Blogumulus by Roy Tanck and Amanda Fazani

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

video interview: The Commissioner of Curiousity: Richard Saul Wurman talks about his shift from architecture and his current work


architect/artist: Richard Saul Wurman
interview title: The Commissioner of Curiousity
interviews compilation no: V-08
interview format: Video and Text
date: 2009
appeared in: Business Innovation Factory
interviewer: Walt Mossbeg
photo by:


Interview Details:

The Commissioner of Curiousity

Richard Saul Wurman likes to simplify things to initials and numerals: TED is the Technology Entertainment Design conference he created; TUB is The Understanding Business, a company Wurman founded to capitalize on his theories of knowledge.

There’s also TOP, one of his publishing companies, along with Access Press, that produced books on “the topics that matter in our lives”—such as healthcare, wealthcare, travel and child-raising; IA is information architecture, a field Wurman essentially launched three decades ago; or it could stand for “Information Anxiety,” his blockbuster 1990 book that foresaw the growing problem of data clutter and proposed a radical new means of organizing and presenting knowledge.

Then there’s 19.20.21., a massive undertaking to standardize the information available on 19 cities that are expected to reach 20 million inhabitants in the 21st century.

Finally, comes his latest book called 33. With its Wurmanesque sub-title Understanding Change & the Change in Understanding, 33 is a fable re-imagined three decades after its original telling as a conference keynote address at the1976 AIA convention. It chronicles the adventures and musings of an eccentric (yet oddly familiar) character: the Commissioner of Curiosity and Imagination. The bemused, amused, and roundish imp waddles through the city of What-If in the land of Could-Be, trying to make sense of the myriad changes that have transpired in the past 33 years.

In Wurman’s original presentation, he told the tale of the Commissioner of Curiosity and Imagination who is hired to run a city and county for one year. In exchange for his services, the powers that be agree to do everything the Commissioner tells them to do. “What he did was look at everything that was going on and did the opposite–like change the laws of copyrighting to the right to copy” says Wurman. “The results were astonishingly favorable. In fact, everything he did was so successful that they banished him, as people would predictably do.”

Wurman’s new and re-imagined story is presented in an ingenious, multi-layered format—"information upon information," as the Commissioner himself might say—with the original fable at its core. Surrounding this is an updated tale as presented through 33 episodes and accompanying graphics.

Once described by Fortune magazine as an “intellectual hedonist” with a “hummingbird mind,” Wurman’s body of work is based on an epiphany he had as a young man: Human understanding is held back by difficulties in the way writers, designers and publishers convey information. Driven by that awareness, he left the practice of architecture (where he apprenticed with the legendary Louis Kahn) for what he came to call “information architecture,” advocating innovative design and editorial techniques to make data more visual and comprehensible.



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