IA Summit 10 – Richard Saul Wurman Keynote

IA Summit 2010

This year marks the 11th annual Information Architecture Summit. Our theme is meant to inspire everyone in the community—even those who aren’t presenting or volunteering—to bring their best ideas to the table.

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Keynotes

| “Day 1 Keynote – Dan Roam”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-10-dan | Day 2 Keynote – Richard Saul Wurman | “Day 3 – Whitney Hess”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-10-whitney |

Full Program

| “Day 1“:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-10-day-1 | “Day 2“:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-10-day-2 | “Day 3“:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-10-day-3 |

Day Two Keynote – Richard Saul Wurman

Richard Saul Wurman encourages the design community to take initiative and solve big problems rather than make small changes incrementally.

With the majority of the earth’s population now living in cities, Richard Saul Wurman realized there was a yawning information gap about the urban super centers that are increasingly driving modern culture.

In this keynote presentation from the 2010 IA Summit, Mr. Wurman discusses his 19.20.21 initiative: an attempt to standardize a methodology to understand comparative data on 19 cities that will have 20 million or more inhabitants in the 21st century. He encourages the design community to take initiative and solve big problems rather than make small changes incrementally.


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Transcript of Richard Saul Wurman Keynote from Day 2 of the 2010 IA Summit in Phoenix, Arizona.


Announcer: In this keynote presentation from the 2010 IA summit Mr. Wurman discusses his 19.20.21 initiative an attempt to standardize a methodology to understand comparative data on 19 cities that have 20,000,000 or more inhabitants in the 21st century. I hope everyone enjoys the podcast. Cheers. Richard.
Richard Saul Wurman: May I introduce the person who’s going to introduce me?

[laughter]
Dan Klyn: Thank you.
Richard Saul Wurman: Go, Dan.
Dan Klyn: Thanks. In a book he published 14 years ago Richard Saul Wurman described information architects as the people who understand and organize the patterns inherent in data. Information architects, he wrote, are the people who create systematic, structural, and orderly principles to make something work. Making the complex clear. His life and work provide a blueprint for how to do this work. It’s not the only way to do this work, but it’s a really good way. Ladies and gentleman, please join me in welcoming Richard Saul Wurman.
[applause]
Richard Saul Wurman: Not a standing ovation, but genuine.
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: I’m going to start with one quite brief story and then a slightly longer story. Then, I’m going to do something that I am not comfortable doing. I am actually going to be caring and a little pedagogical about what I felt in the last day. I normally really don’t give a shit about transferring the information I have or giving advice, but I think some of you need it. Because, it’s a little confusion, here. And then, I will tell my little stories and at a certain point the time will be over. A designated hitter, Dan, will put up his hand I will stop mid-sentence even though you’re going to want more. And, that’s the end and it’s very nice meeting all of you, even in this sort of distant way. So, that said, for most of my life that I can remember, I’ve loved the banana. There’s nothing phallic about that love for the banana, I just love the banana. As I grew older, I found that the banana was the perfect fruit, wherever I went. India or anyplace. I could eat a banana, it was always clean, I didn’t have to wash, in fact, it would be rather strange to wash. And slimy, to wash a banana. So, we have the banana as the perfect fruit.
I lived in the jungle for six months and we had banana trees. I pulled the little finger bananas off the tree and ate them fresh. Of course, we get them green shipped and then they turn yellow in the stores. And, they’re slightly sweeter, slightly better. But, bananas. You get good bananas and bad bananas. I have about 10 miniature banana trees in my green house, over the winter, and I put them outside in the summer. Because, I live in a northern climate and I actually grow some little finger bananas in Newport, Rhode Island, every once in a while. They don’t flower that often, but the banana’s been part of all our lives for a long time, including the fact that the banana, we think, is so good for us. Because, we are told it has potassium in it. We wouldn’t know what to do with potassium if we found it on the street. But, it’s told it has potassium, and somehow, that’s good for you.
For my whole life I’ve been opening a banana, they way you take it off of a tree. And, I’ve sometimes bruised the top in getting it open. I sometimes go like that to do it. Have we all done that? Well, the theme of this talk is opening the banana from the other end. And, if you open the banana from the other end. It just opens right up.

[laughter]
Do you see how fucked up we are?

[laughter]

This is new; I’ve never had a prop before. I disdain props and slides. But, isn’t that interesting? I couldn’t resist it. I could have done it by just talking about bananas and say, “Turn it over.” But, I though that was rather dramatic.

[laughter]
Well, this is really metaphor for the opposite paradigm. For creativity and innovation. By the way, the opposite paradigm spells TOP and that should be your top priority. To do the opposite pattern. Look at everything you’re doing and do the opposite pattern. Many of the conversations I’ve had with people as they were trying to do a better version of what already didn’t work. As a resultant, they get a better version of something that doesn’t work and it still doesn’t work. They are polishing the lily. They are just making something a little better. They are afraid of beginning again. Several conversations were about minutia change in their life so they could make things just better.
You don’t want to make things better. You want to start again. Is that terrifying? Yes. What is more interesting than terror? What is the feeling, the sweat on your brow, but terror? Are you going to fail sometimes. You bet. The two precepts that I have here, standing here this morning, is I am terrified and I am confident. They don’t cancel each other out. They help each other.
Because I’m terrified, I’m really thinking about what I’m doing. I’m not just phoning it in. Because, I’m confident I can get up here and talk to you. Obviously, I’m a little more relaxed than some of you might be up here on the stage, but that comes from being an old fart.
[laughter]
That’s the first story, the banana’s for sale, because I had to pay for it, at breakfast.
[laughter]
The second story is about innovation, too. And, that is, in 1398, two brothers. Well, one was born. I don’t know whether it was his older brother, so he might have been born earlier or later. But, Gutenberg was born in Mainz, Germany. Gutenberg Museum is still in Mainz, Germany. There’s a nice copy of the 42 line bible, there.

And, that’s worth a visit, the Gutenberg Museum. And, about 40 years later, he and his brother adapted a wine press into a printing press. And, then the Gutenberg we know, not the brother, started carving type and he carved an alphabet of 126 letters. 126 letters were so that every letter was perfectly space with other letters. So, the letters, as you know, is the spacing between letters. It’s not just like this. They have to hug each other in the right way so it looks even. And, the lines work out even.
Well, they had vellum. But, he had to invent a paper that would work on that. And then, he had to figure out that you had to dampen the paper. And, he had to invent the ink because, the “Book of Hours,” all the “Books of Hours” that you know, I assume many of you take courses in illuminated manuscripts. That you know about the “Book of Hours” and how they’re done. They use a water-based ink and he had to have an oil based ink to work and to tamp down this dampened paper on the press.
And, he did a 42 line bible. Some of them, he did on the press twice, with red and black. He printed about, they don’t know exactly, between 180 and 200 of them. They were extremely expensive. Very valuable books. It was not mass communication. Still only very wealthy people bought these books. And, in the western world, this was the first incident that we can point to as far as a multiple pressing.
It’s not really reasonable to come in late, because you don’t even know what I’m going to be talking about know.

[laughter]
So, we really can close the doors.

[laughter]

I mean, I’ve set up the whole psychology of this talk already.
[laughter]

I mean, being late, is really being stupid.
[laughter]
But that is not really the story. The story is that the church saw this and they said, “Holy shit! We can print little pieces of paper, and sell them for a lot.” They were called “Indulgences.” So, all of the brothers died penniless, never made a penny on their amazing work, and I will tell you how amazing it is in a minute. The church sold indulgences, which were confessionals to rich people, and got wealthy off of the printing press, but that is still not really the story.
It took 99 years for somebody to invent pagination. There was no page numbers. There is no page numbers on the early books, because after all it was the Bible. You knew the Bible. You knew where you were. You didn’t have to find something. You weren’t looking up anything. You weren’t doing any of the things to find it, to find something, the way of finding through a book, Google. You weren’t doing any of the things that we have a passion about in this room. So, in 99 years, somebody invented pagination.

Pagination led to finding things, and to find it in the world we are in now. There’s White Pages, and Yellow Pages, and Google, and Yahoo, and Bing. There’s dictionaries, and thesauruses, and encyclopedias. If I took 140,000 words, the average number of words in an collegiate dictionary, and threw them on the floor, it wouldn’t be a dictionary. If I organize them alphabetically, so I can find stuff… Although, there is that idiot conversation we all have in school, “How can I look up how to spell a word, if I can’t spell a word?” I mean, have we all been told that’s insanity?
I am a terrible speller, and when I go to “Spell check” on my thing, I still have difficulty, because I don’t even know how to start the fucking word, but we have a dictionary.
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: If you group those things at all the words in a particular subject, all of the biological words are together, you have the beginning of an encyclopedia. If you group all of the words that have the same meaning together, you have a thesaurus. It is the same words. The organization of information actually creates new information, new access to information, the same information. So, organization of information is not trivial, it is really a fundamental part of how we think.
Some of you have read “Information Anxiety” and “Information Anxiety 2,” where I talk about “LATCH.” I have talked about LATCH for quite a number of years. LATCH; Location, Alphabet, Time, Category, and Hierarchy, as the five ways of organizing information.
I’ve always said to every audience who has bought the book or where I have spoken, I said, “I thought there was a huge number of ways of organizing things.” I was surprised that I could only come up with five. Let’s say there is no more than 10. I don’t care if there’s 5, or 6, or 7, but if after 20 some years nobody has come up with a sixth, I feel safe to say there is no more than 10, and there’s probably not more than 5, and it works, because you can decide when you start a project of how you get into it.
But that is not only a project on paper or on a computer, it is also a conversation. How do you have a conversation? Does the conversation start as it did with this gentleman here this morning at breakfast? We started talking, and I asked him where he was from, and he said, “Lancaster.” I said, “Oh, my father used to have a cigar factory in Lancaster and in Newark, Pennsylvania, and Newark, Pennsylvania was the capital of the United States for about 10 minutes. My father every other week went to Lancaster, and he used to bring back celery.”
He said, “Yes! They have the best celery in Lancaster.” I said, “Yes. It’s fantastic celery, and then everybody now cuts off the heart. It is the best part of the celery. Why do they do that?” And he said, “Yes. That is quite true.” I said, “He used to also occasionally in the summer bring home peaches.” He said, “Well, Cumberland or North Cumberland, or something Cumberland, is where they have incredible peaches.” I said, “They’re probably from there. I didn’t know where they were from. I didn’t know they weren’t from Lancaster.” Obviously, some farmer brought them in, and he brought them home. I had a very conversation about celery and peaches, and I have never had peaches better than that.
In almost anything there’s just amazing things you can learn, and that started with location, and then we did categories, categories of peaches and celery, and then we went from that to the quality of them, that they were the best, so that is hierarchy… and that was that.
He told me yesterday when we were sitting upstairs that he had moved from anthropology to something else, and then I quizzed him on what kind of anthropology, and he didn’t have a kind of anthropology. So, then I thought less of him.
[laughter]

Richard Saul Wurman: As my mother used to tell me as I grew up, “Well, you lose some, and you lose some.” She was very supportive of my career.
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: Yesterday, I was in a lecture that this gentleman on the left was, and I was inappropriate. I got up and ranted at one point, but I just couldn’t help myself, because there were people in this little lecture, It wasn’t him that I was ranting at by the way, although his grammar was not well. You say “Like” something, and somebody “Goes” this way. It is somebody “Says” something. You don’t “Go” this. You “Say” something. You don’t say, “You know.” You can’t be sloppy, and be on the stage. The grammar should be at least at a certain level in pubic, in any case.
[laughter]
So, what I was ranting about is somebody was talking about “Wireframes,” and I didn’t know what they were talking about. I know what a “Wireframe” is. I mean a “Wireframe” to me is something you do, it is what Jeffrey Katzenberg showed me of “Shrek” before he filled in the colors. It’s something in animated films, and I didn’t know what a wireframe is. I even talked to other people, and they are so interested in certain technologies, and certain modalities, and certain…
What my rant was about is what information architecture, not to me, this is a generalized statement. It is about understanding. It starts with understanding, and ends with understanding. What are we doing this for? It is for understanding. We want to make something understandable to another human being, to ourselves. That is my ploy. I don’t care about you. I want to make it understandable to myself. I want to have an interest. Something I don’t understand, I want to make it understandable.
I had a company called the “Understanding Business.” I have three books called: “Understanding USA,” “Understanding Children,” “Understanding Healthcare.” I am doing a book on “Understanding Dogs,” and “Understanding Cats,” only because they’re interesting to me, and I don’t understand them. So, one starts from this park place of zero, the land called “Zero,” and you really try to describe the journey from not knowing to knowing.
I had a conversation with somebody the other day, who surprisingly used that phrase of “Not knowing,” going from “Not knowing” to “Knowing.” That is the magic of our business; how do you go from not knowing to knowing, and how do you systemically do that? The modality is just an add-on, and it’s going to change in 10 minutes.
Anybody, who thinks what they are doing and have expertise in it, is going to lose that expertise in 10 minutes, because everything is changing, and will continue to change at a more rapid rate. Having expertise is the least interesting thing. It’s just so boring for somebody to have expertise, but somebody that has passion, somebody that has desire, somebody that wants to make something understandable, that’s interesting. That you could sit and have a cup of coffee with them. That is reasonable. That is exciting.
I had flew out to Charlotte, and then I flew from Charlotte, here, and on the way to Charlotte from PVD, Providence, I sat next to somebody who makes valves and tubes, and things, for the transmission of blood through hospitals. It was fascinating! We got into a long discussion about cow’s blood, and the antigens that cows’ blood have. He felt within three years they are going to work it out, and the cows blood is going to be used for transfusions, human transfusions, and they are going to be very healthy, and they are going to be able to adapt them.
Well, that was really an interesting plane ride. Really fascinating. I always ask somebody the next question, and then the next question, and the next question of what they do. I am fascinated with all of it, and I remember all of it, and I connect all of it. I’m going to look at the cow’s blood, and see if I can have something about cows blood in my next TED MED Conference.
[laughter]
The next person I talked to on the way here was a Brit and a young man, and apparently he’s one of the top three or four golf instructors. Alex Rose, who was number six in golf, he’s his instructor.
And we started talking about golf. I’ve never held a golf club in my life. I’ve never belonged to a country club. I have no skill sets, and no interest in that.
I don’t like the people who play golf. I love George Carlin’s idea that we should turn all the golf courses into places for the homeless.
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: However, it was fascinating. He told me that the three top balls are all made by the same manufacturer and are exactly the same with a different emblem on it. I didn’t know that. He told me there’s only 10 ways you can hit a golf ball, and you can train for which way you want. 10 different angles and ways of holding your hands.
He has apparently the best selling book on golf swings, and of just the way you hold the hand there. In some of the illustrations, very nice illustrations, by the way, in one of them, to show the line up of things, he had a nail going through the hand through this. A major book distributor wouldn’t handle it because of the religious implications.
I mean, can you believe that? But that was what he told me.
I’m sending him some books, he’s sending me some books. He’ll probably come to my TED MED conference, and I think it’s fascinating.
I learned something, and I really got to think about how would you teach golf in China? They’re building 400 golf courses in China right now. Because they want it to become a major international sport, because business is done on the golf course, and they’re so business minded. So they’re building 400 golf courses at once and in November there’s going to be one of the five majors outside of Shanghai.
Nobody understands the game of golf there, and I was trying to think, “How could I make golf understandable?” Because I don’t understand a damn thing about golf, and wouldn’t it be a fun little project to make golf understandable?
I started thinking about how I would do that, and I was working on it last night, and thinking of what would be the fun of… because I did a book on baseball, football, and the Olympics, so I’ve done three sports.
So I thought, is it the same, or would I do them really completely different now. Because I don’t want to do it the same way I did it before. And it makes me think about that.
There’s no conversation you can have that doesn’t really test your mind of thinking about how, what is the journey from not knowing to knowing?
It has nothing to do with wire frames, or little pads where you peel off things and write notes or all the stuff that I see around here. It’s just the trivia. It’s the ephemera of this business. The only part of business that makes sense is our head. I’ve told this joke before. I told it at dinner last night, so only three, four people have heard it.
I had a very good dinner, by the way. Shockingly… the only thing shocking about this rather seedy hotel is that they have this thing that turns on the top as a restaurant, where I’ve never been to a turning restaurant, because why would you go to a turning restaurant? Seems…I mean, I would not be here…sure, you wouldn’t say, “Oh, I’m going to a turning restaurant tonight.”
But I went to a turning restaurant, and everything I asked for… I always try to order off the menu a bit. My father taught me you should never really order on a menu, you should order off the menu.
You know the kind of restaurant it is. You know there’s a chef in the kitchen with food. You tell him how you want it, what you want. Assume that any dish comes with anything they say it comes with, or well, anything. You should never assume that.
You should order off… there is always a table in a restaurant, a seat on a plane, and a room in a hotel, and it should be mine. I think you have to go into life thinking that, that you deserve this. If you don’t get it, well, some things don’t work. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get. It’s that simple. If you realize that some things don’t work, you go back to asking. It’s an empowering thing.
So, please get off of this path of expertise and jargon and…
In 1976 I did a conference called the “Architecture of Information,” and then I started calling myself an information architect. I was national chairman of the AIA Conference then. I’m an architect, I’m not trained in anything.
But in 1962, that’s long before ’76. Not long, 14 years, some of you might be a long time. If you’re 20, 14 years ago is a long time ago.
I did a book which had the plans of 50 cities in the world all to the same scale. Wasn’t that information architecture? I think so. It was a systemic way of understanding information.
There were no computers then, by the way. There was no wire frames. There was no web pages. There was none of those things. That doesn’t make information architecture.
What makes an information architect is an attitude. A desire, a passion to communicate systemically with rules and systems, and transfer information to another human being.
It’s not all this other stuff. Those are… all the stuff is. It’ll be here today, gone tomorrow. Somebody else will give a speech and sell a book about how they do that.
But that’s not the principles. It’s not where your heart is. It’s not what we do. It is not that desire.
Web pages. We’re all involved in web pages. I have web pages. They’re all awful. We are primitive.
There’s some pretty web pages. I think my web page for TED MED is pretty, it’s nice, but it’s not a good web page.
When movies first came out, they were photographing stage shows. What we have is lousy books on the web. We have pages. We’re still talking about pages.
I’ll tell you a little story about the Macintosh and what it allowed us to do.
Macintosh came out, and the first Macintosh was shown at my TED conference, have to get a little plug in for my past, in 1984. And very easily on a Macintosh you could do a pie diagram. So you could take some numbers, make a pie diagram, and construct it really quickly.
Then color came in. So you could first do it in 16 colors, 32 colors, 64 colors, and then, they actually had this expression, “Millions of colors.” You could do it in “Millions of colors.” I mean, you can’t discern “Millions of colors.” Just like, you don’t know the difference between the top six violinists.
Do you really think you could pick which is the best of the top six? Nobody’s ears in this room are good enough to do that. Maybe the ears in another room are, but not this room. I couldn’t probably tell you the top 18, 20, 50. Maybe I would know.
So, we put colors on these pie charts. And then we found easily we could make them in three dimensions. We could make them look like a coin or something. And they had sides. And then we could put shadows. Round-sided, soft shadows. At first they were sort of like that, but then they got smooth.
And then we could have a light source throw a shadow from this three dimensional thing on whatever surface wasn’t there on our screen.
And then we really learned how to make this pie chart good. We could explode it and pull out some of the wedges. And put it up in the air and cast shadows down on the ground from that.
People did this. And why did they do this? Why is this so attractive?
It’s because you can. Just because you can do it, you do this. My question to you, and my statement to you is, that a pie chart is a really stupid way to show comparative numerical information.
[laughter]

Making something that doesn’t work better, prettier…is dumb! It’s just simply dumb.
Little teeny numbers in a thin little pie give you no comparative information, and you really can’t compare those strange areas of almost triangles with slightly curved ends to one another.
Bars are easy. Wedges aren’t. It’s very dumb. I tell you that because it’s fundamentally dumb. It comes from not asking the question of “What works? What’s the way in? How do you communicate to another human being?”
You just don’t do things because you can do them. Because you can push a button and flip something or show a little movie, you don’t just do it. Because you can put 1200 things on one page, you don’t just do it.
Look at WebMD’s page. I mean, you’d be dead before you found your way through the first page.
[laughter]

They jam as much of it because it is the same mentality that they teach in a school of photography. The more on a map is a better map. It isn’t. I don’t want to be wearing a belt, suspenders, and then glue your pants on to your stomach. It just isn’t better.
It’s scary. A lot of people have conversations with me about their fears. Fears about changing jobs. Fears about being an information architect, for being transferred into the strategic planning department or something. Or doing something… I don’t know what any of the words mean. I don’t know any department or anything… I had been very fortunate in my life to be so abrasive that nobody would hire me.
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: That certainly has helped me a great deal. It’s also filtered out the fact that I have quite a number of acquaintships, but no friendships. There’s a lot to be said for being abrasive. There’s a lot to be said for saying really what’s on your mind. Like, “Oh, there is a booger in your nose.”
[laughter]

There really isn’t.
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: But would you want to walk around with a booger in your nose and not have somebody tell you? And then if somebody tells you, [sarcastically]
“Oh, that guy told me I had a booger in my nose.”
That means, just see, you can’t win in a conversation.
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: I was lying. He didn’t have a booger in his nose. He rubbed his nose. And then he is embarrassed and doesn’t like me for doing that whole thing to him. I’m just making a point. I’m fortunate that these series of things, personality flaws, have been really helpful to me. Some of you know I started a conference called the “TED conference.” The “TED conference,” which is out of control in it’s “TED-ing” of the world at the moment.
I sold in 2002, the same way I’ll sell this banana later on.
[laughter]
But not for eight figures.
[laughs]
Well, if we use a decimal point, I can sell it for eight figures.
[laughs]
See, that wasn’t even the truth, “eight figures.” Which gets me to numbers for a while. We had a nice conversation about numbers last night at dinner, we were talking about… Recently I got some passion about the year and numbers and…
[audience member sneezing]
Bless you! Welcome-we keep on going. That was David Gray sneezing there.
[laughter]
If you would like something for the camera, and when you’ll have little, if you translate it into Japanese at the bottom when you think, “David Gray sneezing.”
[laughter]
Well, we are information architects, we should explain what we’re doing and what’s happening. I mean it’s an odd sound from the back or the front of the room. We should understand what that is. And it gives him some fame that will last for a short period of time. So the laughing will make him sneeze again.
I’ve gotten interested in the “year.” Stephen Jay Gould was an acquaintance of mine. I hope some of you know who he is. If not, Google him. One of, may be the 10 best, most remarkable, [inaudible 33:11] speakers that I have ever heard in my life. Stephen Jay Gould, he’s dead. Well, it’s an interesting thing about his death. He had cancer at a very young age. A cancer, which had only one percent chance of surviving. It was one of those aggressive, aggressive cancers. They told him that he was going to die. What he did was sort out the one percent of the people who didn’t die from that cancer. He lived another 30 years and died from a different cancer.
In the meanwhile did amazing work. He was an amazing Darwinian biologist. Wrote the front pages of “Natural History” magazine month after month after month. He came to my house in Newport. I live rather pretentiously. So the front whole is marble. He walked down and he looked at the marble and he was identifying all the little animals that were embedded in the marble. Just by looking down, he knew all those little things which was rather astonishing. To tell you something else about Newport, then we walked out in the backyard, I had just moved in, and he walked out the backyard like this, and he said, “Jew stepped, Jew stepped. First time a Jew has ever stepped here.”
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: I’ve never told that story ever before, but it’s funny.
[laughs]
I have eight acres in Newport. There’s a big fence all around the property, high fence around the property. The urban legend in this town is that I didn’t build this fence, the town built it to keep me in.
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: It’s not true. It’s not true. [laughs] I was talking about Stephen Jay Gould for a while. Over here, thank you. I’m old. He wrote a little book in 1997 about the bicentennial, it was going to happen, and we all went crazy, -for the turning of the century from 1999 to the year 2000. Now many of you know now, particularly the Europeans in the room, because they were the ones who brought it up. Not brought it up, but understood at the dinner table well. The other people were masticating their food. It’s that the new century began in 2001 not in 2000.
Well, we just like the little zeros. We like little zeros, it’s easier to celebrate.
However, if you go back to 1899, the front page on the newspaper on December 31st was saying, “The next year,” front page story in 1899, “That the next day would be the beginning of the last year of the 19th century.” Then in 100 years, the year time switched by a year,how they described the centennial, the 1000… Isn’t that odd? Because it’s marketing. It’s easier to market all those zeros. The 2000, it’s a logo that looks better.
The lack of fact bothered nobody and they shot off fire works quite beautifully at the Tour Eiffel in Paris. On the year 2000 even that was the last… And maybe they were celebrating the last year of the 29th century. But I don’t think so. Nothing is very accurate about numbers, not very sensible about numbers. We have an arrogance about human beings and numbers and birth dates, birth dates of Christ, the death of Herod, and starting centuries, our calendar that we use generally today was started in the sixth century.
It wasn’t a calendar before the sixth century that had anything to do with anything. So it was 400, 500 years when it wasn’t really a calendar. So we made up a calendar. The Pope asked a little guy by the name of “Dennis The Little.” He was a monk. Actually it’s his name and I mentioned that to you this morning, Dennis. I told you about Dennis the little. He came up eventually with Christ’s birthday being on the 25th of December. Then as all of Jewish holidays are eight days, he counted forward eight days to January first and that’s the celebration of the festival of circumcision. And that’s when January first was first born.
But he started with the year one. Because there was not year zero, because there wasn’t the concept in Europe of zero. There was a little bit of zero in the Mayan world. Of course, there is the Baptoon and Cartoon and stuff like that. I love, if anybody is really interested in Mayan things, I can go on for quite a while. I’ve lived, as I told you, in the jungle of Guatemala and mapped one third of Tikal and I go frequently back to the Yucatan.
While we’re talking about the Yucatan, that bump that you see in Mexico is not the Yucatan. That’s made up of three states. It’s our neighboring country. It’s the state of the Yucatan, which has Merida as its capital, the state of Campeche, with Campeche as its capital, and the long skinny one with that funny town called Cancun, the invented town called Cancun, with Chetumal as its capital is Quintana Roo.
So when you go to what you call the Yucatan, you’re going to Quintana Roo, if you’re going to Cancun.
And Quintana Roo was lawless, brought into the Mexican state system in 1915, but until 1931 you couldn’t enter there, it was so much of a Wild West show.
That’s our bordering country. We know nothing about it.
Do you see where any word can take you any place? Any place? You just have to remember this shit.
I have a nice story about, however, the Yucatan, and Sisal, and why it was developed the way it is. And if somebody’s really interested, I’ll tell you later about this strange story of change. Change is somewhat what this whole talk is about. The acceptance of change.
I’ll do a real rapid run of it. There was an industrial revolution in the 1800’s. So they started sending stuff places.
Things were manufactured and goods, and food and cloth and silk and bananas, and everything was sent everywhere in the world on big ships with big sails called clipper ships, or something like that. Then they came up with these steam engines. And they had hybrid ships. The hybrid was invented with those ships.
No, maybe it was invented with Romans with oars and sails. That’s a hybrid too. Hybrids are not something new, is what I’m saying.
And then they dropped the sails and bigger engines, and the engines were run first by coal, and then I guess by oil and then eventually aircraft carriers have atomic energy on them.
About four years ago… no, what year was 9/11?
Huh? 2001? So it was nine years ago, right immediately a week before 9/11, I flew out to the Teddy Roosevelt aircraft carrier. It was in war games in the Atlantic. Landed on it. It was scary.
You land on it, you’re sitting backwards in a plane that has no windows and you’re trying to catch these rubber bands. And I spent a couple of days in war games on that boat. It was incredibly uncomfortable. I can’t imagine being on one of those boats for any length of time.
And then you take off, and the Admiral said, “I’ve done this a lot of times, and this is still the scariest eight seconds of my life.” And it is, it’s really scary. You take off and you go down.
And then came home and just a few days later was 9/11 and they brought the ship back and then they sent it over there. And they have atomic energy. It was the only part of the ship I was not allowed to see, I don’t know why.
But everybody who showed me around the ship who was attached to me to show me around the ship got lost.
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: 5,000 people live on this fucking boat. And the people that were assigned to me don’t know their way around. And there are no maps and there are no diagrams, and you have no idea where you are. There’s no windows.
The only time you have any sense where your absolute complete anxiety and terror leaves you is in a place where you can’t hear yourself think, and that’s because of the noise on the deck with these exploding planes every two minutes.
But down there, there’s no two stairways that line up that you can go to. There’s no diagram. You don’t know what deck you’re on. And every stairway, the riser tread is slightly different. If there was no light… and some are metal, some are wood, some have chain handles… there’s nothing common. It’s like 1,200 chimpanzees built the boat.
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: And they glued together the parts with super glue. Well, that’s something else. I wouldn’t do it again, but I did that then. In 1962 I did a book with plans of 50 cities of the world. In 1967 I did a massive book to which I’m absolutely and utterly convinced no one has seen called “Urban Atlas: 20 American Cities.”
It was a major huge book with every page that would fold out that big, and it had 14 colors, and it was the first time there was ever a comparative statistical comparison of 20 cities in America, the 20 largest cities in America.
It was a Herculean project I did for MIT. I had 55 people working on it. It took quite a while, and it is still an amazing book, and it was all done by hand, and it was because in 1967 it was before computers.
Both of those books I have brought back to show to two new partners. They had never seen them. And they’re just astonished that it was done in ’62, and then ’67… for a project that I’m doing called 19.20.21, which is trying to set up a methodology for understanding cities.
Now, this is a project that is so big that there’s something there for everybody. And this is a fact. It’s absolutely a fact. I wouldn’t say it here on this stage unless I’ve said it before, and there’s no two cities in the world that do their maps the same scale, ask the same questions, have the same legends, and there’s no methodology whatsoever how you do the border around the city, and if you don’t know how to put a border around a city, you have no area within it which to collect information, and therefore get comparative densities.
By general opinion, the largest city in the world is Tokyo, and the variations in population of Tokyo is from 25 million to 65 million, because they draw different borders.
I’m not talking about the city border as the incorporated city, but actually how a city is. Encompassing other cities, of going out with transportation lines, of the urban fabric going out. How do you draw the edge? There is no accepted methodology for drawing the edge.
It’s not a trivial thing. It’s a fundamental thing, because 51% going to 70% of the world’s population live in urban areas.
This is not trying to make cities better. That is not what I’m trying to do. This is not a value statement of whether people should live in cities or shouldn’t live cities. Whether there should be slums or there shouldn’t be slums. This is not what I’m talking about.
I’m talking about just understanding what is, so that other people can make value judgments of making use of success and failure from one city to another.
It’s an interesting project. It’s vast. It’s a five year project. I have two partners. One is the biggest map maker in the world who is way below the radar.
ESRI has 4,000 employees and they are owned by one person in Redlands. In fact, if you go to the website, they have this website and in the website it says, “This company is not for sale.”
The other company is Radical Media, and you can go to their website. So I have two partners, and I’m going to be meeting with them all day Monday and Tuesday in Redlands.
Well, that’s a fascinating project. It’s huge. It’ll be probably, I hope, we hope, it’s all dreams, most things don’t work, a TV series, and of course websites or iPad sites, and I’ll talk about iPad in a minute.
And urban observatories around the world simultaneously, live museums where the information constantly changes and you can talk from one city to another and see your city relative to other cities in the world.
IBM has helped us with the first presentation of proof of concept, where we looked at Tokyo a little bit and New York in a deep dive to show that what we’re really talking about starts to make some sense.
In fact, I had a brief conversation-I don’t know if he’s in this room, is Mr. IBM in this room? Yeah, there he is.
I’ve had a brief conversation with him. He’s seen the presentation. He thought, maybe because he was sucking up to me, that it was pretty good. But there’s a real business there, it’s an interesting thing and we’re talking to other people about that.
That’s one project. Another project I’m doing for my TED…when I talk about TED MED, that is absolutely transparently avarice and greed on my part. I’m running the conference. If it does well, I make money, so I know I’m hawking something, and I apologize in advance, but it’s an interesting exercise, and I’m telling you that in advance.
One of the things I want to do with the conference this year is proactively in a conference explain something to the group rather than just have a speaker come up. To begin a conference and make them have some epiphany, some understanding of something that comes from the person running the conference.
Not in a speech, but through an exercise I bother going through, much as if you saw a book I did called, “Understanding USA,” which is only a mediocre book. Some parts are very good. Some parts aren’t so good. The parts that are good are good. The parts that are bad are bad. I can’t rip out the bad parts, so I don’t sell it at all.
But that was a proactive way in the year 2000, I bought into the thing, of doing an annual report of the United States of America. It’s called “Understanding USA” And it has three different color covers because I could. It’s all the same book, but for a while I liked the white one. I never liked the red one. The blue one’s OK. The white one’s nice because it shows fingerprints.
Anyway, the project I want to do for this conference is called “Five By Five By Five By Five.” Don’t take it down. If you can’t remember “Five By Five By Five By Five,” you shouldn’t be in this room at all.
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: What I want to look at, because I don’t understand the health care system anywhere, and I want to understand what the health care system is sort of like here relative to someplace else. I might know a little bit more of what happens here than someplace else. I want to look at five countries: Japan, United States, Great Britain, Norway, and India. I want to look at five things that can happen. You’re born, what birth is like. What the last five months of your life is like. Really, you usually do six months, but the thing is called, “Five By Five By Five By Five,” so I’ll say the last five months of life.
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: Basically death, a chronic disease, diabetes II; a trauma, breaking her hip; and a heart attack. And what happens at five different percentiles based on the percentiles within that country, not percentiles across all the countries. Five different percentiles within those countries, reasonable percentiles, of income or net worth, whatever we can get. What would be a little story of what would happen getting born someplace or having diabetes someplace. Not encyclopedic, just a beginning way of knowing enough to see some patterns in it. It’s not meant to be an encyclopedia. It’s a simple little study. It’s not so easy to do, but it’s not a doctoral dissertation. And just set up probably in a film and in an exhibit and posters and some other things like that.
I think Nigel Holmes is going to help me, and Paul Suel’s going to help me and an amazing person who you should look up who came into my office. Kind of nice-looking, handsome guy who I guess made a little bit of money. I think he’s in his very early 40s or late 30s and has this passion to make some complex governmental information clear and wanted my help.
He did a poster on everything, beyond anything, you wanted to know about the Supreme Court and all its justices and its history. It’s worthwhile getting and looking at it. His name is Nathaniel Pearlman, and it’s worthwhile getting this. It’s a big poster. It’s extraordinary.
He just sent me the preliminary of all the Presidents of the United States, which I had some real criticisms of it he’s getting from other people, and I hope he makes a few changes. But it will be an amazing single poster on all the presidency, better than anything I’ve ever seen.
I want him to do “Five By Five By Five By Five” along with other stuff I pump in there, too, and he’s been doing some of the research for me. You can all help. Anybody can help me. I mean, for nothing. I don’t pay anything.
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: Just if you want to help me, you can help me. I love help. That’s my scam. I get people to help me do things, and your name will be someplace.
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: Well.

[laughs]

I mean everybody helps me. If you look at any of my books, everybody helps me. Their name is there. Everybody helps me, and everything is there. More so than anybody I tell the name of the paper I use always. I do everything like that, but it’s an interesting project. And it’s called “Five By Five By Five By Five.” And then I got this idea, and this idea’s about four days old. As I told you before, I follow tornadoes. This is another one you could help on. I don’t know how to begin this one at all. I have some ideas how to begin “Five By Five By Five By Five.” But what I’m doing is I’m giving you examples that a single human being without a client can do things. Are you seeing a pattern here?
I don’t understand something. I want to make it understandable. I’m a single human being. I don’t even self fund them. They just get done because people want to do it and learn from it. And it often leads to other things that they get to do. And they learn in the process. So is it a scam? Yeah! Is it helpful? Yeah! I don’t get complaints after these are over.
And I’m upfront about what I do. Right? Over the years I have about 18 people who are far better educated than myself changing slightly over the years as they get too old. But usually from their mid 20s to their late 30s who, wherever I do a conference, they get a hold of me or I get a hold of them.
And they, of their own expense, fly to my conference. I put them up there and pay for all their food and everything, and they do sometimes grunt work. They register people. They do that. They attend as much of it as they can, and they’re my volunteers. They keep on coming back, and I’ve done 30 conferences!
And they enjoy it. It’s like a family wherever I am. Whether it’s a medical conference or a technology conference or an entertainment conference, they’re all interesting. One isn’t more interesting than another. It’s just what one does.
Well, so this new idea as I told you I follow hurricanes and tornadoes. My son is the hurricane chaser and tornado chaser on “Storm Chasers.” You know that. You know the guy with the blue truck with the big Doppler radar in the back who follows and tells Sean where he should take his tank. He’s tried to go to the eye of 11 hurricanes, and he’s made it to the eye of 11 hurricanes.
That’s fairly boring because you have to go pretty early, and then the moment you’re in the eye it’s pretty dangerous. Then he also chases tornadoes obviously. They’re hard to find, and you don’t find them all the time. There’s a lot of misses on that. And he’d get too close. They’re a little dangerous, but they’re interesting and they don’t last very long. The hail can screw you up a bit because it hails often before, and that’s what he does.
But in being around him and finding out a little bit about meteorology, I see there’s some patterns here. There’s patterns that occur with hurricanes that are geographic patterns and patterns that have to do with health care. Patterns to do with natural disasters and people dying.
We saw that probably about 220,000 people died in Haiti from an earthquake, which was a pattern of an earthquake of how far it was below the kind of earthquake it was. But also, it was directly related to the building codes. We saw that many less people died in Chile with a slightly bigger earthquake. The aftershocks were actually bigger in the Chilean one, better building codes, and it was slightly different level below the ground.
Most scientists along with the public had a big epiphany about tsunamis during the Day After Christmas Tsunami a number of years ago that killed 250,000 people in Ateh or Aceh or wherever it was in Indonesia. When they saw it came in it was only about six feet high, [laughs] and we were thinking of a wall of water. Well, there are tsunamis that are a wall of water, but they come from landslide tsunamis.
All tsunamis are not the same. All volcanoes are not the same. Volcanoes sometimes are liquid molten stuff, and sometimes they send a plume up. Depending on where they happen in the earth, it depends on the ongoing wind patterns of whether they go across the United States or Europe or go south. Things are different, and we’re not going to stop these things right away.
We’re not going to stop hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis. We can have a little bit more warning with tsunamis. We can maybe increase the tornado warning to five minutes, six minutes. We can increase the warning thing a little bit. We’ll be wrong a lot of the times.
There’ll be a lot of crying wolf because all they can do is warn when they see a weather pattern that is likely to have tornadoes.
By the time they see the tornado, forget about warning anybody about it. So that means it’s a whole psychological reaction of people of how many times can somebody cry wolf. As you know, when hurricanes approach a lot of people won’t leave their homes anyway even though they know they’re going to be flooded out.
Anyway, there’s an interesting series of cross patterns between the types of these natural disasters, the geographic patterns they have, the local code. I was in a 7.1 earthquake on the 17th floor of a building in San Francisco.
Although the news agency showed you fire in one part of town and quoted the deaths in the one part of the entranceway to the Bay Bridge falling down, basically it was amazingly no damage. I mean it just wasn’t much damage. A big crack in the street, and I was on the 17th… I was in a fancy hotel room. I had a wonderful bathroom with beautiful marble tile, close, nicely. There was no cracks anywhere.
[laughs]

I was thrown off the chair, but the building code was pretty good.
The modern buildings that adhere to the code did pretty well in a 7.1 earthquake. It wouldn’t do so well in an 8.1. On a Richter Scale one point is 32 times. I assume everybody knows that. Does anybody here not know that? Oh, a few people didn’t know that, and the others are just lying.
But it’s 32 times. See, they don’t tell you that, either. They just give you a number. What does that mean, they give you a number? The Fujita scale, which was the scale for tornados, was only based on whether a cow gets thrown up in the air or an automobile. It’s based on damage, not on wind speed. Well, now they have the revised Fujita scale. Fujita luckily died, but he was the king in the thing. They have a revised Fujita scale. It’s still only marginally better. It’s not really a way of measurement. How we measure things is also how we understand things.
So we measure. Well, you look at an ad. You want to buy a car, so you look and it tells you miles per gallon. Well, that doesn’t mean very much if you have an electric car. Maybe it doesn’t mean so much anymore with a hybrid car. Maybe you just want to know how far you can go in a car, not miles per gallon.
Going 0 to 60 in three point some seconds in the new $1.7 million Bugatti to a top speed of 250 miles an hour is a meaningless statistic that they use in their ads because you can’t go 250 miles an hour anyway. Nobody in this room probably is able to control a car at 250 miles an hour.
I’ve gone on racetracks because they use to close down to Laguna Seca before my TED conference. I was driven at about 170 or 80. I was scared by a [laughs] driver. I mean I was just terrified. I did one spin around in the car, and I tried to drive about 120 around a track. I just couldn’t do it.
It’s not so easy to do! 250 miles an hour? I mean what highway are you going to go? Well, I think I’ll go down to CVS and get some toothpaste.
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: Ha! I’m there before I left!
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: So how we measure things, how we advertise things, how we describe things are pretty good. You know that dollar bill I gave you is almost exactly six inches. But it’s not six inches. [laughs] It’s 6.14 inches. Isn’t that stupid? Why not make it six inches? Nothing has a measurement that makes any sense. How we measure things and describe things tells us how we can receive them and put them in our head and compare them to something else we know because you only understand something relative to something you understand. Wurman’s first law. You only understand something relative to something you understand.
So you have to begin someplace. You have to get in. You have to open the door to some kind of understanding in people to go the very next step.
Now, the second thing I talked to you about about understanding, I think you should really huddle together. Huddle together and reform yourself into a kind of understanding business. An understanding business with you is accepting of any modality, any means, any ideas as temporal as they all are, and accept the fact they’re all temporal.
Accept the fact that the best idea of anybody in this room has a 10 minute shelf life. Just accept it, and that’s the same in every business. It just has a 10 minute shelf life. There are no eternal ideas in this room except understanding. That’s an eternal idea.
We want ourselves personally and another human being to understand us, understand something, and we want to do what we can to be able to translate our methodology to somebody else. Well, you do. I don’t. But it’s a nice goal for people to have because then you can form in a group and dance around the Maypole and have a conference because you have some commonality.
Talking about commonality, I said I was going to do this. And I’m sorry to do this, but I have to do this. This is a story about, she doesn’t know yet what I’m going to say, a story about conferences. I’ve run good conferences. I know how to run a good conference. It is my only area of semi-expertise. I have no other skill sets, but I seem to know how to do that and you can’t be taught to do that. You somehow have to feel how to do that. How do you feel how to do that? I try to design conferences so I would like to be there. Of course, I hate being at anybody else’s conference because I can’t bear how they run them. But, that’s sort of my fiction in my head is, it’s a meeting I would like to be at.
We talked several times, yesterday, about how I want this room set up. I said, “I want the first row real close to the stage, I want a chair in the middle of the room, I want just a little table, no podium.” You stand behind a podium, your groin is protected, you’re less vulnerable.

[laughter]
No, you are. And, you have something to put something down on in front of you, you tend to read it. And, I can’t stand right here. Even though your neck might hurt at the end of this session, from looking up, I am making eye contact with a lot of people in the front row. And, it makes me feel better and it’s intimate. There a certain intimacy.
So, I came here. The first row was back where the guy is falling asleep with the orange shirt. And, all this was empty space. I mean, what were we going to do there? The orchestra was going to come in?

[laughter]
Dan Klyn: That was a surprise.

Richard Saul Wurman: Yes.

[laughter]

That was Dan Klyn saying, “That was a surprise.”
[laughter]

Then they had an aisle, one aisle, in the middle. So that if I was sitting here, I would be looking at a long, empty alley. That’s often what they do in conferences. They have an aisle in the middle. Then, when I asked for it to be changed, the woman said, “Well, it’s fire regulations.” I said, “I’m a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, I have a Master’s degree in architecture. I’m not going to put you in danger about fire here. I’m just not going to do that. You can have an aisle on either side and still not have too many seats.”

And, then I said, “Would you take the panel table off the front.”
Because, I hate panels and I don’t even like the idea that other people do them. So, they had to take that away. And then, “Would you fill in these seats?”
And, they filled in the seats because there’s a pocket door that’s going to close here. Because, they have to do a quick change on the room. They took four rows from the middle, so that there was a gap in the middle of the room, of four rows. So, the people in the back were like, in a different planet.
[laughter]

I said, “Why don’t you take the chairs from the back of the room? Fill them in here.” So, they did that. And then, they brought probably the world’s ugliest three legged table.

[laughter]

[pause]

[laughter]

You can say, “Wurman is now looking at the chair.”

[laughter]

You also have, in this democratization of your wanting to have everybody have their 31 seconds of fame, you have all these separate lectures that people go to. You have to make a choice. It’s like going to a supermarket and seeing 81 kinds of water. It’s fucking water. It’s water. It’s water. If you want lemon water, buy a lemon.

[laughter]

And then, you get together and you say, “Which room were you in?”

“Oh, mine was much better.”
“Oh, I should have been at that one.”
I have nothing to talk to you about because we don’t have common experience. What do you want? If your goal is to have commonality and have a group and a sort of camaraderie here, everybody should hear everything.
[applause]

Well, I know there’s some people, there’s somebody shaking their head but, that’s OK. I’ve run conferences for 30 years. I tell people that everybody attends everything and it’s worked. And, it works because then, every break, people can reflect on the same things they heard.
I have three minute talks, though. And, I have some five minute talks. And, I certainly would never have a talk this long.
[laughter]

And, I have full one hour breaks where everybody gets to talk to everybody, including the speaker. But, I don’t have questions. If I asked this room, as I’ve asked many rooms, “How many people would like to have questions and how many people would not like to have questions?” Everybody, “Oh, we would like to be able to ask questions of the speaker.” And, the questions come in two varieties. Bad questions and speeches.
Every once in a while, there is a good question, but why should your time be wasted for waiting for somebody to ask a good question, so I stood up and I broke up his session yesterday by ranting and I sent my apologies, but the point I have made I think, is a valid point because this is the main point of this talk and that is the point of understanding.
Understanding is so fundamentally basic, that you’re not competing with any other group if you talk about understanding. You’re not going to be bumped off the ledge. You might become the experts in understanding. It is the all encompassing word to things.
You want to call yourself information architect. I do not call myself anything. I just started calling myself an information architect because I do not want to be an, just call it, what do you do if I say, “I’m an architect,” then somebody says “Oh, you do remodeling?” and I wanted to do something that least provoke them to ask me what does that mean and then I had a chance of a conversation, and a chance of opening a conversation is not a bad thing and everything can’t be legislated.
If in the back page of my… I just did this new book, I am not trying to sell from the stage, I am trying to sell from a stage, it wasn’t ordered but it came this morning. I hope nobody told me it came, did it come? Maybe it came, if it came, and you see something that looks like that, I did the cover that way so you could see the title from the back row, the real book just as little thing to it. That’s a lie. That’s the real book. The 33 stands for the fact that it is a sequel to a book I wrote 33 years ago, I could not think of another title.
It’s a case in point of trying to give everybody here permission that they can do things. A number of people ask me to revise the book I did 33 years ago that I had some people knew about, but I never sold, did not print many copies of, but it got out there. It was called “What If Could Be, an Historical Fable of Future,” when I was national chairman of the AIA convention in Philadelphia 1976 and I don’t ever reprint things and I do not revise things, I just, when they’re done they’re done, but I thought, “Maybe I will do a sequel.”
“How can I do a sequel that is real easy because I can’t type and I am not a very good writer.” So I did a sequel by talking into a tape recorder for a two very long sessions having it transcribed, editing it a bit, sending that to somebody who I expect to type and they setup and type then I looked, read it through again and then I got some blank pieces of paper that big and he sent me the sheets of this set type and I just had a pair of kindergarten scissors and I cut apart the things and I rearranged the things and used Scotch tape, pasted them down on that, then and I sent the Scotch taped things to this guy and he had arranged them better again, I mean just squared it up again.
Made a sketch for the cover he did that, I xeroxed this off of “The Wall Street Journal,” I like their ampersand. I don’t know what typeface it is. And then I sent it to a printer, I called Sappi Paper up and I said I would like a lot of paper free and they send me about $15,000 worth the paper free, better sheets than I ever would have bought.
I went to a printer that Michael Bierut the top guy at Pentagram said he has never been to the printer, but he uses them a lot for his year work, and they are pretty good, so it was pretty close, I want to go to some place I could go. So I went to the printer, I spec-ed the color on the press, was at the press run and that’s the story of the book. I don’t have a publicist an editor, so there is probably lousy editing. I don’t have a publicist. I don’t have an editor. I don’t have a publisher. I don’t have a distributor. It’s on Amazon, and somebody stores them in Atlanta for me, the same place where the guy works where he cleaned up the thing. He’s a friend of mine who suggested I do this again, and he takes any money that comes in. And that’s the story of my second book.
Now if I can do that, everybody can do that. It’s just not, “The books are here! The man is holding it. He has one with the big 33 on it, too.” OK. So I sent some here, and it is a very odd book. I mean it’s odder than anything. It’s not information architecture. It’s not anything you do. You will not learn from this book what to do next.
This has no hints about your field. It is merely a collection of 33 episodes of a TV series by the commissioner of curiosity and imagination, who is me. It’s a thinly veiled autobiography. Everything in the book is true except the story.
Uh-huh. It’s filled with factoids, and it is just me talking and babbling about the facts I know and the things I know and connecting them together. I really like this book. I’ve done 82, and there’s only three others I’ve done that I like. So that’s not bad. I’ve done 30 some conferences. There’s only four conferences I like.
I sound like Jung. You know, Jung did things. He had four. Most things we like, male/female, two. Catholic Church likes three. Jung was four. Things five are because of our hands. 10 is because of our hands. Two hands, 20, which is the Mayan’s number system.
Nine is three times three. Nine times nine is 81, and the pegs on the doors in China. So numbers can be anything. And 33, if you look at this part of the book, which we often call the spine, you have 33 bones in your spine.
So you can take any number and make it work for anything you want. There’s nothing magic about 33. Two nice numbers. That’s all. Maybe it gives me a reason to do the next book. If I don’t do “Understanding Dogs,” it will be called “34.” It won’t.
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: How we doing on time? And should I start another…
Dan Klyn: You have 16 minutes.
Richard Saul Wurman: Oh! I will do something else. Was the woman who was walking out, would you like to ask me a question?
Audience Member 1: [inaudible 75:31]
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: Well, that was the only person I wanted a question from.
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: Do you have a question? Yeah!
Audience Member 2: No, I don’t have a question for you.
Richard Saul Wurman: In the first four rows is there…Yes, ma’am! Do you have a question?
Audience Member 3: You were going to talk about the iPad?
Richard Saul Wurman: Oh, good! That’ll take 16 minutes.
[laughter]
Dan Klyn: You only have 15 now.
Richard Saul Wurman: That’ll take 15 minutes. Well, it really fits into the other part of the conversation I was talking about, about the web page. Please have this epiphany with me. Please! Please understand that everything that everybody has done in this room, including myself especially, is primitive. We are in the first moments of doing something, the first moments of looking at computers and doing these websites and connecting things, and we have this arrogance that we’re really doing something. No. We’re looking at numbers, and people are Twittering and Facebooking and we think, “Social networking!” and how wonderful that is.
And then the next year it will be something else and then something else. We’re in this rapid changing things, and we can’t invest in the excellence and the finality of anything we’re doing. Look at the sites you’re looking at. Look at any travel site. Dan tried to print out my boarding pass yesterday in the lobby, and I thought he was going to drool because it was so complicated.
It just was not a sensible way to do things. It was not a helpful program. Everybody is printing out their boarding pass. I don’t do it. I give it to somebody else to do. I wouldn’t do anything like that. And he’s supposed to, “I can do it.” And he went up to it.
Dan Klyn: It took two tries.
Richard Saul Wurman: Well, that’s two and a half tries too many. I mean it was not, the two tries weren’t… And why they want to know when I was born. Nobody ever asks me when I was born. I’ve given it to concierges. Do they know when I’m born without asking me? And they give me a boarding pass back. Nothing is very clear. It’s really bad.
Rent a car at an airport that you’ve never driven before at night. And try to figure out, in a car you don’t own, you’ve never owned one. And try to figure out how to turn on the windshield wipers. Try any simple thing. Anything.
Adriana: How about the shower?…
Richard Saul Wurman: I don’t like interruptions like that. What is your name?
Adriana: Adriana.
Richard Saul Wurman: Adriana asked, how about the shower? Now, are you suggesting something between you and I?
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: She laughed at that, which was rather insulting.
[laughter]
Adriana: I’m married.
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: It was an interesting extension of the conversation. The shower. I don’t know how to use light switches in showers, and many of the hotels I go to. I go to upscale hotels, so they make it more difficult, because they think you’re more intelligent, or maybe you will call someone and they have to come upstairs and show you and you have to give them a tip.
Nothing is very easy. And things are confusing, and there’s too many things happening. And that very soon is going to change.
There is going to be a game changer where, probably through the iPad and others, because everybody’s going to be onto it, or already onto it. But they’ll understand that it isn’t a book, it’s not a collection of pages, it’s not selling real estate on 20 pages.
I have about 150,000 or so or less, something like that, of Google citations. And they have some ads on some of the pages. Could they possibly have an ad that makes any sense on page 1,000 of my citations?
Who would ever go there? I’ve never gone past the first page. I just look at the number to see if it goes up or down.
And if I spell it RS Wurman, as opposed to Richard Saul Wurman or Richard Wurman, whether it changes the number.
It’s going to be a movie. It’s going to be an infinite flight through information, and a personal flight.
It’s not going to be a static page where you organize it, and are able to show it to a client as a page. We’re going to put this here and you can push this button and it goes to this page. You can push this button and it goes to that page, and you diagram the 20 or 50 or 100 or 1,000 pages and go to it. It’s going to go to millions of pages.
You’re going to be able to have a journey. You’re going to have experiences of going to the thing. You’re going to be able to fly through information of your choosing.
How many people have ridden a Segway?
You know you direct it to where it wants to go. That feeling of freedom, of making it move, go fast, go slow, do that. That feeling, that empowering feeling you’re going to have when it comes to understandable information. And that’s going to affect how you do it.
And you’re not going to talk in terms of wireframes and design of a page, or have the metaphor of a book in your head. It’s going to be different. Very soon!
I’m not talking about “Looney Tunes” in 20 years. I’m talking about a couple of years, a year. Somebody will do it. We’re already trying to do it for some projects that I’m working on.
I am not an early adopter, because I don’t know how to do anything.
By the way, why did people buy iPads when it’s not 3G? Why didn’t they wait? Why didn’t the early adopters have enough…and you’d think that they’re the ones with the bigger cranial capacity… Why would they not wait a few weeks and get a better machine? Or as some of us wait a year and get a camera on it?
Well, there’s some logic to that.
So what we’re doing is going to be a different way of finding out things, and a more magical way. It is going to be an incredible flying carpet of going and picking out things and putting them together. Twisting them around, and being able to go backwards and forwards to find where you started and go places.
You’re going to have an incredible journey of traveling through understanding. And that’s what you can do if that is the collective passion of this group, not of an ending, but of a beginning.
Of a beginning that starts with understanding, and with personal bodying yourself, empowering yourself to be personally satiated with understanding. Not what the client wants, not what the great washed wants…
HL Mencken called the Great Unwashed, and in America he called them the Great Washed, which I always thought was funny. I always thought for when he talked it was about Ivory soap.
That was a big thing when I was young, and I really objected when Dove soap came out, or Swan. Swan came out. Ivory soap was what you had, and Heinz Ketchup. And when some other ketchup, Del Monte ketchup came out, I thought that was terrible. And “Newsweek” was awful, because I liked “Time.” When I grew up, there was real great loyalties to things. There’s no loyalties in that way. That’s old-fashioned, loyalty.
But just think about where you begin, and how much personal power you have to do what you want to do. Sometimes people say, “Well, how do you get all this done? How do you do 82 books? How do you do 30 conferences?”
Nobody’s ever asked me to do a book, ever. Nobody’s ever asked me to do a conference. Nobody’s ever asked me to do a project. And I take it personally.
I told you in the beginning, that’s probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I just didn’t understand it, when I felt so rejected by the world.
I still feel rejected by the world, because nobody still asks me to do anything. I’m not on one board, one committee, or one organization. I’m not an advisor to a board or any committee or any organization. And I don’t have any of the people helping me, and that lack of help, the lack of running things past people, or thinking I have to, or thinking I have to get permission allows me to fail and succeed. And I would rather fail and succeed than be told what to do.
I took off, and Chad knows, Chad saw me, what, a year and a half ago?
And he said, “Jesus! You’re a new person.”
“Yeah, I took off 80 pounds.”
So there’s another whole person out there. Looks somewhat like me. Wears a scarf. And I took it off because I had a good physical.
That sounds counterintuitive. No, I had a good physical, so I knew the doctor wasn’t going to tell me to do it, because if he had told me to do it, I wouldn’t have done it.
I don’t want to be told to do anything. I really don’t. I don’t want to take directions from somebody. I want to take directions from me, from what’s in here.
Twice already to different groups here…not groups, a couple of people, I’ve told the same joke, but it’s such a wonderful place to end, and that is the Emo Phillips’ joke.
I know, you probably don’t know who Emo is… how many people do know who Emo is?
OK. Then I’ll tell it in his dialect, sort of. Short joke.
“For years and years and years, I thought my brain was the most important organ of my body, until one day I thought, hmm. Look who’s telling me that!”
[laughter]
Richard Saul Wurman: I leave you with that pleasant thought. Have a good morning.
[applause]
[music]

IA Summit 10 – Dan Roam Keynote

IA Summit 2010

This year marks the 11th annual Information Architecture Summit. Our theme is meant to inspire everyone in the community—even those who aren’t presenting or volunteering—to bring their best ideas to the table.

As busy practitioners, we rarely have the chance to step back and think about the future of our field—we’re too busy resolving day-to-day issues. By gathering and sharing practical solutions for everyday challenges, we can create more breathing room to plan for what’s to come.

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Keynotes

| Day 1 – Dan Roam | “Day 2 – Richard Saul Wurman“:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-10-richard | “Day 3 – Whitney Hess“:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-10-whitney |

Full Program

| Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 |

Day 1 Keynote – Dan Roam

Dan Roam shares his unique visual-thinking approach that helps solve complex problems.

In his day one keynote from the 2010 IA Summit, Dan Roam—founder of Digital Roam Inc and author of the best-selling Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures—shares his unique visual-thinking approach with a receptive crowd in Phoenix. Transcending language barriers, his approach helps solve complex problems through visual thinking, and has helped resolve challenges at many businesses: Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and eBay to name a few.

Note: As you might imagine, This presentation is VERY visual. As a result, the best way to view this presentation is to download it “with the visuals”:http://files.boxesandarrows.com/podcasts/Dan_Roam.m4a or subscribe to the B&A “iTunes feed”:http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=275459507.


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Transcript of Dan Roam Keynote from Day 1 of the 2010 IA Summit in Phoenix, Arizona.

[music]
Announcer: In this day one keynote address from the 2010 IA Summit, Dan Roam, founder of Digital Roam, Inc. and author of the best selling book, “Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures,” shares his unique visual thinking approach. Transcending language barriers, his approach helps solve complex problems through visual thinking and has helped resolve challenges at many businesses including Microsoft, Wal Mart and eBay. I hope everyone enjoys the broadcast. Cheers.
Jennifer:  Our keynote speaker today, Dan Roam, has inspired a revolution in sketching. Sketching is a technique that allows our hand to help our brain think, making our technology more about humans, and taking back design and communication from machines. Going straight to the computer or the slide deck, locks in our thinking. We need to set our minds free. This is important for us because we have complex problems to solve in our work and we can do this with pictures. Please give Dan Roam a warm welcome.
[applause]
Dan Roam: Thank you. Thank you, Jennifer. Thank you very much. Thank you all for coming. You know I always say that, I always thank everybody for coming, but the reality is, I want to thank all of you for inviting me to come and share some of my ideas with you. I wanted to start this morning, with a little bit of a story. About four years ago, as a matter of fact, I was checking in my calendar, four years ago, almost to the day, I was working as an IA and a user experience lead at a company out in San Francisco, at Razor Fish out in San Francisco, and one day I had just a horrible meeting with the sales team of the company. I don’t mean to point a finger at Razor Fish, it was a wonderful company, but I had a really horrible meeting. And I thought, “I’ve had enough of this. I’m going to go do something else. I’m going to go write that book that I’ve been thinking about for so long.”
But the fact is, you know, I’ve got a family, I’ve got two kids, I’ve just moved to San Francisco, things cost a lot of money, I have no idea how to write a book. So I thought, “Well, I’m going to call a couple of friends of mine, colleagues of mine who have written books and find out what it takes.” So I called a guy named Steve Krug, who wrote a book called, “Don’t Make Me Think,” I’m sure everybody’s familiar with “Don’t Make Me Think.” “Don’t Make Me Think” is without a doubt, the best book on web usability ever, but I also think it’s one of the best books ever just on thinking.
And I called Steve and I said, “So what do you do to write a book?” And he gave me a lot of advice, he told me about agents, publishers, proposals. A whole bunch of good insights. And then he said, “There’s this other guy that you should call who a few years ago co-wrote a book which is the book on information architecture.” He said, “You should call my colleague Lou Rosenfeld, because Lou will be able to give you a whole lot more information about what it takes to actually write a book.” So I had never spoken to Lou, I called him up and I said, “Lou, you know, I want to work on this book.” And Lou was full of all kinds of ideas again, about agents, good or bad, publishers, good or bad, how do you do it.
So the fact is, here we are now, four years later, and I went ahead and I did write that book and the book has been very successful. It’s been very exciting, “The Back of the Napkin,” has done really well, which is wonderful, but the reality of it is, the success of the book is largely due enormous credit back to Lou and the information architect community because this is where I come from.
So about three or four months ago, Lou sent me an email asking if I would be interested in giving a talk at the Information Architect Summit and I said, “Absolutely.” I mean, this to me is like one of the most perfect opportunities to share this idea because in a way, I spend a lot of time talking to organizations that I don’t know anything about. And it’s kind of a scary thing, and we’ll go through several examples of that, so it’s very nice to be able to come and talk to a group of people where I at least like to think that we share an essential base of information of where we come from and where we’re starting from.
And that is not often the case when, I’ll, let me put it this way. The best part about writing a book, I know there are probably a lot of people in here who have done books. How many people here have written books and had them published? I know there’s a lot of people I’ve been meeting. Well I want to give all of you an enormous hand [applause] because I know what’s involved. It is an extraordinarily difficult thing. Writing the book itself, in my opinion is no fun at all. Writing the book is you’re alone, and you’re in your room with your computer or your drawing or whatever, it’s a very lonely process. But the best part about it is after you’ve done the book, then you get invited to go give talks. And then you get to share your idea with all kinds of companies and organizations.
So over the last, three years now, I really have had this extraordinary opportunity to share these ideas with this really incredibly array of businesses and organizations. And as I was mentioning before, in most cases I’ll go in and I don’t know a whole lot about these companies when I show up. So one recent example, this was already two years ago. I am no aeronautical engineer, but I had to go, a chance to go and give a workshop at Boeing, up in Seattle. And it was phenomenal for me because what I ended up doing was being able to spend about half a day with the project managers that are building, that are behind the 787, the new dreamliner that just had its first flight a couple of months ago.
It was magnificent because they explained to me, how do you build what is arguably the most sophisticated, advanced, meticulous machine that has ever been conceived and the amazing part is that it’s being built simultaneously in something like 23 different countries at the same time. And in 16 different languages. How do you build something that is both that big, that new, is built down to tolerances of less than hundreds of thousandths of an inch in 16 different languages? Well the answer is very simple, you do everything with pictures. Everything is being done with pictures. And I thought, “That was really interesting.”
More recently, another organization, one that I know absolutely nothing about but I had a chance to go in and address was the United States Senate. So the Senate, the New Policy Committee of the United States Senate, about a year ago, gosh, it’s a little more than a year ago now, asked me to come out and give a similar workshop. And I don’t have a background in politics, I think, I’d like to think that I have a vague understanding of how Washington, DC works. I know there are a bunch of people here from Washington, DC and I think you’ll agree with me that nobody really knows how Washington, DC works. I came out of this after, it was a wonderful session, I learned a tremendous amount, I’ll admit at the end, I still have no idea of what the Senate really does, but again, the motivator there was: Is it possible to find ways to communicate issues about complex policy through this use of simple pictures?
And I think that the answer is yes. And I think many of the people in the Senate now think that the answer is yes, too. So in the end, what I wanted to share with you is that I have a very simple proposition that I make to all of these different businesses and organizations. And it goes like this. No matter how good everything may be in our lives, or in our work, there is something that we all do have in common which is that not everything is perfect. I mean we all do have some problems.
Well the proposition that I’d like to make is very simple, and it’s this: Whatever our problems are, we can solve our problems with pictures. I mean this completely, it’s a very simple statement but I know it to be absolutely true. We can solve our problems with pictures. Now the reason I can say that as superficial as that sounds, and say it with such incredible conviction because I know it is true is because I have never seen this process not work.
That is to say, every single time people are working together on something, on addressing some problem or challenge or trying to understand a concept, and someone starts drawing out what the other people are talking about, every single time it helps everybody get together on understanding what the problem is. And more often than not, by virtue of creating that simple picture, everybody starts to then see, not what the problem is anymore, but already begins to see what the solution is going to be. It’s already inherent in the picture that you’re creating. We’ll talk more about this in detail.
But I also recognize, and I’m willing to guess that with an audience like this, I’m just going to go out on a limb and guess that probably for most of you what I’m saying right now is not really a surprise or is probably not very new. I’m going to guess that in a room full of information architects, if my experience is the same as yours, we probably are the people who spend the greatest amount of time of just about anybody trying to understand what is the nature of this big problem that the client has brought to us and we do it more often than not by really drawing things out.
I’m not talking about drawing beautiful pictures. I’m talking about maps, schematics, concept models, mind maps. How do I get all these ideas together in a way where I can see them? But that is not the nature of the audiences, what I’ve just said, is not the nature of the audiences that I’m usually talking to. Project managers, financial executives, CEOs. I’ll say, “We can solve problems with pictures,” and they look at me cross‑eyed, they say, “What are you completely out of your mind?”
What they’ll often to say, if they think that through, the really clever people will say “Dan, OK, I’m going to play with you for a moment. Let’s assume you’re right. We can solve problems with pictures. Let’s break that down into three component questions. Which problems are we talking about? Which pictures are we talking about?” And then the third most contentious of all, “Which people are we talking about?” You know, namely, who is going to do this, “Because let’s face it, you know, I’m not visual.” I like those three questions, and in fact, those three questions are really going to be the underpinning of everything we’ll talk about for the next hour or so.
And I’m just going to run through them. Here’s the Cliff’s Notes, super fast, executive summary answer to all three of them. “Which problems are we talking about?” Any problem. Think about it like this: Any problem that we have the ability to articulate at all, we have the ability to articulate infinitely more clearly through the use of pictures, which brings us to question number two. So “Which pictures are we talking about?” I mean, if these pictures are going to help us solve any problems we can conceive of, they must be really sophisticated pictures, right? That must require at a minimum years of training, and probably some really sophisticated and expensive computer software to create, right? Well, you know where I’m going. The answer is absolute not. The pictures are bone-headedly simple.
Now, back to what I had said a little bit earlier. Everybody should be sitting on a napkin. If you’re not, look under your bum and see if you can find a napkin, there should be a napkin somewhere around there. What I’d like you to do, does everyone have, we asked this once before, is there anybody in here that doesn’t have a writing instrument? OK, volunteers. Lou? You don’t have a pen. That’s excellent. Yay for the information architects.
[laughter]
All right, if anybody doesn’t have a pen, we have volunteers who will happily give you a pen. What I’d like you to do for a warm up exercise, we’re going to really work out this napkin, we’re going to use it several times.
So, just, the pictures are if you can draw a square, and how many of you don’t know this, and you can draw a circle, and you can draw an arrow connecting them, and the most challenge of all, of course, I’d like everyone to try, draw a little stick figure. Make it a happy stick figure. If you can draw those things, you can draw every picture that we’re going to talk about, which automatically answers this third question. “Now, who’s going to do this, because I’m not visual.” Yes, you are. Everybody is going to be able to do this. Let me just throw out a couple of data points right from the beginning for anybody who might still be a holdout against this idea that pictures can help us solve problems.
Of all the neurons in our brain that are processing incoming sensory information, so that is to say the entire capacity that we have for understanding the world around us through all of our senses for bringing the information in. Let’s do it with a picture. This is our entire sensory capacity. What percent of that is visual? Three quarters of those neurons is focused on vision. It is arguable and there are neuroscientists who do argue this that it could be said that if you take all of the capacity of our brain to do anything, the one category of stuff that we have the greatest capacity to do of anything is to see.
More of our brain is dedicated to that than any other single thing that we do. Vision is fundamentally what we’re about. I mean, for people who might still be holding out and saying “Oh I’m not visual,” let’s keep the bar really low. If you’re visual enough to walk into the room and sit down without falling down, you’re visual enough, because the process of doing that, the extraordinary process of doing that already tells us how amazing this system is that we have. So there you have it. Any problem, simple pictures, everybody.
Now, one of the things that I have learned, and this was not, this is not in my original book. This is in the unfolding book, the second book that came out, because this was something I learned in giving this talk or talks like this many many times, is I’ve been looking, and people have been bringing to me these underlying reasons, these unwritten rules of why visual problem solving really does work. And I’m going to take you, I’ve identified four of them, and I want to take you through two of them today. They really kind of represent the understructure of what it is we’re talking about.
Unwritten visual problem solving rule number one says this: “Whoever best describes the problem is the person most likely to solve the problem.” So the idea is this. If one of us were to go running into the boss’s office and say, “Oh my god, the sky is falling ‑ give me money to fix it,” they’ll probably throw us out. But if we went into the room and we said, “Look. I’ve created this map and it identifies who’s involved in this particular problem, how many of them are there, where are these things involved or these things involved, how do they overlap, when do they intersect and how do they intersect.” All of a sudden, the solution to the problem is probably going to be already very clear. So the mercenary subtext to this rule is, and this is absolutely true, “Whoever draws the best picture gets the funding.”
[laughter]
Dan Roam: I’m going to give you a couple of scary examples of this being true. Before I do, I want to do a quick little usability test, because for later on this will be important. Is there anybody in particular in the back of the room who cannot read the slide? This is the smallest text we’re going to have on any slide and there will be some later on that we’ll need to read. So if anybody’s having trouble reading this slide, please move up to the front if you can. Even bring a chair. Because we will need you to be able to read at least that size, so a little quick usability test. Now I want to give you an example of this rule. “Whoever draws the best picture gets the funding,” and it goes far deeper than that.
I want to start by just taking a little trip from where we are here in Phoenix. I live out here in San Francisco, so I flew here yesterday. We’re going to fly out to Washington, DC, but before we do that, does anyone want to know, guess, can anyone imagine why I’m using a Southwest Airlines napkin as my route map? If you know, don’t tell us. Because the greatest back of the napkin business success story of all time took place in 1967 back in San Antonio, Texas. There’s some people here from Texas, yes? There’s a few people from Texas, yeah.
All right, well back in 1967, two guys are sitting in a bar. The St. Antony’s Club in San Antonio. And they’re talking about a business idea. And one of the guys ‑ and I swear this is true. His name is Roland. Roland takes his ‑ we don’t know what they were drinking, but we knew what he drew because they saved the napkin. He said, “Look, here’s Texas. We have Houston down here. We have Dallas up here. And we have San Antonio over here. Why don’t we make an airline that just connects those cities?” And then he drew the triangle of fate.
That’s the kind of picture I’m talking about. That back of a napkin sketch became the basis for Southwest Airlines. Southwest Airlines was started on the back of that napkin. Southwest has gone on to be the most profitable and financially successful airline in history. To this day, it is the most financially successful airline in history. And in fact, dozens of other airlines, from jetBlue to Easy Jet over in Europe to Ryanair have all copied the Southwest model, all of which began with this very simply picture on the back of the napkin. So that’s why I like to use this napkin.
Anyway, back to DC, I was asked as I mentioned before to come out to the US Senate and give a talk. So it was the new policy committee. And before going to give the talk, as I hope all of us would do, I went in and tried to do some research so I could say I have lots of examples from business and information architecture about the use of simple pictures helping solve problems. But I need to find something from politics. But I couldn’t really find anything. I was doing my research, but I found something else that was really interesting and I want to share it with you.
This is a map of Mt. Vernon. This map was drawn, the date’s right up there, in 1776. Mt. Vernon, of course, was George Washington’s estate. Does anyone want to guess who might have drawn this map? It was George Washington’s estate. George Washington drew the map. I didn’t know this. George Washington was trained as a map maker, a surveyor, and a cartographer. And in his notebooks, they’re full of his sketches. I thought: “That’s pretty interesting, let’s continue this line of thinking.”
So here’s another one. This is White House stationery, this is actually Oval Office stationery. Someone is drawing a picture of a boat. It looks like a chessboard with an eraser, a flag that says “NATO” on it, blockade Cuba in a circle. Does anyone want to guess who might have been drawing these pictures? This was JFK. That’s right, John F. Kennedy was drawing these pictures during the Cuban Missile Crisis. These are the doodles that were taken from this notebook as he was talking on the phone, trying to avoid nuclear Armageddon.
Here’s an interesting one. Anyone want to guess what President might have drawn this? And what could that fellow have been thinking? Nixon, absolutely. Very good.
This was Richard Nixon. There have been studies done, sort of forensic IQ tests going back in time, trying to decipher what would have been to unearth, what would have been the IQ of various Presidents. It turns out that Nixon is probably one of the smartest people from an IQ perspective who’s ever been in the White House. But clearly that guy had a lot of issues.
[laughter]
Dan Roam:  You’ve really got to wonder what does that picture represent? Well now here’s a nice easy one.
[laughter]
Dan Roam: Who might have been drawing these pictures? That’s right. This was President Regan and I swear that was taken when he was in one of his cabinet meetings. Those were the pictures that he was drawing at that particular cabinet meeting.
[laughter]
Dan Roam:  So I thought that was very interesting. Those were nice pictures, they’re kind of funny, they’re kind of interesting. After the talk, a guy named Doug Steiger, who’s the head of new policy for the Democratic side of the senate‑‑came up to me and said, “Dan, great talk. Thank you. But I’m going to tell you the best political back of the napkin story ever.” He told me the story and I have checked it out. It’s absolutely true. It involves a guy who is an economist back in the ’70s named Arthur Laffer, who was with USC. But he was a consultant in Washingto,n DC in the ’70s. So Laffer is sitting in a bar again, in DC, with two other guys from the administration, that time President Ford administration. Again, we don’t know what they were drinking but we do know what they were drawing. They got talking about taxation. Laffer on his napkin drew the following picture. It’s a simple X‑Y plot, same thing many of us have drawn thousands of times, I’m sure. On the horizontal axis he plotted out the percent tax rate that the US Government is going to charge us on our income from 0% up to 100%. On the vertical axis, he plotted out the amount of money that the government actually collects in taxation from lots and lots of money down to no money.
He said, “OK. So guys,” and it was all men at that time, they’re all sitting at the bar, the boy’s club. He says, “Think about this. If the government charges 0% income tax, how much money is the government going to make? 0%.” He said, “But think about this, if the government charges us 100% income tax, how much money is the government going to make? Also zero, because no one will work.” If we have to pay 100% of our income back as tax, what’s the point? I’m not going to work at all. So then he drew something which became known as the Laffer curve. He drew a curve and said, “In fact there is some curve that connects these and isn’t it interesting that at some point, reducing the rate of taxation actually increases the amount of money that the government collects.”
Now the guys who were with him at the table found this fascinating. “Take us through that again.” Reducing taxes increases government collections. Wow! They really liked that. “Can we take that napkin?” He said, “Absolutely.” These two guys took it back with them to their boss. They were both chiefs of staff of President Ford. They gave him that napkin. They said look at this idea. That napkin made its way into the hands of the Republican National committee and into the hands of the Regan economic team. That napkin became the basis of Reaganomics, of supply side economics. The idea particular being, reducing the rate of taxation in particular for the most wealthy increases activity in the market and increases the amount of money that the government actually collects.
That napkin sketch became the basis of Reaganomics. Regan, as much as I may make fun of him with his doodles, when someone would come to him and say, “Wait a minute. Tell me this again. You’re reducing taxes in order to increase revenue for the government? How does that work?” He would draw that picture, pretty convincing picture.
Now, the interesting thing is that these two guys who were sitting at the table with Arthur Laffer that night are these two guys.
Who says a simple sketch on the back of a napkin does not have extraordinary influence? It absolutely does. Whoever draws the picture gets the funding. Whoever draws the best explanation, of the idea is the one that people will believe. Why? Because it’s simple. I can understand it.
Now the Laffer curve, ever since has been debated endlessly. Where is the curve? Is the fundamental assumption correct? Doesn’t matter. He drew the picture. That’s the picture that wins.
Now, moving along, we are obviously in a new era. Who might have drawn this picture? Exactly right. President Obama drew this picture. Turns out, our President can draw extraordinarily well. It turns out also that our President is left handed. Now that by and of itself doesn’t mean anything. But we do know that there appears to be some correlation between people who are left‑handed and may be more spatial in their thinking.
Get this, I just did this math the other day. Five of the last seven US Presidents have been left handed. That is a really crazy number. Five of the last seven. Regan was a forced righty. He was naturally left handed. But through education, at that time was forced to become right handed. So Obama, Clinton, Papa Bush, Regan and Ford were all left handed Presidents. Pretty remarkable when you think about it.
So the question I have… Regardless of your feelings about our present administration might be, I think everybody can acknowledge, and I have said this, all over the country, everybody agrees that President Obama is one of the greatest public speakers that anybody’s ever seen. There’s no question that verbally, he’s one of the most articulate and passionate conveyers of information and thoughts we’ve ever had.
But the question I have is given the fact that he can draw, and draw extraordinarily well, why is it that he’s not drawing pictures to help explain some of the extraordinarily difficult problems that we’re facing? Whether it’s the economy, whether it’s global climate change, whether it’s Afghanistan. All of these challenges, and in particular I want to focus for a few moments on healthcare. This is not going to become a political conversation, I promise you.
Regardless of where you may fall on the political spectrum around your feelings of this healthcare so called debate that has taken place over the last year‑‑the intent from all people involved could not have been the anger and anxiety that we have seen exhibited in the last few months. By no stretch of the imagination could this have been the intent.
This horrible anger, that’s splitting the country around healthcare just doesn’t make any sense. I think the real problem, and I know this is true, the real problem is not so much accepting a lunatic fringe all over the place, accepting that the problem isn’t that people disagree with what’s being said in Washington. The problem is that people don’t understand what is being said in Washington.
We all know healthcare passed. How many people in here are confident that they understand what the new healthcare bill actually says? We’ve had this battle that’s become in some people’s mind, the virtual new civil war regarding healthcare. But nobody understands what the actual legislation is about. That is the fault of our elected officials. Why is President Obama not drawing a picture? We’ll talk this through in great detail.
Instead, I want to know what it is that DC is actually conveying to us in terms of their information. Talk about information architecture. This is the actual house bill passed back in October. The house healthcare bill. You can download all of these things online. I downloaded it. I said this represents this enormous shift in the way American government is handled that will impact all of us. This is an important piece of government documentation. Someone must have the vision. I use that word intentionally. The vision of what this healthcare reform is about. What does it actually look like? Why are we changing what we have now? Good or bad as it may be for something else. There must be a picture.
Well, I thought, “This is an important government document. So of course, nobody is going to put a picture, a sight map, a mind map on the fist page.” So I continued looking and no, there are no charts or diagrams or maps or vision documents, images anywhere in the first eight pages. Not in the first 64 pages.
[laughter]
Dan Roam:  Not in the first 200 pages. Nowhere in the 1,447 pages, there’s not a chart, there’s not a graph, there’s not a sight map. There’s not a single diagram that says this visually is what it means to shift from this particular model to this particular model. This is an unreadable document. Nobody can understand it.
Is it any wonder that [laughs] some people would claim we’re on the verge of civil war about this. Because nobody actually understands what’s in it. I thought, putting my money where my mouth is, what would happen if someone tried to draw some pictures of what this healthcare debate is actually about? Now, I thought, I’ll do it. Why not? I have worked with healthcare companies in the past as a consultant. I know just enough to be really dangerous but the good new is I have met healthcare consultants who know a lot.
So I called one of the best, one of the smartest consultants I’ve ever worked with, a guy named Tony Jones, that Jennifer, you would know, who is a health care consultant, he’s an MD and an MBA, pretty interesting fellow, pretty interesting mix. Tony’s office is down in LA. I said, “Tony, I’m flying down there. I’m bringing along copies of the legislation,” this is about seven months ago, now. “And we are going to lock ourselves in your office with the white boards and we are not leaving until we’ve created a set of simple pictures that explain what is the business of health care in America today, what is the actual legislation that’s being debated, not about killing grandma and death panels, but the actual legislation that’s being debated, and how does that map into how the model might change.”
And so we did that. And I’m not going to take you through the whole thing, but I want to show you a couple of pictures that I excerpted from that document.
One of them, was this picture, which kind of lays the base out and says the number one thing we all need to understand baseline is that health care in America, unlike any other developed economy on earth, remains a business. It is all a profit driven business, that is in our DNA and that is what people at the end are really arguing about is whether health care should be a business or should it not. It boils down to that. But the real issues is it’s not just one business, it’s two businesses that are completely distinct.
One of those businesses is the business of the providers. These are the doctors and the hospitals and the pharma companies. Businesses that make money by making people healthy. At the other end is the business of the payer. These are the insurance companies. These are the organizations who make their profit by handling the payment of all of the money through this system. These two businesses hate each other because as a tax paying employed citizen, I am the only source of money going into this system. There is no other money miraculously being created. As an employed, tax paying person, I am the only one putting money into the system.
The doctors, the providers want more of my money to be able to do good things with that money and to earn a profit, fair enough, that’s what we do, and the health care companies want more of my money to be able to do good things and earn a profit because that’s what we do. It is getting so bad that I am running out of money, my business is failing because there’s not enough money to provide both sides in this equation, so government decides it’s time to step in and help. And to do that through regulation. And as you look at all of the legislation that was being debated, ninety five percent of it did not focus, anywhere on the doctor, on the provider side of the equation. All of the reform was focused on the insurance side of the equation. We’re going to reform the insurance companies.
In hindsight, I believe had the White House called this not “Health reform,” but “Insurance reform,” it would have passed without anyone batting an eye in a few months because everybody hates their insurance company.
In the end you could take all of the legislation that was being debated and map it onto a very simple spectrum from completely private, not restrictive, unregulated, unlegislated, private insurance, which is what the conservative side really wanted, all the way through a purely government owned, national health service kind of a model, which is never what the White House wanted. The White House initially wanted to have a private insurance supported by a public option as well. And you could map all of the legislation across this spectrum.
Now what we’ve ended up with, what has just passed is something like this. Health insurance companies are no longer able to throw you out because of pre‑existing conditions, or because you hit a limit, so what’s happened is that some of the regulations have been taken, have been put on them but there is no government option. So in the end that’s what we’ve ended up with. It’s debatable whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing but at least something.
So the long story short, I don’t want to go any further than that, is to say, I created that presentation about health care, I posted it on SlideShare, you all know SlideShare, it’s gotten a quarter of a million downloads. Now, that’s nothing compared to Lady Gaga’s new video or something, but let’s face it, this, now get this, this is a PowerPoint document about health care. What could be more boring on earth?
Yet we’ve got a quarter of a million downloads of people. And the comments are saying, regardless of where they come in on the political spectrum and believe me the comments come in from all sides of the political spectrum, some of them are scary. They all say at least, “Thank you for having clarified through these simple pictures what the essentials of the health care debate are actually about. Now that we understand what we’re debating, now we can eviscerate each other. At least now we know why we’re trying to kill each other. Thank you for clarifying that, now we know why.”
So it got picked up by the Huffington Post and then the Washington Post and then I get a call from Fox News. Now I had been on Fox before and yes, it’s Fox, now, I live in San Francisco‑ I know there’s someone here, from looking through the list of attendees, there are at least two people here who are from the Fox network so I need to be careful what I say.
I think in San Francisco that we have this sort of electromagnetic pulse signal that we send out that blocks the Fox signal from coming into the city. I don’t think it works all the time, but I’ve got to admit, I love going on Fox because they’re the people who like the drawings. So Fox asked me to come on in a prime time, this is remarkable, they gave me seven minutes on prime time, 5:00 PM. Eastern Standard Time, on Fox Business Channel to explain with my pictures to the Fox audience the essentials of American health care. And I thought, “This is magnificent. How wonderful is that?” We had a good time and people understood it, I think.
So then I get a call. Does anyone know where this is? Yeah. So then I get a call from the White House Office of Communication saying, “Dan, we have to talk.” You know, so I went to the meeting and it didn’t actually take place in the White House, it took place in the coffee shop across the street. It’s all very, you know, sort of, “All the President’s Men,” cloak and dagger sort of stuff. Because it turns out that the White House cannot hire consultants.
Has anybody every worked with the White House? Anybody here who’s had experience working with the White House? It’s very difficult for the White House to hire consultants because of issues around transparency, we want to make sure that every contract is vetted appropriately and it’s very challenging.
So what’s been happening is, we have started some discussions on how it might be possible to use these kind of simple pictures to clarify policy, not so much with the White House but through, interestingly enough, some of the government departments. And the two departments that I was told and have been helped a little bit to get into that are the most open to this kind of innovative thinking are the Department of Defense and the Department of State.
So I’ve had a little bit of an opportunity to work with the Department of Defense and I’ve got to tell you, it’s fascinating. It’s really interesting. Because these are the people, when I talked about bigger problems, I mean, the problems that need to be addressed are in some ways a little bit beyond the scope of what I remember as a consultant typically would be the scope of a problem that a client would bring to me. And it’s pretty fascinating to be involved in that a little bit.
So the question becomes, you know, why is it, if we have all these Presidents who are not drawing who could, why might that be? And I’m not going to buy the answer that it’s because we’re not visual. We’ve already proven that President Obama is visual, we know that. We know everybody’s visual. So why is it that the communications that come out of Washington are so difficult to understand? I mean there’s probably a lot of reasons, but here’s one thing that I’ve come up with.
We’re going to do a test here, in a moment. I have found in something like, 450 meetings or something, that in doing the test that we’re about to do, it does turn out that pretty much everybody falls across a very simple spectrum in terms of how we approach problems from a visual perspective. What I’ve found, I’m going to give you the result first and then we’ll do the test and see how the test matches to the result. What I tell you now will have zero impact on how you actually take the test.
What I have found is that in any meeting, it doesn’t matter what the industry is, what the level of people’s position within the company is within the meeting, whether they’re executives or newbies, you find that in any meeting, typically about 25 percent of the people, you get this really nice bell curve distribution, about twenty five percent are what we’re going to call a “Black pen person.”
Now just to give you a little, very quick overview. A black pen person, we black pen people are the ones who can’t wait after the meeting’s started, we can’t wait to run up to the white board and start drawing out ideas. And say, “Wait a minute, is this what we’re talking about?” And we know who we are.
About 50 percent of the people are what I’m going to call a “Yellow pen person,” a highlighter. These are, we are the people, we yellow pen people, who are sitting there watching this other person drawing and we’re kind of inspired by what we’re seeing. Our mind starts moving thinking, “Oh, there’s something there,” and we, every single time, invariably, it’s always the same, we stand up and say, “I can’t draw, but,” and then we say, “Do you mind if I add something?” What happens is, that’s why I call these like the highlighters, the yellow pen people, are really good sussing out in someone else’s drawing the area that’s really interesting to explore, and then we’ll maybe create our own little picture over here of that area and say, “This, I think, is worth pursuing.”
Now we’ve got a great combination between the two, between the black and the yellow pen people of creating this picture that is both big picture and starting to get into some of the details.
Well, for those of you with a statistics background, you’ll notice [laughter] that we’re missing about 25 percent of our people, we red pen people. And we are the ones who are watching these other idiots up there at the white board thinking, “You know, frankly this is all a bunch of crap because they’re so grossly oversimplifying the problem, they’re probably making it worse.”
I don’t mean to point a finger because we all wear these different hats at different times, but we red pen people are the ones who really do have the greatest grasp of the details and the facts. It really bothers us. It’s just horrible to see these simple pictures being created that are missing so many of the nuances and the important critical details.
But what did we remember from before? The person who draws the picture wins. We’ve got to get these red pen people. We have to participate. So here’s what we’re going to do now. We’re going to do a test. On your napkins what I’d like you to do is follow along with me for a few minutes as we’re going to do a test.
What’s going to happen is I’m going to ask you a series of questions. Here’s why in that usability test I wanted to make sure that everybody was able to read the projector. If there’s anybody who can’t read that size of type, I’m going to need you to move up to the front. We’re going to go through a series of questions.
I will pose a scenario like this one that says, “I’m in a brainstorming session in a conference room that has a white board.” Then I’ll present you a series of possible answers. What I’d like you to do is read through the five possible answers, pick the one that’s closest to what you would do, and write down that number on your napkin.
My wife used to be an art director at “Cosmopolitan Magazine,” and I always like to think of this for anybody who’s ever read “Cosmopolitan Magazine.” This is like the “Cosmo Sex Quiz.”
[laughter]
Dan Roam: Here’s the scenario. Here’s what we’re going to do. So think about it like that only without the sex part.
[laughter]
Dan Roam: So again, Question #1. I’m in a brainstorming session. There’s a white board. Here’s what I do. And I’ll give you a minute or so for each one. Does anybody need any more time? Are we all good? We go on to the next one? Someone hands me a pen and asks me to sketch out a particular idea.
I…?
[laughter]
Dan Roam: I saw a gentleman yesterday who had this beautiful bandolier. Who’s the gentleman with like 46 markers? That thing’s amazing. I saw it from the elevator from the 10th floor coming down. It was beautiful. Is that bandolier here in the room? Can we show it? Whoever has that, would you mind showing us what you have?
Hmm? Not here?
[laughter]
Dan Roam: All right. Well, does anyone know who’s the guy who has it?
Jennifer: Jess McGraw.
Dan Roam: Jess?
Jennifer: Jess McGraw.
Dan Roam: Find Jess. Jess, are you here? Oh. You don’t have the bandolier with you?
Jennifer:  The pens.
Dan Roam: Your pens? Everybody, I want you to accost this man later on and take a look at this.
[laughter]
Dan Roam: All right. Are we getting through here? Anybody need more time? A couple more seconds? The next scenario. Someone hands me a complicated spreadsheet and asks me to look it over. OK. I’m going to press on. Just a couple more. Traveling home from a conference, perhaps even this conference, I’m in the airport. I run into someone who I saw at the conference and they say, “Oh, I forget. Your name? Yes, Mary. And what do you do again?” I…? Explaining what I do. Explaining what my job is now.
[laughter]
Dan Roam: And you know what? As of this morning we’re going to change question number three to now say, “I pull out my iPad.”
[laughter]
Dan Roam: All right. We have one more to go. Everybody good? This is an easy one because we’ve all been there. I’m an astronaut floating in space. The first thing I do is…? Keep your comments to yourself. For now. You know who I’m talking to. As you go through that, we’re going to total these up. We’re now done with our test. But before we do, and there’s someone in the room who already said it, so I want you to be very quiet. By a show of hands, how many people noticed something odd in the sequencing of those questions? Raise your hand if you did. OK, so a quarter of the room.
The person who shouted it out, what’s the problem with the sequencing of the questions? There is no Question E. There was no Question E. We went from D to F. Now the reason why that is is because I was asked to come and give a two day conference at Pfizer out in New York. This was a couple years ago now.
Day One I was going to talk to the business strategy people, and on Day Two I was going to talk to the project management people. And on the flight out, I was going through the presentation one more time. I was doing exactly what you’re not supposed to do: sit on the plane going through my PowerPoint.
I thought, “This is just too long.” So I just started pulling pages out. And one of the pages was one of these questions. But I didn’t think to renumber the sequence. So I pulled E, threw it away, and didn’t think to renumber it.
The first day again was with the business strategy people. We did the test. We blew through it. Nobody said anything. The next day was with the project management people. As we were going through it, when I jumped from D to F, everybody in the room said, “Wait! Where’s E?”
[laughter]
Dan Roam: And I thought, “This is more important than the test itself!” The business strategy people, none of them either noticed or cared that there was no E.
[laughter]
Dan Roam: And the project management people, we could not move on until we’d resolved [laughter] the issue of the missing E. I think that’s more telling. So here’s the deal. What I’d like you to do is add up your numbers, and we’re just going to do a quick show of hands. Add them all up. How many people identified themselves as a “Black pen person?” OK, we’ve got, oh, I’d say it’s about a fifth or a sixth of the room. Let’s call it five percent. How many people identified themselves as a “Yellow pen person?” OK, it’s a lot. Let’s go to the other end. How many people identified themselves as a “Red pen person?” OK, it’s roughly…wait! Those hands didn’t stay up very long. It’s OK to be a red pen person.
[laughter]
Dan Roam: I’m a red pen person half the time. You should see what the editor’s like. So I’d say that it’s less. It’s maybe 10 percent. But we still get a distribution, so we get something like this. It’s a little bit less. It’s a little bit bigger and then a little bit less like that. Now here’s the scary thing. Why is it that nobody in Washington, DC draws pictures? It goes back to our educational system. I gave this test. I have given this test, as I mentioned, hundreds of times now and the answer is always some kind of distribution as we’ve seen. Most people are in the middle, and then you get some spread out over the sides, with one exception.
It blew my mind, and I swear to God that this is true. I gave a talk to the NEA, the National Education Association. Teachers and academic administrators, 150 people in the room. Every single person, the same test you just did, identified themselves as a “Red pen person.”
Our educational system! And who knows what is the cause and effect here? Where is the finger to be pointed? We don’t know. But what we can derive from this is in this limited test, highly invalid, highly suspect, but nevertheless compelling.
[laughter]
Dan Roam: If our teachers and our academic administrators 100 percent believe that a picture is not a particularly valid way to convey an idea, and that is wildly off from the distribution of how we actually believe we should solve problems, no wonder we’re afraid to draw. No wonder from the age of six no one is encouraged to continue to use visual problem solving as a viable way to test intelligence. The SAT test includes critical reading, writing, and math. Your determination of whether you’ll get into your university has absolutely nothing to do with your ability to visually solve a problem, absolutely nothing to do. No wonder that by the time people ascend to the level of leadership, this is not going to happen.
And that is an enormous mistake because what it means is every time when we finally do get pictures in a business meeting, they all look like this. Why is it that given this broad range of visual talents and abilities that we have, when it comes time to communicating in a business setting this is what we always get?
In all fairness for those of us in the room, when it comes time to visual communicating, this is often what we generate. How many people have ever made a picture that maybe looks something like that? My beautiful site map that I labored over for weeks, and then I showed it to the client and they ran out of the room?
[laughter]
Dan Roam: Now I debated heavily whether I show you the next picture or not. I’m going to show it to you. This is a picture I don’t like. This happens to be the poster that all of us were given. I didn’t know that until last night. Who am I sitting with at dinner but Dave Gray, of X‑Plane who’s company made the poster. I’m thinking, “Oh God! I love this picture. I love to look at it. It’s beautiful and wonderful. It does absolutely nothing to me to explain how a website gets made which is what the picture’s about.” I think the type of pictures that I’m talking about, this is not what we want to be doing. Now, I ran, I told Dave I was going to show it anyway. He said that was OK. Is it still OK that I show it? OK.
[laughter]
Dan Roam: It’s beautiful, make no mistake. I have made pictures like this and I love doing them. But I’ve got to realize that it’s same with my beautiful sight map that I worked on for so many days. The intention, at the level I’m talking about, this is not every level but at the level that I’m talking about now, is to communicate ‑‑ to get what’s in my head into your head in the fastest, most efficient and most believable way possible. If I wanted to explain how a website got made, I would not do something like this. What I hope I would be able to do one day is to make something that’s very simple. So again, point being this simple picture on the back of a napkin. Now, for the rest of this session, we have about half an hour to go. I want you on your napkin to follow along with me as we figure out a way to draw a simple picture, a napkin picture of any problem that we can conceive of.
Here’s how we’re going to start. This is the way we start. Every back of the napkin problem solving picture, every single one, we don’t think about what our in‑goal’s going to be. No. Nor do we think about how would I even start. We remove that from the equation. We start always the same way. Just draw a circle. In the upper‑left hand corner draw a circle. This is the way I recommend starting every picture no matter what it’s about. Draw a circle and then give it a name.
In this particular case, call it “Me.” For a little extra credit, go ahead and make it look like me or you. Then we draw a second circle and make this one bigger and kind of fluffy down here in the middle. We’re going to label this one “My problem.” Now what’s happening is by virtue of our making these simple drawings on that napkin, and our being able to see them, a whole bunch of channels, neurobiologically speaking, in our brain are now opening up that would not have opened up if we just talked about it.
If I told you, “Imagine a relatively small circle at the upper left hand side of your page with a label ‘Me’ under it, and now imagine a bigger circle in the middle that’s called ‘My problem’,” an entirely different set of neurons are firing than are when we draw the picture. When we can actually see it and talk about it. We’ve now got all cylinders firing. What our brain really loves to do, and this is why PowerPoints so often do fail, our brain more than anything else gets excited when it understands something. The same kind of endorphins and dopamine that fire off when we get really excited are the same ones that fire off when we understand something.
When we suddenly have that “Oh my God, I get it!” moment, it’s like a shiver goes down the back of our spine. Our brain wants to understand. When someone gets up in front of us and starts to present something, we really want to get it. So our job as the communicator is to eliminate every thing from what we’re showing that’s going to stop the person from getting it. Because we want them to understand it.
So our brain is now ready by drawing these simple little pictures. We want to know what the connection between them is. Why is one bigger than the other one? What’s the next circle going to be? Our brain is already primed and ready to go and with our brain primed I want to stop and tell you a quick story. This is a story… The summary will be a picture that shows how all of this stuff works.
This is a story about two more business people. This is a guy named Ron Walton who is the son of Sam Walton and is the chairman of the world’s largest corporation, otherwise known as Wal Mart. This is Peter Seligman, who is the head of Conservation International, the world’s largest conservation organization. Now, by rights, these two guys should have nothing to do with each other. They should probably, according to our business beliefs, probably hate each other. Because one wants to consume and sell and the other wants to conserve. Well, the two of them are very good friends. The reason for that is because they both like to track outdoors with their family. They like to spend a lot of time traveling outdoors.
One time when they were on a trip, not planned, they happened to meet. This was up at the Northwest Passage. Both of them were on different expeditions that were looking at the ice pack and they met. They started traveling together because they hit it off. Peter Seligman started taking Rob Walton’s family to places where you could see, you could literally see, the impact that humanity has had on the planet in terms of climate change.
So one of the places again, that they continued to visit is Northwest Passage where for the first time in recorded history, the ice has broken up. You can now sail through it without having to stop, which you couldn’t do before, or though go down to the Amazon rain forest, which we talk about, we talk about deforestation. But they would go and look at it and they will see it. Of course, the intent here from Peter Seligman’s side was to motivate the Walton family to understand that there is a connection between human consumption and our impact on the planet, and to see it. Well, it worked.
Because after some of these trips, Mr. Walton said to Mr. Seligman, “OK. I get it. I want the Walton foundation… We’re going to give you 40 million dollars as a start to do whatever you want with at Conservation International.” Mr. Seligman said, “I don’t want your $40 million. I mean that would be lovely. But I’d like something else from you. I would like you a commitment from you that you will at least think about instilling within your organization to the degree that you can some sort of understanding of what environmental sustainability might mean.”
“You’ve got the world’s biggest company. You’ve got the world’s most complex supply chain.”
“You’ve got the world’s best ability to be efficient in delivering products to market. What would happen if you started to make every little step, somewhat more sustainable?”
Mr. Walton said, “OK. I’ll try it. But the guy we have to convince is Lee Scot.” He’s the CEO of Wal Mart or at least he was up until six months ago and he left on a good note. Because he was generally considered to be a pretty successful CEO. Let’s face it, in the end of the day, Lee Scot doesn’t answer to the environment, he answers to his share holders. If whatever he decides to do isn’t profitable for them, it’s not going to fly. So he’s the guy that we really need to convince.
So they did a test project, a pilot project, ‑where they said, “OK. What’s a product we can make that’s environmentally sustainable, that we can test to see if it’s profitable or not?” So they made organic cotton Yoga wear, believe it or not. That’s what Wal Mart decided to do. So they created a new line. They went out and they bought almost the entire organic cotton crop of Turkey which is the world’s largest provider of organic cotton. They made Yoga wear and sold out in three months at enormous profit. So they’re certain he’s convinced, from a business perspective‑‑being more environmentally aware actually could work.
Then in 2005, Katrina took place, wiping out New Orleans. As we all know, FEMA was not particularly agile on its feet in responding to that catastrophe, but Wal Mart was. Wal Mart was down there instantly, with hundreds and hundreds of truck loads of food and water that they were sending down and the way that, at least, Scot described it. I met him and he gave a talk. This is a couple of years ago. Now it was pretty inspiring. He said, “These are our people. If you look at the citizens of New Orleans, these are the life blood of an organization like Wal Mart. This is where we’re from, this is who we are. We are not going to let our own people go down.” So on their own, purely philanthropically, I believe that, they just sent materials, truck loads, food, water, building materials, you name it. They were the first responders to help people out in New Orleans until the federal government kind of got its act together.
What Lee Scot was saying at this talk is, “Why can’t we be the company that we were during Katrina? Why can’t we do that every day? And I don’t mean giving stuff away, but I mean being that thoughtful about what we do.” So he decided to go ahead and make Wal Mart become a flagship company for environmental sustainability. Depending on whether you like Wal Mart, you believe it. Or whether you don’t like Wal Mart, you think it’s all a bunch of crap. It’s a bunch of green washing.
Now let’s face it, there are two kinds of people on earth. There are people who love Wal Mart and there are people who hate Wal Mart. And they will never mix, and they will never change their mind. So what Wal Mart said is, “Look we’ve got to come up with a simple message to explain what environmental sustainability does actually mean from our perspective.”
They put out a tender to a bunch of PR companies and design organizations and what not. I had a friend at Wal Mart who handed me a copy of the RFP. The problem is all Wal Mart has is a tremendous amount of data. It’s not emotionally sexy, it doesn’t make any difference to you, we can’t understand it. So I said, “Why don’t we…,” in my response, “just create a set of pictures that make the data visual, so that we can understand it at a root level.” And among other things, “Why don’t we make a simple little model of the Wal Mart supply chain that actually shows how it all works and it’s too big to understand on a global basis. So let’s make an essentially like a little scale model. Like I would have made as a kid that just is a sliver of the entire supply chain. Then we can look at it in more detail and understand what would work.”
This was my proposal to them and I won the contract based on these little drawings. So in the end that’s what we did. We built this beautiful little 3D model that this is all of the aspects that make Wal Mart operate, from stores to transport to production to disposal and all of that. Then that model, you could break up into these different layers. Each layer represents a different aspect of environmental sustainability from carbon output to electricity consumption.
Then from those models you would be able to build visuals that people could understand. So instead of a big table of data that no one understands, this is how much CO2 is put up by Wal Mart around the world on a comparative basis. So you can suddenly see how much CO2 is put up in the United States versus how much is put out in Japan versus the UK.
But the point I wanted to make is that those were not the pictures. I love those. Those were a little bit like the X‑Plane pictures. In fact I was always inspired by X‑Plane, these beautiful little 3D models. But I realized in hindsight, those were not the pictures that mattered. The pictures that mattered were the pictures that we were drawing in the executive meetings. These extraordinarily simple little sketches, that said, “Wait a minute, if we break it up into these layers and each layer we can come up with some way of visually showing if this is how much we consume today, this is what we’ll consume tomorrow.”
This is the picture that actually made the difference because this is the picture that the decision maker’s really got. Which brings us to our second unwritten rule of visual problem solving. The more human your picture, the more human your response. Which really means we like to look at things that match the way our mind sees. I want to do a little test of this for a moment. Then I’ll run quickly through helping you figure out the rest of our napkin picture. Hopefully leaving enough time for a little bit of Q&A.
There are going to be four pictures that I’m going to show you. They’re all very simple. They’ll look very much like this one. I’d like you to look at this picture for a couple of moments and just see what you see. Now I’m going to move to the next picture. This is A. I now want to show you picture B. This is B. I’m going to move back and forth. This is not a test. I want people to really see what’s going on here. I want you to notice that some things have changed. I’m going back to A now. This is picture A and this is picture B.
Does everybody see that somethings have changed? How much time do you think might have passed from picture A to picture B? Is it a day? A few seconds? A few minutes, OK. Now I’m going to show you picture C.
[laughter]
Dan Roam: Something obviously has happened. Now I’m going to show you picture D. Something else has happened. How much time do you think might have passed between picture C and picture D? A few hours, OK. That’s all that we’re going to do for that little test. But as were through what just happened? A pretty amazing thing just happened. Look at how simple these pictures are. They’re nothing but some stick figures drawn in black. There’s no color. There’s no shading. There’s no drop shadows. There’s no 3D effects. There’s no color at all.
And yet, as extraordinarily simple as these pictures are, we just saw every major fundamental aspect of our visual processing system kick into action. It takes such an extraordinarily limited amount of information for us to activate every major processing center that we have. What I mean by that is as we learn more about the neurobiology of vision, we’re beginning to understand that vision is an extraordinarily complicated process, “Duh!” The more we understand about it, the more complicated it becomes. But there are a couple of things that we do know. Vision works as both a serial and a parallel process. That is to say the amount of information that is out there for us to process every second is overwhelming to our brain. We don’t have the capacity to process everything that’s out there.
So what our system has evolved is to be able to split up the entire work among a number of different work streams. So one of those work streams is called the “What pathway,” and this is the real name. It’s called the “What pathway.” Another work stream is called the “Where pathway.” Another one is called the “How pathway.”
One could make the argument, and I’ve had this argument with a handful of neurobiologists. They’ve all agreed that it’s fundamentally correct. One could make the argument that essentially the way we see the world is we break it up into six different work streams.
We process most of them independently and simultaneously. Then we stitch them back together in order to create the entire picture of the world that we see in front of us. There’s a reason why I’m telling you all of this. It’s something that I like to call the “6 by 6” rule. It tells us this, “To create a picture of any problem that we can conceive of we do not need to know how to draw hundreds of different kinds of pictures. We need to draw how to draw six.”
The rationale is if our vision system already breaks the world up into six different streams for processing, all we need to do to convey an idea is make one picture that taps into each one of those streams, shows that stream the information it needs to create the whole picture. Now we’re going to go through this on a napkin for the rest of our time.
I’m going to do this fast. We’ve got about 10 minutes more to go. Then I’ll leave time for some Q&A. So we’re out of here by 10:15. But back to our napkin now. What I’d like you to do is slice our problem up into six slices. Just like a pizza. We don’t have to think of our problem as one big scary thing that we can’t understand. We’re going to slice it up into six different slices exactly the way our visual system does and break it down into pieces.
The first one is the who and the what. This is what’s triggered by the what pathway. What the what pathway does is that it recognizes the things in front of us. It says, “Oh, that’s Dave. Oh, that’s a light. That’s a door.” Think about this as the nouns of our world. That’s what the what pathway does. It identifies the things that we see in front of us. The picture that we would draw to represent that slice is just a simple portrait. What I mean by that is, “Here’s a man. Here’s a woman. Here’s a car. Here’s a box.” Just a little simple portrait. The most basic thing that we need. Just enough information for us to understand what is the thing that we’re describing. That’s pathway number one.
Here’s an example. This is something called the “Wong Baker faces scale.” This is used in emergency rooms. This is developed by two doctors for use in places where there may be a language problem or people may not be verbal at all. The doctors trying to diagnose what’s wrong with this patient and they can’t communicate verbally. Well the doctor points to a part of the patient’s body and the patient points to… This very simple portrait conveys a tremendous amount of information. The simpler it is the more information it actually conveys. The more essential it is the faster we tap in to what is the difference between this and this.
Here’s a very simple little portrait. This represents a visual description of the second most important financial decision that most Americans will make. You’re wondering what I’m talking about? Well, am I going to buy an automatic or a manual? Very simple little picture. How’s that for manual?
Slice number two, the how much pathway. Doesn’t know what things are, it’s triggered by what things are because then it starts to count them, loves to count. We’re really good at counting. We’re really good at counting up to five. For most all of us, if we were to take and make little piles of things, pennies or marbles on the floor, and then look at them, the maximum number that most of us could look at and know how many it was without counting would be five. Our mind is really happy with that. Because once we get to six we have to stop and count. Our mind, remember it’s trying to process everything as fast as it can. It doesn’t like to stop and have to count it wants to just see it.
So what the how much pathway is doing is it’s trying to make guesstimates of quantity. That’s what it is doing. So the picture that we would draw if we want to reflect the how much statement, or how much is a chart, a visual representation of quantity. That’s what charts are for. So here’s a chart. This happens to show the price of tea in China.
Here is a little pie chart and yes I think pie charts are just fine. Dr. Tough Tea will have to argue that later. This is a little chart that shows the typical break down in a meeting, in a typical meeting, of how people go about solving problems visually.
The where pathway now. Slice number three. This one’s really cool. It has no idea of what anything is. But it knows where everything is. Completely distinct pathway separated by 30 million years of evolution from the part of our brain that identifies what an object is, the part that knows where it is. Has no idea what stuff is but it knows what its proximity to me is and it’s proximity to something else.
The image of what you can imagine this would look like, has anybody ever seen like a sonar scan picture or a radar scan? You don’t know what the objects are but you see shades of gray that indicate how far away they are? That’s kind of what our where pathway sees. Doesn’t know, doesn’t have a clue that that might be a person, that that might be Dave, but it knows there’s something 3‑ feet away from me, slightly below me, not moving towards me, “I probably don’t need to run.” That’s what our where pathway does.
The picture that we would draw to reflect a where problem is a simple little map. So say here’s my home, here’s the river and here’s where the treasure is buried. A simple little map that shows where things are located. A map can show where all the pieces fit, a map, of course, can show, we know this, talking, preaching to the choir here, a map can show where all the pieces fit within an organization or within a site map, we make maps all the time.
But think about what a map is doing, it’s doing one thing, it’s showing us where things are. A Venn Diagram? It’s just a map. It’s not showing a geographical region but it’s showing a conceptual region. Where do these ideas overlap?
When? Things now get really interesting, slice number four. We’ve come all the way around here. Now, the when pathway is pretty complicated because it’s keying off everything that’s come before. Dave, I’m going to single you out one more time. Would you do me a favor? Would you just stand up? This will be real easy for you. I’d like everybody to look at Dave Gray from “Explain,” thank you Dave, you’re doing a great job so far.
[applause]
Dan Roam: Now, I’ve just identified what you are. Forgive me for calling you a “what” but that’s what my brain says. That’s “Dave,” we know that. Now our where pathway for all of us is also kicking in saying, “OK, Dave is that proximity away from me.” Now Dave, would you walk over here and then walk back and then sit down, that’s all you need to do. Now watch Dave as he does this. You may go back. Thank you. And sit down. Dave, thank you.
[applause]
Dan Roam: Now what we just saw is a demonstration of our when pathway. Here’s what it does, it turns out that the number one way we recognize the passage of time is by what we see. Our what pathway said, “Dave,” our where pathway said, “There,” then a minute later, or at some other point it said, “Wait a minute, the what has moved, the where is different.” Now, is that a different what? Is that a different Dave? I don’t think so. The only thing my brain can deduce that happened is time must have passed, welcome to the fourth dimension. We see the fourth dimension all the time. We see time all the time. In fact, it turns out, if we go into a sensory deprivation tank, you know, we’d lose sense of everything right away, but if we just close our eyes and we’re in a quiet room, all of our senses impact us, but vision is the number one, one of the first things to go is our sense of time. If we don’t see what’s changing their where, we lose our sense of when. Does that make sense?
Pretty cool. So the picture that we would draw when we face a when problem is one we’re all familiar with, we just draw a timeline. When is one thing happening in relation to one other thing happening. Which one comes first? And which one comes after? I’m kind of a space geek, so here’s a nice picture of a where picture, you know, JFK says in 1961, “We’re going to the moon.” We’re going there. Pretty good vision statement. I mean everybody can see it every night, we know exactly where we’re going. If only health care were that simple. You know, we’re going there.
That’s wonderful as a where picture unless you happen to work for NASA, in which case the question becomes, “We’re going to do it before the end of the decade. We’re going to do it by 1969.” You say, “When? When are we going to do that?” Well, all of a sudden the project managers better start kicking in with their Microsoft project and their timelines and their Gantt charts. Because now we’re going to say, “When does everything need to happen in order for us to reach that particular deadline?”
So now we need a when picture. We need a timeline. And yes, there are lots of different kinds of timelines but they all show the same thing, when do things happen? We can look at that one for awhile. If you want to confuse people, put your timeline in a circle, I’ve all seen us do it, I’ve done it enough times myself. A sure way to get a client to just fade off is to create a circular timeline and then we review it, and then we iterate and then we review it and then we iterate.
We’re getting near to the end, because we’re just going to sneak in under our timeline, so this is perfect. Slice number four. Our brain is really working at this point. It’s combining everything we’ve seen up to this point to try to deduce cause and effect based on what we have seen. The whats in their various how muchs, in their wheres, are moving over when to allow us to start to deduce cause and effect.
What I mean by that is, what we’ll notice is, if dog sees birds, dog will run to birds. And if dog intersects with baby carriage, parents will panic. And that’s the picture that we saw in C. I don’t know how many of you noticed it, but I noticed this because I’ve done this before. Every single time I go for picture A to B to C, which is the one where the dog hits the baby carriage, everybody goes, “Oh.” We’re doing that from stick figures. We have an emotional response from stick figures. I mean holy smoke, what did we just trigger? Well, we triggered our cause and effect. We triggered the how.
Now a how picture, if the problem we want to describe is how does something work? We could summarize it by saying, “What will happen if I push this button?” What will I trigger if I push this button? What series of events? How will this flow? How will the system respond if I push this button?
The picture that we would draw, of course, is a little flow chart. This happens, which triggers this, which triggers this or if not, then that. A visual representation of how something works. And you’ll notice, with each one of these we’re getting increasingly complex in what we’re deducing and what we’re saying about the world.
The first three, all took place simultaneously. What it is, how much of it and where it is, are all happening at the same time. Then they get put together with when, over time and then we start to build this bigger picture.
Here’s a very simple little flow chart of how the human brain works. Sensory information comes in, goes into our reptilian brain, it gets processed and we act. We take certain behaviors based on what our senses have taken in. We humans, with our very sophisticated, fancy neocortex up on top are able to do a whole lot more fancy and sophisticated analysis and be able to execute a whole lot more sophisticated behaviors. Unless we’re talking about health care, in which case it goes like that.
The last slice, the why, combines all of the previous and this is when our intellect really starts to kick in and say from everything I’ve just seen in those little pictures, what rule can I derive? Why is the world the way it is? The picture that I would draw, is a very simple one, well in this case, what I’ve been able to deduce from those, that A, B, C, D picture of those stick figures is, I guess dogs really love birds but birds don’t love dogs.
I’ve been able to come up with a very simple visual equation that describes why the way the world is the way it is. So the picture that we would draw, there’s actually two, I’ll give you the simple one because we’re out of time. Had we had more time, I’m going to break that thing. The simple one is we draw an equation. What I mean by that is it’s the same thing as drawing our little picture of dog loves bird, bird does not love dog. The equation I like to draw is this. Very simple picture, square plus triangle equals circle. A very simple little visual equation that summarizes everything that we’ve seen up to this point.
Now I’m sure some of you are saying, “Dan, by what possible stretch of the imagination does square plus triangle equal circle?” Well, all of us know that triangle means delta which means change, so a square plus change gives me a circle, so there, you’ve got it.
We are now done. We’ve gone all the way around our little problem pie. If I don’t destroy my iPhone I’ll see that we’ve got about seven more minutes to go. There are two routes we could go now. We’re going to do this by a show of hands. I have a five minute story I could share with you to summarize all of this, or we could call it a day right now and use the rest of our time for Q&A.
How many people want to hear one more story and I just keep going on? And how many people want to do some Q&A instead? I’m going to share one more picture and I will go through this fast because let’s test the model, all six, with one big question, “Why does visual thinking matter?” Some of you have seen this before, so you’re going to have to go along for the ride one more time.
We’re going to go through all six slices, starting at the beginning, “what” all the way through “why” to try to understand why visual problem solving is so good for us.
What is visual thinking? Well, it’s a biological neuro-chemical vision science process by which we make sense of the world around us through our visual system. That’s what visual thinking is. Fine, enough of that.
How much visual thinking do we have? You already know the answer, because I told you.
If this is our total capacity to process incoming sensory information, let’s fill it in for vision, and you know when to tell me when to stop.
We’re seeing a lot of stuff. Boy, are we seeing a lot. We see a lot, more than we hear, and that’s where we’ll stop. Our entire processing capacity, that’s how much goes to vision.
How much do we use in a meeting?
[laughter]
Dan Roam: Blah, blah, blah, blah. “No, you’re wrong, sir!” Where did visual thinking begin? Now we’re on slice number three.
How many people know where visual thinking began? It began in France. I do not lie. Visual thinking began in France, at least as far as we can prove.
“What is he talking about?” Everybody’s heard of the caves of Lascaux. How many people have heard of the caves of Chauvet? Not so many people.
The caves of Chauvet are really cool. So what we’re going to do is zoom in to south central France, not far from the caves of Lascaux. If we continued zooming in, we would eventually come to this beautiful river that has cut out in the central mountainous region of southern France. If we continue down this river, we would come to this incredibly beautiful natural bridge which has been there for tens of thousands of years.
For hundred and hundreds of years, people have used this as a place for recreation. In fact, you can see there’s little kayaks down here. I don’t know if they’re scale, but this is pretty good. This is a kayak down here about that big. There’s another one here. People swim here at the beach. For thousands of years, people have been going to this place, and they think it’s beautiful. And it is.
But in 1993, very recently for the first time, a spelunker named Monsieur Chauvet discovered the entrance to a cave hidden on the back side of that arch. And he started with his team to explore that cave, and they were eventually able to map out in an incredibly complex series of caves that as they did their carbon dating, were far older than the Lascaux.
What they were able to find in there are a series of unbelievably beautiful pictures that people had been drawing.
And this is just one wall, this is one part of the wall. These four horses here, I don’t even want to draw on top of them, they’re so beautiful. These four horses were drawn over a period of about 800 years. People kept coming back to this cave for 800 years, drawing similar pictures… Those four horses…
To this day I defy anyone to draw a better picture of a burro than that.
Here’s something interesting. We’ve got a rhino. Who in southern France would have seen a rhino? Pretty wild. I mean, these bulls are incredible.
So when did this begin? How old are these pictures? I’ll give you a meaningless number, since we’re good at five.
32,000 years ago is when those pictures were drawn. And as I say, it appears from carbon dating that people continued to go back beginning 32,000 years ago for the next 800 years to the same cave and draw throughout all of those walls these unbelievably beautiful pictures.
Now, we know that human life actually began in Africa, and we have been able to find shards of things, but in terms of actual human markings that are clearly an intentional human marking, the oldest that we’ve been able to find are these at the cave of Chauvet 32,000 years ago. These are are the oldest representations we have of humans making markings.
Now I thought, 32,000 years… Again, it’s a meaningless number. I really wanted to understand how long ago that is, so I thought, let’s look at time in a different way. Let’s not think about it in terms of years. Let’s think about it in something that we humans understand. Let’s think about it in terms of generations.
So I made a little chart, which is my all time absolute favorite picture that I’ve ever drawn.
Let’s say each little character represents one generation. And let’s just say that on average, a generation from one mother to one child throughout all of human time has been roughly 25 years.
I mean, we can debate it may have been 15, 20, whatever. But let’s say roughly 25 years. So instead of talking about years, let’s talk about generations, because that’s something we can all imagine.
For myself back to my mother to grandmother to my great grandmother, and I wanted to map out how many generations have there been in 32,000 years. Very few. This takes us back to Columbus. 1492. That many generations. That many grandmas and grandpas. That’s it. All the way back to the time of Columbus.
I could draw it in one line. I could count it on two hands. Holy smoke. That’s not a long time ago at all.
Let’s go back a little bit further. Let’s go back 2,000 years to the beginning of the numbering system of years that we have now, to the time of Jesus Christ. That’s how many grandmas and grandpas there have been.
This was breathtaking to me. I always thought history was long. I thought 2,000 years was a long time. It ain’t nothing. That’s how many generations have been since the time of Christ.
Now let’s continue all the way back 5,000 years to the beginning of recorded history.
So here we’ve got Caesar here, five generations before Jesus Christ. Socrates here. We’ve got Muhammad up here. We’ve got the Buddha, the original Gautama Buddha right here. We’ve got Nefertiti, representing the height of the Egyptian empires here. We’ve got Abraham back here. We’ve got the beginning of recorded history, 3,000 B.C. That is it.
You know, it’s amazing to me. You’ll watch “Star Wars,” and they’ll talk about the Jedi Knights have ruled the universe for thousands of generations. No. There are no thousands of generations. That’s how many generations have existed since the beginning of recorded history. It’s 200. I can count that. That’s it.
I don’t know how you feel. I start crying when I look at this. History is so short. The only reason I was able to get that is because I drew it in a picture. I swear I’m going to start crying.
So then I thought, OK, but I want to go back 32,000 years. That takes us 5,000 years back. Let’s go back 32,000 years. How many grandmas and grandpas have their been and their babies since 32,000 years, since the first time that anybody we’ve found made a mark on a wall, drew a picture.
By the way, this is the beginning of, of course, as best as we can find, spoken written language. Takes us back.
So if I compressed everything in this picture into one line, that’s how long it would take us back.
Now let’s keep going. This takes us back 16,500 years back to the caves of Lascaux. Here’s when Lascaux was, and if we complete the whole picture, that’s how far we go back to Chauvet.
Every one of those little dots represents one grandma to one mother to one daughter, all the way through. I was just blown away. That’s it. We really got to get our health care figured out. We’ve got to take care of this planet. It’s not very long that we’ve had it.
Anyway, how did it begin? We’ve only got two more questions to go.
Well, evolutionarily speaking, we first had a reptilian brain stem that was able to process a little bit of fundamental visual information. That’s where much of our “where” pathway is. Crocodiles are really good at knowing where stuff is. They have no clue what anything is, but they know where it is.
Then we’ve got this limbic brain on top of that that allows us to have emotional responses to what it is that we were seeing, and make maybe more emotional decisions about how we would react.
And then we got this fancy old neocortex on top that allows us to do really sophisticated visual processing.
Our last question now. Why did visual thinking begin? So we wouldn’t get eaten.
And my last question for all of you is, why does visual thinking still exist?
[laughter]
Dan Roam: So we won’t be eaten.
[applause]
Dan Roam:  Oh boy, we are right at the end of time. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you staying through the whole thing.
Thanks.
[applause]
[music]

Engaging Interaction

iTunes     Del.icio.us     Podcast music generously provided by Bumper Tunes


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This evening I had the pleasure of speaking with Principal of Interaction Design at Kicker Studio Jennifer Bove. Jennifer is co-chairing Interaction10 the third annual Interaction Design Association conference taking place February 4-7th at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia.

She shares many details for the upcoming conference including speakers, workshops, and several unique experiences that attendees can expect during their time at the event. You can also follow the conference on Twitter @IxD10.

Pre-Conference Workshops

The day before the conference, interaction designers can add core skills to their repertoire with hands-on workshops covering a range of topics. They include basic user experience skills like user research, mental models, brainstorming, and wireframing, but also mix in other topics like visual skills for folks who can’t draw, designing for mobile, and prototyping with “Arduino”:http://www.arduino.cc/.

Keynotes include:

Paola Antonelli – Senior Curator of Arch & Design at MOMA
Bill Moggridge – IDEO founder and interaction design pioneer
Jon Kolko – Associate Creative Director at Frog Design
Dan Hill – “Designer and urbanist”:http://www.cityofsound.com/blog/2002/01/about_cityofsou.html from Sydney
Ezio Manzini- “Sustainability expert”:http://www.sustainable-everyday.net/manzini/ and Professor of Industrial Design at Politecnico di Milano
Nathan Shedroff – Author & Chair of the “Design MBA”:http://www.designmba.org/ at California College of the Arts

Also invited speakers to speak about core topics like storytelling, service design, copy writing, networked objects, open source hardware & software. People like Liz Danzico, Shelley Evenson, Timo Arnal from Oslo, Denise Wilton from Moo in the UK.

Interact Sessions

Jennifer and the team for Interaction 10 are trying something new this year with the community sessions they used to call lightening rounds. They want to encourage more interaction among attendees. All folks who know each other online from around the world will finally have a chance to meet face to face, and give the younger and more experienced folks a reason to mix.

The IxDA received over 250 submissions from the community, opened it up for comments the topics the community was interested in; from which they chose about 30. The effort in selection was based on a mix of topics and formats including discussions, activities, and games, and the UX bookclub.

Local Challenge

Savannah was the first design city, and organizers wanted to do something to give back. They designed a Local Challenge structured to give participants an opportunity to put interaction design principles and methods to work, engage with the rich history of Savannah, and address an issue that affects the lives of their local peers.

Student Challenge

Students can submit process books, juried by an international panel of educators, where 5 finalists will be invited to the conference for an on-site design challenge to compete for prizes and peer recognition.

Art Exhibition

Exploring the concept of interaction. Organizers of the conference have invited designers and artists to submit work that explores the concept of interacting with people, tools, technology, and answering the questions about what it all means.

IDEA 2009 – Day 2

IDEA2009 had the world’s foremost thinkers and practitioners converge on Toronto’s MaRS Convention Center to share the big ideas that inspire, along with practical solutions for the ways people’s lives and systems are converging to affect society. Listen and learn from experts in a variety of fields as we all continue the exploration of Social Experience Design.

Subscribe to the Boxes and Arrows Podcast in iTunes or add this page to your Del.icio.us account:

iTunes     Del.icio.us     IDEA Conference theme music generously provided by Bumper Tunes

Day 1 @idea09 | Day 2 @idea09

Innovation ParkourMatthew Milan

Insight is one of the most widely used and poorly understood concepts in the creative process. Insight is what drives the big idea, validates the crazy hunch, and frames both problem and solution in one fell swoop. Without the right perspective, knowledge, and grounding, generating insight can be unpredictable, wildly unreliable, and completely inconsistent in application.

Matthew Milan, Principal and Design Director with Normative, helps us understand how to generate, identify, frame and use insight effectively. This poorly understood practice is an increasingly a critical skill to have when working on solving complex problems. As an information architect, insight is one of the best tools you can use to unpack difficult challenges and turn them into effective solutions.

Social experiences online might benefit from an alternative venue, but standard human dynamics, modes of kinship/friendship, etc. still apply. Furthermore, we have a rich history of examination to mine, and a range of metaphors to apply that allow us to shift our perspective and enjoy more innovative thinking. The techo-geeky thing is old news, Lisa applies some human thinking.

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The Art and Science of Seductive InteractionsStephen Anderson

Remember that “percentage complete” feature that LinkedIn implemented a few years ago, and how quickly this accelerated people filling out their profiles? It wasn’t a clever interface, IA, or technical prowess that made this a successful feature—it was basic human psychology. To be good UX professionals we need to crack open some psych 101 textbooks, learn what motivates people, and then bake these ideas into our designs.

Independent consultant Stephen P. Anderson looks at specific examples of sites who’ve designed serendipity, arousal, rewards and other seductive elements into their application, especially during the post sign-up process when it is so easy to lose people. Regardless of your current project, the principles behind these examples (from disciplines like social sciences, psychology, neuroscience and cognitive science) can be applied universally. Best of all, attendees will receive a special gift that makes it easy to bridge theory with tomorrow’s deadline.

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Social Design Patterns Mini-WorkshopChristian Crumlish & Erin Malone

Principal at Tangible UX Erin Malone, and Curator at Yahoo! Design Patter Library Christian Crumlish present a family of social web design principles and interaction patterns to help user experience designers and strategists grapple with the social dimensions of their products and services. The family of patterns, principles, and practices provides a framework and starting point for the conceptual modeling of any interactive digital social experience.

Erin and Christian have observed and codified 96 patterns thus far, capturing user-experience best practices and emerging social web customs for practitioners; introducing the conceptual clusters of patterns, delve deeply into some of the most interesting patterns, and share fundamental principles and deceptively appealing anti-patterns in context through discussion of illustrative scenarios.

Editors Note: The second half of their presentation involved participants playing the Social Mania card game. I’ve included a few pictures of attendees learning the game the evening before to assist Erin and Christian during their presentation. Thanks to Denise Philipsen (@theguigirl) for posting these and other photos from the conference up on Flickr.

Card Game @idea09


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If You Build It (Using Social Media), They Will ComeMari Luangrath

Mari Luangrath is currently starting up her third entrepreneurial venture, Foiled Cupcakes. Without a traditional “cupcakery” storefront but choosing instead to focus on online order and personal delivery, Mari has gone completely non-traditional: she’s used Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to build relationships with Chicago’s most active and vocal influencers and more than double sales targets in month 1 and 2. As a result, 90 percent of the word-of-mouth business she’s received since May 2009 can be tied directly to social media.

While social media is constantly evolving from one medium to the next, it’s absolutely one of the most immediate ways to interact with potential consumers, influencers and connectors in your target market. Of course, there’s no one “right way” to do things in this dynamic environment. Mari shares insightful information regarding the real-time challenges she has faced to stay present in the lives of potential consumers amid all of the fluidity. She also discusses her targeted marketing action plan (what worked, what flopped, and how she’s used roadblocks to her advantage); suggest ways to identify which social media applications will work best for the results you desire; how to develop a plan to connect with targeted consumers; and ways to continue that relationship to provide consumers with an enhanced experience, leading to conversion and sales.


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The Dawn of Perfect ProductsTim Queenan

There is a potential upside in social media besides encouraging more dynamic communications and facilitating human networks: the end of bad products. Sure, “bad” is subjective but so is why we buy or don’t buy certain products. Could one of the effects of social media be that we see fewer and fewer inferior products existing in market?

Executive Director of Draftfcb NY’s Digital Practice Tim Queenan, explores what happens when a commodity driven market is regulated by the “crowd” and what types of products and experience start to emerge.


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These podcasts are sponsored by:


Information Architecture Institute: Through education, advocacy, services and social networking, the IAI has 1400 members from 80 countries demonstrating the value of Information Architecture to the world at large.




IDEA brings together the worlds foremost thinkers and practitioners. Sharing the big ideas that inspire, along with practical solutions for the ways peoples lives and systems are converging to affect society.




Visit boxesandarrows.com/about/participate to be a part of your peer written journal.


Axure RP is the leading tool for rapidly creating wireframes, prototypes and specifications for applications and web sites.


Morae is the premier software for deeply understanding customer experiences…and sharing those insights clearly and powerfully.


iRise enterprise visualization solutions give companies a powerful way to fully experience application before development.

IDEA 2009 – Day 1

IDEA2009 had the world’s foremost thinkers and practitioners converge on Toronto’s MaRS Convention Center to share the big ideas that inspire, along with practical solutions for the ways people’s lives and systems are converging to affect society. Listen and learn from experts in a variety of fields as we all continue the exploration of Social Experience Design.

Subscribe to the Boxes and Arrows Podcast in iTunes or add this page to your Del.icio.us account:

iTunes     Del.icio.us     IDEA Conference theme music generously provided by Bumper Tunes

Day 1 @idea09 | Day 2 @idea09

The Impact of Social ModelsLuke Wroblewski

As Richard Farson’s truism “no one smokes in church no matter how addicted” points out, context informs almost everything that happens in an environment. Online social experiences are no exception.

How a product’s social model is set up can impact not only who contributes, but how much, and why. From permission-based subscriptions to one-click follows, Luke will discuss the attributes and implications of several popular social models by looking at data and behavior in the Web’s most popular social applications.

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Social Spaces Online: Lessons from Radical ArchitectsChristina Wodtke

While Information Architecture took its name from architecture, it took very little else. This is not surprising, as the early days of the web were about making sites that supported the interaction between people and data. The obvious model back then was a library; a library is a space for humans to receive knowledge. But with the rise of social networks, and the integration of community into almost all online experiences, more architecture practices are directly transferable to design. Online spaces are no longer just about findability, but about falling in love, getting your work done, goofing around, reconnecting with old friends, staving off loneliness… humans doing human things.


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Making Virtual Worlds: Games and the Human for a Digital AgeThomas Malaby

The rise of virtual worlds (World of Warcraft, Everquest) has prompted new questions about the status of games in a digital age. Thomas Malaby’s research at Linden Lab, makers of Second Life, suggests that game design and game development practice are becoming a key part of how some high tech companies operate. Instead of relying on top-down and procedural decision-making, these organizations contrive complex and game-like systems that promise to generate legitimate decisions from the ground up.


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User Experience as a Crucial Driver of Social Business DesignJeff Dachis

Everything that can be digital will be. Why? Because it’s faster, better, and cheaper. UX in the digital world will be the key definer of value. UX design now means to embrace a whole new set of behaviors and characteristics. Social Business Design is a framework to understand and think about the multi-faceted users and the way they participates inside a business ecosystem in meaningful ways.

Co-founder of Razorfish, Inc., and current CEO of the Dachis Group, Jeff Dachis suggests that Experience design has started to evolve into Business Design – a fully connected ecosystem of suppliers, shareholders, employees, products, and supply chains. But don’t get too comfortable, b/c the future is about to change…again!

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Bare Naked Design: Reflections on Designing with an Open Source CommunityLeisa Reichelt

For the past 12 months Leisa has been working, with Mark Boulton on a series of projects with the Drupal community – firstly to redesign Drupal.org, and then following the success of that project, to work with the Drupal community to try to address some significant user experience issues in the interface of Drupal itself.

In this presentation, Leisa shares war wounds and learnings from their work with the Drupal community as well as some questions and challenges for both designers and open source communities. She examines what it is like to design openly with communities and whether good design can ever flourish in a meritocracy like the Drupal community.

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Does Designing a Social Experience Affect How We Party? Of Course It Does!Maya Kalman

What makes an event whether social or corporate a true success? What makes you want to go to a party or networking event? And what makes you want to stay!

That premise, of what should or could have been done to make that event a success is the core of the concept behind “Social Experience Design” and what we’ll be discussing in this session. Maya will explore what goes into planning the perfect event. How do we approach the task at hand? How do we insure success? What has changed in the last year and what are next year’s trends? And how have events and the art of event design changed now that “social networking” is part of almost everyone’s daily life.

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The Information Superhighway: Urban Renewal or Neighborhood Destruction?Mary Newsom

As a long-time practitioner of daily newspaper journalism who sees the economic model of the newspaper industry sinking (and broadcast journalism isn’t in much better shape), Mary looks into what will happen to cities if/when the mass media splinter.

With all of the “new media” journalism: the emerging trends of crowd-sourcing, blogging, YouTube, Twitter and the general explosion of information available to people, this makes virtually anyone, a potential journalist. What are the implications for information, and for the dependability of that information?

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These podcasts are sponsored by:


Information Architecture Institute: Through education, advocacy, services, and social networking, the IAI has 1400 members from 80 countries demonstrating the value of Information Architecture to the world at large.




IDEA brings together the worlds foremost thinkers and practitioners. Sharing the big ideas that inspire, along with practical solutions for the ways peoples lives and systems are converging to affect society.




Visit boxesandarrows.com/about/participate to be a part of your peer written journal.


Axure RP is the leading tool for rapidly creating wireframes, prototypes and specifications for applications and web sites.


Morae is the premier software for deeply understanding customer experiences…and sharing those insights clearly and powerfully.


iRise enterprise visualization solutions give companies a powerful way to fully experience application before development.