have to do is

  • fill certain areas of those letterforms

  • and I can bring those words out of

  • the background pattern.

  • But maybe that's a little too obvious.

  • So then I can add some color in with the background

  • and add a bit more color in with the words themselves,

  • and this way, working with the art director,

  • I'm able to bring it to just the right point

  • that it's puzzling for the audience --

  • they can figure out that there's something they have to read --

  • but it's not impossible for them to read.

  • I'm also interested in working with

  • unusual materials

  • and common materials in unusual ways.

  • So this requires figuring out how to

  • get the most out of something's innate properties

  • and also how to bend it to my will.

  • So ultimately,

  • my goal is to create something unexpected.

  • To this end, I have worked in sugar

  • for Stefan Sagmeister,

  • three-time TED speaker.

  • And this project began essentially

  • on my kitchen table.

  • I've been eating cereal for breakfast

  • all of my life.

  • And for that same amount of time,

  • I've been spilling sugar on the table

  • and just kind of playing with it with my fingers.

  • And eventually I used this technique

  • to create a piece of artwork.

  • And then I used it again to create

  • six pieces for Stefan's book,

  • "Things in My Life I've Learned So Far."

  • And these were created

  • without sketches, just freehand,

  • by putting the sugar down on a white surface

  • and then manipulating it to get

  • the words and designs out of it.

  • Recently, I've also made some

  • rather highbrow baroque borders

  • out of lowbrow pasta.

  • And this is for a chapter that I'm doing in a book,

  • and the chapter is on honor.

  • So it's a little bit unexpected,

  • but, in a way, it refers

  • to the macaroni art

  • that children make for their parents

  • or they make in school and give to their parents,

  • which is in itself a form of honor.

  • This is what you can do with some household tinfoil.

  • Okay, well, it's what I can do with some household tinfoil.

  • (Laughter)

  • I'm very interested in wonder,

  • in design as an impetus to inquiring.

  • To say I wonder is to say

  • I question, I ask.

  • And to experience wonder is to experience awe.

  • So I'm currently working on a book,

  • which plays with both senses of the word,

  • as I explore some of my own ideas

  • and inquiries

  • in a visual display of rather

  • peacock-like grandeur.

  • The world is full of wonder.

  • But the world of graphic design,

  • for the most part, is not.

  • So I'm using my own writings

  • as a kind of testing ground for a book that has

  • an interdependency between word and image

  • as a kind of seductive force.

  • I think that one of the things

  • that religions got right

  • was the use of visual wonder

  • to deliver a message.

  • I think this true marriage of art and information

  • is woefully underused in adult literature,

  • and I'm mystified as to

  • why visual wealth is not more commonly used

  • to enhance intellectual wealth.

  • When we look at works like this,

  • we tend to associate them with children's literature.

  • There's an implication that ornamental graphics

  • detract from the seriousness of the content.

  • But I really hope to have the opportunity

  • to change that perception.

  • This book is taking rather a long time,

  • but I'm nearly done.

  • For some reason, I thought it would be a good idea

  • to put an intermission

  • in my talk.

  • And this is it -- just to give you and me a moment to catch up.

  • (Laughter)

  • So I do these valentines.

  • I've been sending out valentines

  • on a fairly large scale since 2005.

  • These are my valentines

  • from 2005 and 2006.

  • And I started by

  • doing just a single image like this

  • and sending them out to each person.

  • But in 2007,

  • I got the cockamamie idea

  • to hand-draw each valentine

  • for everyone on my mailing list.

  • I reduced my mailing list to 150 people.

  • And I drew each person

  • their own unique valentine

  • and put their name on it

  • and numbered it and signed it and sent it out.

  • Believe it or not, I devised this

  • as a timesaving method.

  • I was very busy in the beginning of that year,

  • and I didn't know when I was going to find time

  • to design and print a single valentine.

  • And I thought that I could kind of do this piecemeal

  • as I was traveling.

  • It didn't exactly work out that way.

  • There's a longer story to this,

  • but I did get them all done in time,

  • and they were extremely well received.

  • I got an almost 100 percent response rate.

  • (Laughter)

  • And those who didn't respond

  • will never receive anything from me ever again.

  • (Laughter)

  • Last year,

  • I took a more conceptual approach to the valentine.

  • I had this idea that I wanted people

  • to receive a kind of

  • mysterious love letter,

  • like a found fragment in their mailbox.

  • I wanted it to be something

  • that was not addressed to them

  • or signed by me,

  • something that caused them to wonder

  • what on Earth this thing was.

  • And I specifically wrote

  • four pages that don't connect.

  • There were four different versions of this.

  • And I wrote them

  • so that they begin in the middle of a sentence,

  • end in the middle of a sentence.

  • And they're on the one hand, universal,

  • so I avoid specific names or places,

  • but on the other hand, they're personal.

  • So I wanted people to really get the sense that

  • they had received something that could have been

  • a love letter to them.

  • And I'm just going to read one of them to you.

  • "You've never really been sure of this,

  • but I can assure you that this quirk

  • you're so self-conscious of

  • is intensely endearing.

  • Just please accept that this piece of you

  • escapes with your smile,

  • and those of us who notice

  • are happy to catch it in passing.

  • Time spent with you is like chasing and catching small birds,

  • but without the scratches and bird shit."

  • (Laughter)

  • "That is to say,

  • your thoughts and words flit and dart,

  • disconcertedly elusive at times,

  • but when caught and examined --

  • ahh, such a wonder,

  • such a delightful reward.

  • There's no passing time with you,

  • only collecting --

  • the collecting of moments with the hope for preservation