Richard Saul Wurman
Author, Information Architect
Richard Saul Wurman won the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award from Cooper-Hewitt, the National Design Museum. This top honor recognizes an individual who has made a long-term contribution to the practice of design.
Described by Fortune magazine as an "intellectual hedonist" with a "hummingbird mind," Richard Saul Wurman seeks ways to make the complex clear. Recognizing at an early age that his ignorance is his greatest asset, he has made it his mission to sort through the abundance of information that is available on every topic, and design the techniques to make it understandable.
In doing so he has continually sought to put himself in the presence of extraordinary people, including (all now all deceased), in the sciences Francis Crick, Richard Feynman and Jonas Salk; in the arts Eva Zeisel, Louis I. Kahn and Charles Eames; in communications Steve Jobs and Frank Stanton; in history and archaeology Schuyler van Renssalaer Cammann, and Arnold Toynbee. There are many others. The only two bosses he ever had who didn't fire him were Lou Kahn and Charlie Eames.
As a result, Wurman has had many lives: as an author (83 books); FAIA Architect, 13-year partner in Murphy Levy Wurman Architects; cartographer (mapped one-thid of the Mayan city of Tikal and current project 19.20.21.); teacher (Cambridge University, England; Princeton; Washington University, St. Louis; University of Southern California; University of California Los Angeles; City College of New York, and Dean, Cal Poly School of Design); urban designer (recipient of MIT's Kevin Lynch award in urban design); graphic designer (AIGA Gold Medal, membership in AGI and inducted into the Art Directors Hall of Fame); information theorist (Information Anxiety, Follow the Yellow Brick Road); in medicine (6 books and creator of TEDMED), and as a conference convener. The path of this journey has been paved by one surface: his curiosity.
The acknowledged father of Information Architecture, Wurman has written, designed and published 83 books on a range of topics, while creating conferences and new mapping projects. All contribute to a greater understanding of complex information. They spring from his particular brand of innovation: doing the opposite of what is rote or expected. Of these characteristics, Nancye Green wrote: "as an architect, [RSW] has been responsible for building a community addicted to curiosity. He continues to put himself out there inventing and reinventing the ways we see and experience anything and everything that interests him. He has influenced so many of us, even if this was not his intention."
Wurman published his first two books in 1962. The first featured models of 50 world cities all constructed on a uniform scale; the other was the first book to be written on Louis Kahn. In 1967 he co-authored the first comparative statistical atlas of major American cities. His latest book is called 33: Understanding Change & the Change in Understanding. It chronicles the adventures and musings of the eccentric main character, the Commissioner of Curiosity and Imagination.
Wurman created the ACCESS city guides, using graphics and logical editorial organization to make places such as New York, Tokyo, Rome, Paris, and London understandable to visitors. Other volumes he created focus on topics such as baseball, football, and the 1984 Olympics, the latter with over 3.2 million copies sold. His road atlases employed similar techniques that elucidate U.S. geography and transportation networks. In addition he completed many one-off projects, such as his book Twin Peaks Access, which he co-authored with David Lynch. Of his written work, designer Massimo Vignelli notes: "the design of his guides has been a landmark in the definition and development of this form of communication."
Several of his books are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The extraordinary graphic designer Milton Glaser wrote: "Richard Saul Wurman's impact on the design community and the public at large has been profound. Through his books and his instructional manuals, he has been exceedingly exceptional in informing the public about critical issues."
Wurman began his career in conferences in 1972 when he chaired the International Design Conference in Aspen. He then co-chaired the first Federal Design Assembly in 1973 and the annual AIA Conference in 1976. With each of these he changed the fundamentals of how gatherings were run. All these helped his creative molding of TED, TEDMED, eg, and the upcoming WWW Conference, now in development. Says acclaimed architect Frank Gehry, "The programs, conferences and books that he has developed have created an interactive dialogue between art/design and many of the disciplines in all fields on a wide range of all topics from technology, education, entertainment, medicine and science to name a few."
Wurman created the TED conference in 1984, which he chaired through the 2002 meeting. TED brings together many of America's clearest thinkers in the fields of technology, entertainment and design. He created the eg conference in 2006 and the TEDMED conference in 1995, which he chaired through 2010. Other conferences he created and chaired include California 101, TEDSELL, TEDNYC, TED4Kobe in Japan and TEDCity in Toronto. Noted graphic designer and typographer Stefan Sagmeister said that "he has had the most profound influence on our industry: he pioneered and basically invented the field of information architecture. He created and chaired TED Conferences, which might have become the single most important communication platform for our own field and many others, and thereby connecting design effectively to science, technology, education, politics, and entertainment."
Wurman continues to quell his restless intellect with a series of new projects. The WWW Conference will be an active gathering of some of the brightest thinkers of our time discussing the complexity of emerging patterns on our planet in improvised conversation â€“ intellectual jazz. In partnership with ESRI and @radical.media, 19.20.21. is a major cartographic initiative that endeavors to standardize a methodology for comparative urban data. His Urban Observatory project aims to establish, for the first time ever, a series of live and changing electronically connected urban observatories around the world.
Wurman received both his B.Arch. and M.Arch. degrees with highest honors from the University of Pennsylvania in 1959. While there, he was awarded the Arthur Spayd Brooks Gold Medal, 2 Chandler grants and two graduate fellowships. He has also been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Architecture and Design, three honorary doctorates, two Graham Fellowships and numerous grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Wurman currently lives in Newport, RI, with his wife, novelist Gloria Nagy, and their three yellow Labradors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They have four children and six grandchildren.