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One hundred of the best TED speakers of all time


Who we are TED is a small non-profit organisation devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. Along with the annual TED Conference in Long Beach, California, and the TEDGlobal conferences, TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Program, the new TEDx community program, this year’s TEDIndia Conference and the annual TED Prize. In addition to these annual events there are the TEDGlobal conferences, TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the TEDx community program and the annual TED Prize. On TED.com, the best talks and performances from TED and partners are made available to the world, for free. More than 1500 TEDTalks are now available, by the end of 2012 TEDTalks had been viewed one billion times worldwide! The 2014 conference in Vancouver celebrates TED’s 30th anniversary.


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Art & Design


J. J. Abrams Filmmaker Writer, director and producer J.J. Abrams makes smart, addictive dramas like TV’s Lost, and films like Cloverfield and the new Star Trek. As the Emmy-winning creator of the smart, addictive TV dramas Lost, Alias and Felicity, J.J. Abrams’ name looms large on the small screen. As the writer/director behind the blockbuster explode-a-thon Mission: Impossible III, Cloverfield and the new Star Trek movie, these days Abrams also rules the big screen — bringing his eye for telling detail and emotional connection to largerthan-life stories. Abrams’ enthusiasm — for the construction of Kleenex boxes, for the quiet moments between shark attacks in Jaws, for today’s filmmaking technologies, and above all for the potent mystery of an unopened package — is incredibly infectious.


The Mystery Box

J. J. Abrams 16

I wanna start today — here’s my thing. Hold on. There I go. Hey. I wanna start today — talk about the structure of a polypeptide. (Laughter) I get a lot of people asking me, in terms of “Lost,” you know, “What the hell’s that island?” You know, it’s usually followed by, “No, seriously, what the hell is that island?” (Laughter) Why so many mysteries? What is it about mystery that I seem to be drawn to? And I was thinking about this, what to talk about at TED. When I talked to the kind rep from TED, and I said, “Listen, you know, what should I talk about?” He said, “Don’t worry about it. Just be profound.” (Laughter) And I took enormous comfort in that. So thank you, if you’re here. I was trying to think, what do I talk about? It’s a good question. Why do I do so much stuff that involves mystery? And I started trying to figure it out. And I started thinking about why do I do any of what I do, and I started thinking about my grandfather. I loved my grandfather. Harry Kelvin was his name, my mother’s father. He died in 1986. He was an amazing guy. And one of the reasons he was amazing: After World War II he began an electronics company. He started selling surplus parts, kits, to schools and stuff. So he had this incredible curiosity. As a kid I saw him come over to me with radios and telephones and all sorts of things. And he’d open them up, he’d unscrew them, and reveal the inner workings — which many of us, I’m sure, take for granted. But it’s an amazing gift to give a kid. To open up this thing and

show how it works and why it works and what it is. He was the ultimate deconstructer, in many ways. And my grandfather was a kind of guy who would not only take things apart, but he got me interested in all sorts of different odd crafts, like, you know, printing, like the letter press. I’m obsessed with printing. I’m obsessed with silk screening and bookbinding and box making. When I was a kid, I was always, like, taking apart boxes and stuff. And last night in the hotel, I took apart the Kleenex box. I was just looking at it. And I’m telling you ... (Laughter) It’s a beautiful thing. I swear to God. I mean, when you look at the box, and you sort of see how it works. Rives is here, and I met him years ago at a book fair; he does pop-up books. And I’m obsessed with, like, engineering of paper. But like, the scoring of it, the printing of it, where the thing gets glued, you know, the registration marks for the ink. I just love boxes. My grandfather was sort of the guy who, you know, kind of got me into all sorts of these things. He would also supply me with tools. He was this amazing encourager — this patron, sort of, to make stuff. And he got me a Super 8 camera when I was 10 years old. And in 1976, that was sort of an anomaly, to be a 10-year-old kid that had access to a camera. And you know, he was so generous; I couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t doing it entirely without some manipulation. I mean, I would call him, and I’d be like, “Listen, Grandpa, I really need this camera.


You don’t understand. This is, like, you know, I want to make movies. I’ll get invited to TED one day. This is like — “ (Laughter) And you know, and my grandmother was the greatest. Because she’d be like, you know — she’d get on the phone. She’d be like, “Harry, it’s better than the drugs. He should be doing — “ She was fantastic. (Laughter) So I found myself getting this stuff, thanks to her assist, and suddenly, you know, I had a synthesizer when I was 14 years old — this kind of stuff. And it let me make things, which, to me, was sort of the dream. He sort of humored my obsession to other things too, like magic. The thing is, we’d go to this magic store in New York City called Lou Tannen’s Magic. It was this great magic store. It was a crappy little building in Midtown, but you’d be in the elevator, the elevator would open — there’d be this little, small magic store. You’d be in the magic store. And it was just, it was a magical place. So I got all these sort of magic tricks. Oh, here. I’ll show you. This is the kind of thing. So it would be like, you know. Right? Which is good, but now I can’t move. Now, I have to do this, the rest of the thing, like this. I’m like, “Oh, wow. Look at my computer over there!” (Laughter) Anyway, so one of the things that I bought at the magic store was this: Tannen’s Mystery Magic Box. The premise behind the mystery magic box was the following: 15 dollars buys you 50 dollars worth of magic. Which is a savings. (Laughter) Now, I bought this decades ago and I’m not kidding. If you look at this,

you’ll see it’s never been opened. But I’ve had this forever. Now, I was looking at this, it was in my office, as it always is, on the shelf, and I was thinking, why have I not opened this? And why have I kept it? Because I’m not a pack rat. I don’t keep everything but for some reason I haven’t opened this box. And I felt like there was a key to this, somehow, in talking about something at TED that I haven’t discussed before, and bored people elsewhere. So I thought, maybe there’s something with this. I started thinking about it. And there was this giant question mark. I love the design, for what it’s worth, of this thing. And I started thinking, why haven’t I opened it? And I realized that I haven’t opened it because it represents something important — to me. It represents my grandfather. Am I allowed to cry at TED? Because — no, I’m not going to cry. But — (Laughter) — the thing is, that it represents infinite possibility. It represents hope. It represents potential. And what I love about this box, and what I realize I sort of do in whatever it is that I do, is I find myself drawn to infinite possibility, that sense of potential. And I realize that mystery is the catalyst for imagination. Now, it’s not the most ground-breaking idea, but when I started to think that maybe there are times when mystery is more important than knowledge, I started getting interested in this. And so I started thinking about “Lost,” and the stuff that we do, and I realized, oh my God, mystery boxes are everywhere in what I do!

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J. J. Abrams 18

In how — in the creation of “Lost,” Damon Lindelof and I, who created the show with me, we were basically tasked with creating this series that we had very little time to do. We had 11 and a half weeks to write it, cast it, crew it, shoot it, cut it, post it, turn in a two-hour pilot. So it was not a lot of time. And that sense of possibility — what could this thing be? There was no time to develop it. I’m sure you’re all familiar with those people who tell you what you can’t do and what you should change. And there was no time for that, which is kind of amazing. And so we did this show, and for those of you who, you know, who haven’t seen it, or don’t know it, I can show you this one little clip from the pilot, just to show you some stuff that we did. Claire: Help! Please help! Help me! Help me! Jack: Get him out of here! Get him away from the engine! Get him out of here! C: I’m having contractions! J: How many months pregnant are you? C: I’m only eight months. J: And how far apart are they coming? C: I don’t know. I think it just happened. Man: Hey! Hey! Hey, get away from — JJA: Now, 10 years ago, if we wanted to do that, we’d have to kill a stuntman. We’d actually — (Laughter) it would be harder. It would take — Take 2 would be a bitch. So the amazing thing was, we were able to do this thing. And part of that was the amazing availability of technology, knowing we could do anything. I mean, we could never have done that. We might have

been able to write it; we wouldn’t have been able to depict it like we did. And so part of the amazing thing for me is in the creative process, technology is, like, mind-blowingly inspiring to me. I realize that that blank page is a magic box, you know? It needs to be filled with something fantastic. I used to have the “Ordinary People” script that I’d flip through. The romance of the script was amazing to me; it would inspire me. I wanted to try and fill pages with the same kind of spirit and thought and emotion that that script did. You know, I love Apple computers. I’m obsessed. So the Apple computer — like those — the PowerBook — this computer, right, it challenges me. It basically says, what are you going to write worthy of me? (Laughter) I guess I feel this — I’m compelled. And I often am like, you know, dude, today I’m out. I got nothing. You know? (Laughter) So there’s that. In terms of the content of it, you look at stories, you think, well, what are stories but mystery boxes? There’s a fundamental question — in TV, the first act is called the teaser. It’s literally the teaser. It’s the big question. So you’re drawn into it. Then of course, there’s another question. And it goes on and on. Look at “Star Wars.” You got the droids; they meet the mysterious woman. Who’s that? We don’t know. Mystery box! You know? Then you meet Luke Skywalker. He gets the Droid, you see the holographic image. You learn, oh, it’s a message, you know. She wants to, you know, find Obi Wan Kenobi. He’s her


only hope. But who the hell’s Obi Wan Kenobi? Mystery box! So then you go and he meets Ben Kenobi. Ben Kenobi is Obi Wan Kenobi. Holy shit! You know — so it keeps us — (Laughter) — have you guys not seen that? (Laughter) It’s huge! Anyway — So there’s this thing with mystery boxes that I started feeling compelled. Then there’s the thing of mystery in terms of imagination — the withholding of information. You know, doing that intentionally is much more engaging. Whether it’s like the shark in “Jaws” — if Spielberg’s mechanical shark, Bruce, had worked, it would not be remotely as scary; you would have seen it too much. In “Alien”, they never really showed the alien: terrifying! Even in a movie, like a romantic comedy, “The Graduate,” they’re having that date, remember? And they’re in the car, and it’s loud, and so they put the top up. They’re in there — you don’t hear anything they’re saying! You can’t hear a word! But it’s the most romantic date ever. And you love it because you don’t hear it. So to me, there’s that. And then, finally, there’s this idea — stretching the sort of paradigm a little bit — but the idea of the mystery box. Meaning, what you think you’re getting, then what you’re really getting. And it’s true in so many movies and stories. And when you look at “E.T.,” for example — “E.T.” is this, you know, unbelievable movie about what? It’s about an alien who meets a kid, right? Well, it’s not. “E.T.” is about divorce. “E.T.” is about a heartbroken, divorce-

crippled family, and ultimately, this kid who can’t find his way. “Die Hard,” right? Crazy, great, fun, action-adventure movie in a building. It’s about a guy who’s on the verge of divorce. He’s showing up to L.A., tail between his legs. There are great scenes — maybe not the most amazing dramatic scenes in the history of time, but pretty great scenes. There’s a half an hour of investment in character before you get to the stuff that you’re, you know, expecting. When you look at a movie like “Jaws,” the scene that you expect — we have the screen? These are the kind of, you know, scenes that you remember and expect from “Jaws.” And she’s being eaten; there’s a shark. The thing about “Jaws” is, it’s really about a guy who is sort of dealing with his place in the world — with his masculinity, with his family, how he’s going to, you know, make it work in this new town. This is one of my favorite scenes ever, and this is a scene that you wouldn’t necessarily think of when you think of “Jaws.” But it’s an amazing scene. Father: C’mere. Give us a kiss. Son: Why? Father: ‘Cause I need it. JJA: C’mon. “Why? ‘Cause I need it?” Best scene ever, right? Come on! So you think of “Jaws” — so that’s the kind of stuff that, like, you know, the investment of character, which is the stuff that really is inside the box, you know? It’s why when people do sequels, or rip off movies, you know, of a genre, they’re ripping off the wrong thing. You’re not supposed to

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J. J. Abrams 20

rip off the shark or the monster. You gotta rip off — you know, if you rip something off — rip off the character. Rip off the stuff that matters. I mean, look inside yourself and figure out what is inside you. Because ultimately, you know, the mystery box is all of us. So there’s that. Then the distribution. What’s a bigger mystery box than a movie theater? You know? You go to the theater, you’re just so excited to see anything. The moment the lights go down is often the best part, you know? And you’re full of that amazing — that feeling of excited anticipation. And often, the movie’s, like, there and it’s going, and then something happens and you go, “Oh—” and then something else, and you’re, “Mmm ...” Now, when it’s a great movie, you’re along for the ride ‘cause you’re willing to give yourself to it. So to me, whether it’s that, whether it’s a TV, an iPod, computer, cell phone — it’s funny, I’m an — as I said, Apple fanatic — and one day, about a year or so ago, I was signing on online in the morning to watch Steve Jobs’ keynote, ‘cause I always do. And he came on, he was presenting the video iPod, and what was on the enormous iPod behind him? “Lost”! I had no idea! And I realized, holy shit, it’d come full circle. Like, the inspiration I get from the technology is now using the stuff that I do, inspired by it, to sell technology. I mean, it’s nuts! (Laughter) I was gonna show you a couple of other things I’m gonna skip through. I just want to show you one other thing that has nothing to

do with anything. This is something online; I don’t know if you’ve seen it before. Six years ago they did this. This is an online thing done by guys who had some visual effects experience. But the point was, that they were doing things that were using these mystery boxes that they had — everyone has now. What I’ve realized is what my grandfather did for me when I was a kid, everyone has access to now. You don’t need to have my grandfather, though you wished you had. But I have to tell you — this is a guy doing stuff on a Quadra 950 computer — the resolution’s a little bit low — using Infinity software they stopped making 15 years ago. He’s doing stuff that looks as amazing as stuff I’ve seen released from Hollywood. The most incredible sort of mystery, I think, is now the question of what comes next. Because it is now democratized. So now, the creation of media is — it’s everywhere. The stuff that I was lucky and begging for to get when I was a kid is now ubiquitous. And so, there’s an amazing sense of opportunity out there. And when I think of the filmmakers who exist out there now who would have been silenced, you know — who have been silenced in the past — it’s a very exciting thing. I used to say in classes and lectures and stuff, to someone who wants to write, “Go! Write! Do your thing.” It’s free, you know, you don’t need permission to go write. But now I can say, “Go make your movie!” There’s nothing stopping you from going out there and


getting the technology. You can lease, rent, buy stuff off the shelf that is either as good, or just as good, as the stuff that’s being used by the, you know, quote unquote “legit people.” No community is best served when only the elite have control. And I feel like this is an amazing opportunity to see what else is out there. When I did “Mission: Impossible III,” we had amazing visual effects stuff. ILM did the effects; it was incredible. And sort of like my dream to be involved. And there are a couple of sequences in the movie, like these couple of moments I’ll show you. There’s that. Okay, obviously I have an obsession with big crazy explosions. So my favorite visual effect in the movie is the one I’m about to show you. And it’s a scene in which Tom’s character wakes up. He’s drowsy. He’s crazy — out of it. And the guy wakes up, and he shoves this gun in his nose and shoots this little capsule into his brain that he’s going to use later to kill him, as bad guys do. Bad Guy: Good morning. JJA: OK, now. When we shot that scene, we were there doing it, the actor who had the gun, an English actor, Eddie Marsan — sweetheart, great guy — he kept taking the gun and putting it into Tom’s nose, and it was hurting Tom’s nose. And I learned this very early on in my career: Don’t hurt Tom’s nose. (Laughter) There are three things you don’t want to do. Number two is: Don’t hurt Tom’s nose. So Eddie has this gun — and he’s the greatest guy — he’s

this really sweet English guy. He’s like, “Sorry, I don’t want to hurt you.” I’m like — you gotta — we have to make this look good. And I realized that we had to do something ‘cause it wasn’t working just as it was. And I literally, like, thought back to what I would have done using the Super 8 camera that my grandfather got me sitting in that room, and I realized that hand didn’t have to be Eddie Marsan’s. It could be Tom’s. And Tom would know just how hard to push the gun. He wouldn’t hurt himself. So we took his hand and we painted it to look a little bit more like Eddie’s. We put it in Eddie’s sleeve, and so the hand that you see — I’ll show you again, that’s not Eddie’s hand, that’s Tom’s. So Tom is playing two roles. (Laughter) And he didn’t ask for any more money. So here, here. Watch it again. There he is. He’s waking up. He’s drowsy, been through a lot. Tom’s hand. Tom’s hand. Tom’s hand. (Laughter) Anyway. So. (Applause) Thanks. So you don’t need the greatest technology to do things that can work in movies. And the mystery box, in honor of my grandfather, stays closed. Thank you. (Applause)

“ In whatever it is that I do, I find myself drawn to infinite possibility, that sense of potential.”

TED 2007

Art & Design 21


David Carson Type Designer David Carson is the “grunge typographer” whose magazine Ray Gun helped explode the possibilities of text on a page. David Carson’s boundary-breaking typography in the 1990s, in Ray Gun magazine and other pop-cult books, ushered in a new vision of type and page design — quite simply, breaking the traditional mold of type on a page and demanding fresh eyes from the reader. Squishing, smashing, slanting and enchanting the words on a layout, Carson made the point, over and over, that letters on a page are art. You can see the repercussions of his work to this day, on a million Flash intro pages (and probably just as many skateboards and T-shirts). His first book, with Lewis Blackwell and a foreword by David Byrne, is The End of Print, and he’s written or collaborated on several others, including the magisterial Book of Probes, an exploration of the thinking of Marshall McLuhan. His latest book is Trek, a collection of his recent work.


Design and discovery I had requested slides, kind of adamantly, up till the — pretty much, last few days, but was denied access to a slide projector. (Laughter) I actually find them a lot more emotional — (Laughter) — and personal, and the neat thing about a slide projector is you can actually focus the work, unlike PowerPoint and some other programs. Now, I agree that you have to — yeah, there are certain concessions and, you know, if you use a slide projector, you’re not able to have the bad type swing in from the back or the side, or up or down, but maybe that’s an O.K. trade-off, to trade that off for a focus. (Laughter) It’s a thought. Just a thought. And there’s something nice about slides getting stuck. And the thing you really hope for is occasionally they burn up, which we won’t see tonight. So. With that, let’s get the first slide up here. This, as many of you have probably guessed, is a recently emptied beer can in Portugal. (Laughter) This — I had just arrived in Barcelona for the first time, and I thought — you know, fly all night, I looked up, and I thought, wow, how clean. You come into this major airport, and they simply have a B. I mean, how nice is that? Everything’s gotten simpler in design, and here’s this mega airport, and God, I just — I took a picture. I thought, God, that is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen at an airport. Till a couple months later, I went back to the same airport — same plane, I think — and looked up, and it said C. (Laughter) David Carson 24

It was only then that I realized it was simply a gate that I was coming into. (Laughter) I’m a big believer in the emotion of design, and the message that’s sent before somebody begins to read, before they get the rest of the information; what is the emotional response they get to the product, to the story, to the painting — whatever it is. That area of design interests me the most, and I think this for me is a real clear, very simplified version of what I’m talking about. These are a couple of garage doors painted identical, situated next to each other. So, here’s the first door. You know, you get the message. You know, it’s pretty clear. Take a look at the second door and see if there’s any different message. O.K., which one would you park in front of? (Laughter) Same color, same message, same words. The only thing that’s different is the expression that the individual door-owner here put into the piece — and, again, which is the psycho-killer here? (Laughter) Yet it doesn’t say that; it doesn’t need to say that. I would probably park in front of the other one. I’m sure a lot of you are aware that graphic design has gotten a lot simpler in the last five years or so. It’s gotten so simple that it’s already starting to kind of come back the other way again and get a little more expressive. But I was in Milan and saw this street sign, and was very happy to see that apparently this idea of minimalism has even been translated by the graffiti artist. (Laughter) And this graffiti artist has come along, made this sign a little bit


better, and then moved on. (Laughter) He didn’t overpower it like they have a tendency to do. (Laughter) This is for a book by “Metropolis.” I took some photos, and this is a billboard in Florida, and either they hadn’t paid their rent, or they didn’t want to pay their rent again on the sign, and the billboard people were too cheap to tear the whole sign down, so they just teared out sections of it. And I would argue that it’s possibly more effective than the original billboard in terms of getting your attention, getting you to look over that way. And hopefully you don’t stop and buy those awful pecan things — Stuckey’s. This is from my second book. The first book is called, “The End of Print,” and it was done along with a film, working with William Burroughs. And “The End of Print” is now in its fifth printing. (Laughter) When I first contacted William Burroughs about being part of it, he said no; he said he didn’t believe it was the end of print. And I said, well, that’s fine; I just would love to have your input on this film and this book, and he finally agreed to it. And at the end of the film, he says in this great voice that I can’t mimic but I’ll kind of try, but not really, he says, “I remember attending an exhibition called, ‘Photography: The End of Painting.’” And then he says, “And, of course, it wasn’t at all.” So, apparently when photography was perfected, there were people going around saying, that’s it: you’ve just ruined painting. People are just going to take pictures now.

And of course, that wasn’t the case. So, this is from “2nd Sight,” a book I did on intuition. I think it’s not the only ingredient in design, but possibly the most important. It’s something everybody has. It’s not a matter of teaching it; in fact, most of the schools tend to discount intuition as an ingredient of your working process because they can’t quantify it: it’s very hard to teach people the four steps to intuitive design, but we can teach you the four steps to a nice business card or a newsletter. So it tends to get discounted. This is a quote from Albert Einstein, who says, “The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery. There comes a leap in consciousness — call it intuition or what you will — and the solution just comes to you, and you don’t know from where or why.” So, it’s kind of like when somebody says, Who did that song? And the more you try to think about it, the further the answer gets from you, and the minute you stop thinking about it, your intuition gives you that answer, in a sense. I like this for a couple of reasons. If you’ve had any design courses, they would teach you you can’t read this. I think you eventually can and, more importantly, I think it’s true. “Don’t mistake legibility for communication.” Just because something’s legible doesn’t means it communicates. More importantly, it doesn’t mean it communicates the right thing. So, what is the message sent before somebody actually gets into the material? And I think that’s sometimes an overlooked area.

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David Carson 26

This is working with Marshall McLuhan. I stayed and worked with his wife and son, Eric, and we came up with close to 600 quotes from Marshall that are just amazing in terms of being ahead of the times, predicting so much of what has happened in the advertising, television, media world. And so this book is called “Probes.” It’s another word for quotes. And it’s — a lot of them are never — have never been published before, and basically, I’ve interpreted the different quotes. So, this was the contents page originally. When I got done it was 540 pages, and then the publisher, Gingko Press, ended up cutting it down considerably: it’s just under 400 pages now. But I decided I liked this contents page — I liked the way it looks — so I kept it. (Laughter) It now has no relevance to the book whatsoever, but it’s a nice spread, I think, in there. (Laughter) So, a couple spreads from the book: here McLuhan says, “The new media are not bridges between Man and Nature; they are Nature.” “The invention of printing did away with anonymity, fostering ideas of literary fame and the habit of considering intellectual effort as private property,” which had never been done before printing. “When new technologies impose themselves on societies long habituated to older technologies, anxieties of all kinds result.” “While people are engaged in creating a totally different world, they always form vivid images of the preceding world.” I hate this stuff. It’s hard to read. (Laughter) (Applause) “People in the electronic age have

no possible environment except the globe, and no possible occupation except information gathering.” That was it. That’s all he saw as the options. And not too far off. So, this is a project for Nine Inch Nails. And I only show it because it seemed like it got all this relevancy all of a sudden, and it was done right after 9/11. And I had recently discovered a bomb shelter in the backyard of a house I had bought in LA that the real estate person hadn’t pointed out. (Laughter) There was some bomb shelter built, apparently in the ‘60s Cuban missile crisis. And I asked the real estate guy what it was as we were walking by, and he goes, “It’s something to do with the sewage system.” I was, O.K.; that’s fine. I finally went down there, and it was this old rusted circular thing, and two beds, and very kind of creepy and weird. And also, surprisingly, it was done in kind of a cheap metal, and it had completely rusted through, and water everywhere, and spiders. And I thought, you know, what were they thinking? You’d think maybe cement, possibly, or something. But anyway, I used this for a cover for the Nine Inch Nails DVD, and I’ve also now fixed the bomb shelter with duct tape, and it’s ready. I think I’m ready. So. This is an experiment, really, for a client, Quicksilver, where we were taking what was a six-shot sequence and trying to use print as a medium to get people to the Web. So, this is a six-shot sequence. I’ve taken one shot; I cropped it a few different ways. And then the tiny line of copy says, If you want to see this


entire sequence — how this whole ride was — go to the website. And my guess is that a lot of the surf kids did go to the site to get this entire picture. Got no way of tracking it, so I could be totally wrong. (Laughter) I don’t have the site. It’s just the piece itself. This is a group in New York called the Coalition for a Smoke-free Environment — asked me to do these posters. They were wildposted around New York City. You can’t really — well, you can’t see it at all — but the second line is really the more kind of payoff, in a sense. It says, “If the cigarette companies can lie, then so can we.” But — (Laughter) (Applause) — but I did. These were literally wild-posted all over New York one night, and there were definitely some heads turning, you know, people smoking and, “Huh!” (Laughter) And it was purposely done to look fairly serious. It wasn’t some, you know, weird grunge type or something; it looked like they might be real. Anyway. Poster for Atlantic Center for the Arts, a school in Florida. This amazes me. This is a product I just found out. I was in the Caribbean at Christmas, and I’m just blown away that in this day and age they will still sell — not that they will sell — that there is felt a need for people to lighten the color of their skin. This was either an old product with new packaging, or a brand-new package, and I just thought, Yikes! How’s that still happening? I do a lot of workshops all over the world, really, and this particular assignment was to

come up with new symbols for the restroom doors. (Laughter) I felt this was one of the more successful solutions. The students actually cut them up and put them up around bars and restaurants that night, and I just always have this vision of this elderly couple going to use the restroom ... (Laughter) I did some work for Microsoft a few years back. It was a worldwide branding campaign. And it was interesting to me — my background is in sociology; I had no design training, and sometimes people say, well, that explains it — but it was a very interesting experiment because there’s no product that I had to sell; it was simply the image of Microsoft they were trying to improve. They thought some people didn’t like them. (Laughter) I found out that’s very true, working on this campaign worldwide. And our goal was to try to humanize them a bit, and what I did was add type and people to the ad, which the previous campaign had not had, and nobody remembered them, and nobody referenced them. And we were trying to say that, hey, some of these guys that work there are actually OK; some of them actually have friends and family, and they’re not all awful people. And the umbrella campaign was “Thank God it’s Monday.” So, we tried to take this — what was perceived as a negative: their over-competitiveness, their, you know, long working hours — and turn it into a positive and not run from it. You know: Thank God it’s Monday — Art & Design 27


I get to go back to that little cubicle, those fake gray walls, and hear everybody else’s conversations f or 10 hours and then go home. But anyway, this is one of the ads I was most pleased with, because they were all elaborately art-directed, and this one I thought actually felt like the girl was looking at the computer. It says, “Wonder Around.” And then it’s a piece of the software. And this is how the ad ran around the world. In Germany, they made one small change without checking with me — nor did they have to, because it was done through agencies — but see if you can tell the difference. This is how the ad ran throughout the world; Germany made one slight change in the ad. (Laughter) Now, there’s kind of two issues here. If you’re going to put a kid in the ad, pick one that looks alive. (Laughter) I just have a feeling this kid’s been there for a week, you know. He’s just really hoping that boots up and, you know ... (Laughter) And then as the agency explained to me, they said, “Look, we don’t have little green people in our country; why would we put little green people in our ads, for instance?” So, I understand their logic. I totally disagree with it; I think it’s a very small-minded approach, the world is certainly much more global, and I certainly think the people of Germany could have handled a little black girl sitting in front of a computer, though we’ll never know. This is some work from Ray Gun. And the point of this magazine was to read the articles, David Carson 28

listen to the music, and try to interpret it. There’s no grid, there’s no system, there’s nothing set up in advance. This is an opener for Brian Eno, and it’s just kind of my personal interpretation of the music. This is rockstars talking about teachers they had lusted after in school. There’s a lot of great writing in “Ray Gun.” And I was fortunate to find a photograph of a teacher sitting on some books. (Laughter) Article on Bryan Ferry — just really boring article — so I set the whole article in Dingbat. (Laughter) You could — you could highlight it; you could make it Helvetica or something: it is the actual article. I suppose you could eventually decode it, but it’s really not very well written; it really wouldn’t be worthwhile. (Laughter) Having done a lot of magazines, I’m very curious how big magazines handle big stories, and I was very curious to see how Time and Newsweek would handle 9/11. And I was basically pretty disappointed to see that they had chosen to show the photo we’d already seen a million times, which was basically the moment of impact. And People magazine, I thought, got probably the best shot. It’s kind of horsey type, but the texture — the second plane not quite hitting: there was something more enticing, if that’s the right — it’s not the right word — but in this cover than Time or Newsweek. But when I got into this magazine, there’s something kind of disturbing, and this


continued. On the left we see people dying; we see people running for their lives. And on the right we learn that there’s a new way to support your breast. The coveted right-hand page was not given up to the whole issue. Look at the image of this lady — who knows what she’s going through? — and the copy says: “He knows just how to give me goosebumps.” Yeah, he jumps out of buildings. It’s — unfortunately, this one works, kind of, as a spread. And this continued through the entire magazine. It did not let up. This says: “One clean fits all.” . There were a lot of orphans made this day, and here’s a dead body being brought out. It just seems to me possibly even a blank page would have been more appropriate. And this one I think is possibly the worst: two ladies, both facing the same way, both wearing jeans. One — who knows what she’s going through; the other one is worried about model behavior and milk. And — I gave a talk in New York a couple months after this, and afterwards somebody came up to me and they said that — they actually emailed me — and they said that they appreciated the talk, and when they got back to their car, they found a note on their car that made them think maybe New York was getting back to being New York again after this event — it had been a few months. This was what they found on their car. There’s very few times you’d be happy to find this on your car, but it’d seem to indicate that we were coming back.

This is my desktop. Somebody told me today there was this thing called folders, but I don’t know what they are. These are my notes for the talk — there might be a correlation here. We are wrapping up. This I saw on the plane, flying in, for hot new products. I’m not sure this is an improvement, or a good idea, because, like, if you don’t spend quite enough time in front of your computer, you can now get a plate in the keyboard, so there’s no more faking it — that you don’t really sit at your desk all day and eat and work anyway. Now there’s a plate, and it would be really, really convenient to get a piece of pizza, then type a little bit, then ... I’m just not sure this is improvement. If you ever doubt the power of graphic design, this is a very generic sign that literally says, “Vote for Hitler.” It says nothing else. And this to me is an extreme case of the power of emotion, of graphic design, even though, in fact, was a very generic poster at the time. What’s next? What’s next is going to be people. As we get more technically driven, the importance of people becomes more than it’s ever been before. You have to utilize who you are in your work. Nobody else can do that: nobody else can pull from your background, from your parents, your upbringing, your whole life experience. If you allow that to happen, it’s really the only way you can do some unique work, and you’re going to enjoy the work a lot more as well. Art & Design 29


David Carson 30

This is — I like found art; hand lettering’s coming back in a big way, and I thought this was a great example of both. This lady’s advertising for her lost pit bull. It’s friendly — she’s underlined friendly — that’s probably why she calls it Hercules or Hercles. She can’t spell. (Laughter) But more importantly, she’s willing to give you 20 bucks to go find this lost pit bull. And I’m thinking, yeah, right, I’ll go look for a lost pit bill for 20 bucks. I have visions of people going down alleyways yelling out for Hercles, and you get charged by this thing and you go, oh, please be Hercles; please be the friendly one. (Laughter) I’m sure she never found the dog, because I took the sign. (Laughter) But I was asked to give a talk at a conference in Sacramento a few years back. And the theme was courage, and they asked me to talk about how courageous it is to be a graphic designer. And I remembered seeing this photograph of my father, who was a test pilot, and he told me that when you signed up to become a test pilot, they told you that there was a 40 to 50 percent chance of death on the job. That’s pretty high for most occupations. (Laughter) But, you know, the government would make a plane; they’d say, go see if that one flies, would you? Some of them did; some of them didn’t. And I started thinking about some of these decisions I have to make between, like, serif versus san-serif. (Laughter) And for the most part, they’re not real life-threatening. Why not

experiment? Why not have some fun? Why not put some of yourself into the work? And when I was teaching, I used to always ask the students, What’s the definition of a good job? And as teachers, after you get all the answers, you like to give them the correct answer. And the best one I’ve heard — I’m sure some of you have heard this — the definition of a good job is: If you could afford to — if money wasn’t an issue — would you be doing that same work? And if you would, you’ve got a great job. And if you wouldn’t, what the heck are you doing? You’re going to be dead a really long time. Thank you very much.


“ You have to utilize who you are in your work. Nobody else can do that: nobody else can pull from your background, from your parents, your upbringing, your whole life experience.� Art & Design 31


Education


Bill Gates Philanthropist A passionate techie and a shrewd businessman, Bill Gates changed the world once, while leading Microsoft to dizzying success. Now he’s set to do it again with his own style of philanthropy and passion for innovation. Bill Gates is founder and former CEO of Microsoft. A geek icon, tech visionary and business trailblazer, Gates’ leadership — fueled by his long-held dream that millions might realize their potential through great software made Microsoft a personal computing powerhouse and a trendsetter in the Internet dawn. Whether you’re a suit, chef, quant, artist, media maven, nurse or gamer, you’ve probably used a Microsoft product today. In summer of 2008, Gates left his day-to-day role with Microsoft to focus on philanthropy. Holding that all lives have equal value (no matter where they’re being lived), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has now donated staggering sums to HIV/AIDS programs, libraries, agriculture research and disaster relief — and offered vital guidance and creative funding to programs in global health and education. Gates believes his tech-centric strategy for giving will prove the killer app of planet Earth’s next big upgrade. In his second annual letter, released in late January 2010, Gates takes stock of his first full year with the Gates Foundation. Read Bill Gates’ annual letter for 2010. And follow his ongoing thinking on his personal website, The Gates Notes.


Mosquitos, Malaria, I wrote a letter last week talking about the work of the foundation, sharing some of the problems. And Warren Buffet had recommended I do that — being honest about what was going well, what wasn’t, and making it kind of an annual thing. A goal I had there was to draw more people in to work on those problems, because I think there are some very important problems that don’t get worked on naturally. That is, the market does not drive the scientists, the communicators, the thinkers, the governments to do the right things. And only by paying attention to these things and having brilliant people who care and draw other people in can we make as much progress as we need to. So this morning I’m going to share two of these problems and talk about where they stand. But before I dive into those I want to admit that I am an optimist. Any tough problem, I think it can be solved. And part of the reason I feel that way is looking at the past. Over the past century, average lifespan has more than doubled. Another statistic, perhaps my favorite, is to look at childhood deaths. As recently as 1960, 110 million children were born, and 20 million of those died before the age of five. Five years ago, 135 million children were born — so, more — and less than 10 million of them died before the age of five. So that’s a factor of two reduction of the childhood death rate. It’s a phenomenal thing. Each one of those lives matters a lot. Bill Gates 36

And the key reason we were able to it was not only rising incomes but also a few key breakthroughs: vaccines that were used more widely. For example, measles was four million of the deaths back as recently as 1990 and now is under 400,000. So we really can make changes. The next breakthrough is to cut that 10 million in half again. And I think that’s doable in well under 20 years. Why? Well there’s only a few diseases that account for the vast majority of those deaths: diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria. So that brings us to the first problem that I’ll raise this morning, which is how do we stop a deadly disease that’s spread by mosquitos? Well, what’s the history of this disease? It’s been a severe disease for thousands of years. In fact, if we look at the genetic code, it’s the only disease we can see that people who lived in Africa actually evolved several things to avoid malarial deaths. Deaths actually peaked at a bit over five million in the 1930s. So it was absolutely gigantic. And the disease was all over the world. A terrible disease. It was in the United States. It was in Europe. People didn’t know what caused it until the early 1900s, when a British military man figured out that it was mosquitos. So it was everywhere. And two tools helped bring the death rate down. One was killing the mosquitos with DDT. The other was treating the patients with quinine, or quinine derivatives. And so that’s why the death rate did come down. Now, ironically, what happened was it was


and education eliminated from all the temperate zones, which is where the rich countries are. So we can see: 1900, it’s everywhere. 1945, it’s still most places. 1970, the U.S. and most of Europe have gotten rid of it. 1990, you’ve gotten most of the northern areas. And more recently you can see it’s just around the equator. And so this leads to the paradox that because the disease is only in the poorer countries, it doesn’t get much investment. For example, there’s more money put into baldness drugs than are put into malaria. Now, baldness, it’s a terrible thing. (Laughter) And rich men are afflicted. And so that’s why that priority has been set. But, malaria — even the million deaths a year caused by malaria greatly understate its impact. Over 200 million people at any one time are suffering from it. It means that you can’t get the economies in these areas going because it just holds things back so much. Now, malaria is of course transmitted by mosquitos. I brought some here, just so you could experience this. We’ll let those roam around the auditorium a little bit. (Laughter) There’s no reason only poor people should have the experience. (Laughter) (Applause) Those mosquitos are not infected. So we’ve come up with a few new things. We’ve got bed nets. And bed nets are a great tool. What it means is the mother and child stay under the bed net at night, so the mosquitos that bite late at night can’t get at them. And when you use indoor spraying with DDT and those nets you can cut deaths by over 50 percent.

And that’s happened now in a number of countries. It’s great to see. But we have to be careful because malaria — the parasite evolves and the mosquito evolves. So every tool that we’ve ever had in the past has eventually become ineffective. And so you end up with two choices. If you go into a country with the right tools and the right way, you do it vigorously, you can actually get a local eradication. And that’s where we saw the malaria map shrinking. Or, if you go in kind of half-heartedly, for a period of time you’ll reduce the disease burden, but eventually those tools will become ineffective, and the death rate will soar back up again. And the world has gone through this where it paid attention and then didn’t pay attention. Now we’re on the upswing. Bed net funding is up. There’s new drug discovery going on. Our foundation has backed a vaccine that’s going into phase three trial that starts in a couple months. And that should save over two thirds of the lives if it’s effective. So we’re going to have these new tools. But that alone doesn’t give us the road map. Because the road map to get rid of this disease involves many things. It involves communicators to keep the funding high, to keep the visibility high, to tell the success stories. It involves social scientists, so we know how to get not just 70 percent of the people to use the bed nets, but 90 percent. We need mathematicians to come in and simulate this, to do Monte Carlo things to

Eductation 37


Bill Gates 38

understand how these tools combine and work together. Of course we need drug companies to give us their expertise. We need rich-world governments to be very generous in providing aid for these things. And so as these elements come together, I’m quite optimistic that we will be able to eradicate malaria. Now let me turn to a second question, a fairly different question, but I’d say equally important. And this is: How do you make a teacher great? It seems like the kind of question that people would spend a lot of time on, and we’d understand very well. And the answer is, really, that we don’t. Let’s start with why this is important. Well, all of us here, I’ll bet, had some great teachers. We all had a wonderful education. That’s part of the reason we’re here today, part of the reason we’re successful. I can say that, even though I’m a college drop-out. I had great teachers. In fact, in the United States, the teaching system has worked fairly well. There are fairly effective teachers in a narrow set of places. So the top 20 percent of students have gotten a good education. And those top 20 percent have been the best in the world, if you measure them against the other top 20 percent. And they’ve gone on to create the revolutions in software and biotechnology and keep the U.S. at the forefront. Now, the strength for those top 20 percent is starting to fade on a relative basis, but even more concerning is the education that the balance of people are getting. Not only has

that been weak. it’s getting weaker. And if you look at the economy, it really is only providing opportunities now to people with a better education. And we have to change this. We have to change it so that people have equal opportunity. We have to change it so that the country is strong and stays at the forefront of things that are driven by advanced education, like science and mathematics. When I first learned the statistics, I was pretty stunned at how bad things are. Over 30 percent of kids never finish high school. And that had been covered up for a long time because they always took the dropout rate as the number who started in senior year and compared it to the number who finished senior year. Because they weren’t tracking where the kids were before that. But most of the dropouts had taken place before that. They had to raise the stated dropout rate as soon as that tracking was done to over 30 percent. For minority kids, it’s over 50 percent. And even if you graduate from high school, if you’re low-income, you have less than a 25 percent chance of ever completing a college degree. If you’re lowincome in the United States, you have a higher chance of going to jail than you do of getting a four-year degree. And that doesn’t seem entirely fair.. So, how do you make education better? Now, our foundation, for the last nine years, has invested in this. There’s many people working on it. We’ve worked on small schools, we’ve funded scholarships, we’ve done things in libraries. A lot of these things had a good


effect. But the more we looked at it, the more we realized that having great teachers was the very key thing. And we hooked up with some people studying how much variation is there between teachers, between, say, the top quartile — the very best — and the bottom quartile. How much variation is there within a school or between schools? And the answer is that these variations are absolutely unbelievable. A top quartile teacher will increase the performance of their class — based on test scores — by over 10 percent in a single year. What does that mean? That means that if the entire U.S., for two years, had top quartile teachers, the entire difference between us and Asia would go away. Within four years we would be blowing everyone in the world away. So, it’s simple. All you need are those top quartile teachers. And so you’d say, “Wow, we should reward those people. We should retain those people. We should find out what they’re doing and transfer that skill to other people.” But I can tell you that absolutely is not happening today. What are the characteristics of this top quartile? What do they look like? You might think these must be very senior teachers. And the answer is no. Once somebody has taught for three years their teaching quality does not change thereafter. The variation is very, very small. You might think these are people with master’s degrees. They’ve gone back and

they’ve gotten their Master’s of Education. This chart takes four different factors and says how much do they explain teaching quality. That bottom thing, which says there’s no effect at all, is a master’s degree. Now, the way the pay system works is there’s two things that are rewarded. One is seniority. Because your pay goes up and you vest into your pension. The second is giving extra money to people who get their master’s degree. But it in no way is associated with being a better teacher. Teach for America: slight effect. For math teachers majoring in math there’s a measurable effect. But, overwhelmingly, it’s your past performance. There are some people who are very good at this. And we’ve done almost nothing to study what that is and to draw it in and to replicate it, to raise the average capability or to encourage the people with it to stay in the system. You might say, “Do the good teachers stay and the bad teacher’s leave?” The answer is, on average, the slightly better teachers leave the system. And it’s a system with very high turnover. Now, there are a few places — very few — where great teachers are being made. A good example of one is a set of charter schools called KIPP. KIPP means Knowledge Is Power. It’s an unbelievable thing. They have 66 schools — mostly middle schools, some high schools — and what goes on is great teaching. They take the poorest kids, and over 96 percent of their high school graduates go Eductation 39


Bill Gates 40

to four-year colleges. And the whole spirit and attitude in those schools is very different than in the normal public schools. They’re team teaching. They’re constantly improving their teachers. They’re taking data, the test scores, and saying to a teacher, “Hey, you caused this amount of increase.” They’re deeply engaged in making teaching better. When you actually go and sit in one of these classrooms, at first it’s very bizarre. I sat down and I thought, “What is going on?” The teacher was running around, and the energy level was high. I thought, “I’m in the sports rally or something. What’s going on?” And the teacher was constantly scanning to see which kids weren’t paying attention, which kids were bored, and calling kids rapidly, putting things up on the board. It was a very dynamic environment, because particularly in those middle school years — fifth through eighth grade — keeping people engaged and setting the tone that everybody in the classroom needs to pay attention, nobody gets to make fun of it or have the position of the kid who doesn’t want to be there. Everybody needs to be involved. And so KIPP is doing it. How does that compare to a normal school? Well, in a normal school, teachers aren’t told how good they are. The data isn’t gathered. In the teacher’s contract, it will limit the number of times the principal can come into the classroom — sometimes to once per year. And they need advanced notice to do that. So imagine running a factory where you’ve got

these workers, some of them just making crap and the management is told, “Hey, you can only come down here once a year, but you need to let us know, because we might actually fool you, and try and do a good job in that one brief moment.” Even a teacher who wants to improve doesn’t have the tools to do it. They don’t have the test scores, and there’s a whole thing of trying to block the data. For example, New York passed a law that said that the teacher improvement data could not be made available and used in the tenure decision for the teachers. And so that’s sort of working in the opposite direction. But I’m optimistic about this, I think there are some clear things we can do. First of all, there’s a lot more testing going on, and that’s given us the picture of where we are. And that allows us to understand who’s doing it well, and call them out, and find out what those techniques are. Of course, digital video is cheap now. Putting a few cameras in the classroom and saying that things are being recorded on an ongoing basis is very practical in all public schools. And so every few weeks teachers could sit down and say, “OK, here’s a little clip of something I thought I did well. Here’s a little clip of something I think I did poorly. Advise me — when this kid acted up, how should I have dealt with that?” And they could all sit and work together on those problems. You can take the very best teachers and kind of annotate it, have it so everyone sees who is the very best at teaching this stuff.


You can take those great courses and make them available so that a kid could go out and watch the physics course, learn from that. If you have a kid who’s behind, you would know you could assign them that video to watch and review the concept. And in fact, these free courses could not only be available just on the Internet, but you could make it so that DVDs were always available, and so anybody who has access to a DVD player can have the very best teachers. And so by thinking of this as a personnel system, we can do it much better. Now there’s a book actually, about KIPP — the place that this is going on — that Jay Matthews, a news reporter, wrote — called, “Work Hard, Be Nice.” And I thought it was so fantastic. It gave you a sense of what a good teacher does. I’m going to send everyone here a free copy of this book. (Applause) Now, we put a lot of money into education, and I really think that education is the most important thing to get right for the country to have as strong a future as it should have. In fact we have in the stimulus bill — it’s interesting — the House version actually had money in it for these data systems, and it was taken out in the Senate because there are people who are threatened by these things. But I — I’m optimistic. I think people are beginning to recognize how important this is, and it really can make a difference for millions of lives, if we get it right. I only had time to frame those two problems. There’s a lot more problems like that — AIDS, pneumonia — I

can just see you’re getting excited, just at the very name of these things. And the skill sets required to tackle these things are very broad. You know, the system doesn’t naturally make it happen. Governments don’t naturally pick these things in the right way. The private sector doesn’t naturally put its resources into these things. So it’s going to take brilliant people like you to study these things, get other people involved — and you’re helping to come up with solutions. And with that, I think there’s some great things that will come out of it. Thank you. (Applause)

“I want to admit that I am an optimist. Any tough problem, I think it can be solved.”

Eductation 41


1 - Art & Design 14 J. J. Abrams The mystery box 22 David Carson Design and discovery 36 Cameron Carpenter Transforming energy into music 45 Frank Gehry A master architect asks, Now what? 58 Herbie Hancock An all-star set 65 Chris Jordan Turning powerful stats into art 71 Larry Lessig Re-examining the remix 83 Mathieu Lehanneur Science-inspired design 89 Ross Lovegrove Organic design, inspired by nature 94 John Maeda My journey in design 100 William McDonough Cradle to cradle design

106 Vik Muniz Art with wire, sugar, chocolate and string 111 James Nachtwey Let my photographs bear witness 119 Jehane Noujaim A global day of film 125 Joshua Prince-Ramus Building a theater that remakes itself 131 Franco Sacchi A Tour of Nollywood, Nigeria’s booming film industry 138 Stefan Sagmeister The Power of Time Off 143 Paula Scher Great Design is Serious, Not Solemn 150 Cameron Sinclair A Call for Open-source Architecture 158 Philippe Starck Design and Destiny 168 Anna Deavere Smith Four American Characters 174 Ed Ulbrich How Benjamin Button got His face 184 Stephan Van Dam Talks Maps


Index

192 Benjamin Zander The Transformative Power of Classical Music

276 Neil Turok Find the Next Einstein in Africa

2 - Business & Economics

4 - Health & Personal Growth

204 Seth Godin This is broken

282 Richard Branson Life at 30,000 feet

213 Tim Jackson An economic reality check

291 Dan Buettner How to live to be 100+

220 Amory Lovins Winning the oil endgame

302 David Blaine How I held my breath for 17 minutes

228 Nicholas Negroponte One Laptop per Child

5 - Psychology

235 Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala Aid versus trade

312 Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi Flow, the secret to happiness

3 - Education

319 Jim Fallon Exploring the mind of a killer

245 Richard Baraniuk The birth of open-source learning

325 Malcolm Gladwell Choice, happiness, and spaghetti sauce Temple

252 Dave Eggers Once Upon a School

332 Grandin The world needs all kinds of minds

261 Salman Khan Let’s use video to reinvent education

343 Nigel Marsh How to make work-life balance work

269 Jamie Oliver Teach every child about food

351 Pamela Meyer How to spot a liar


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