Champion of explication through design and design conference impresario.
With the publication of his first book in 1962, at the age of 26, Richard Saul Wurman identified the singular passion of his life: that of making information understandable both for himself and others. Since then he has gone on to author, design and publish a further 81 books, each about a subject or idea that he personally had difficulty understanding.
The hugely popular TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conferences that Wurman created and chaired from1984 until 2002 provided a high profile and vibrant forum for the exchange of ideas between members of the design community and business leaders.
Wurman was trained in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, earning his graduate degree in 1959. He spent the next 13 years in Philadelphia and during this time cultivated a long-lasting friendship with architect Louis I. Kahn.
Early in his career he coined the term “information architect” and recalibrated his professional activity accordingly. In 1981 he founded Access Press in Los Angeles and created a series of travel guides organized by neighborhood and with information oriented around a tourist's real needs. He applied the same principles to further Access guides about sports events, and other complex topics such as finance and healthcare. In 1987 he formed The Understanding Business in San Francisco and continued his mission to make things understandable with new formats for telephone books, road atlases, and airline guides. An overview of the motivating principles for these projects can be found in his best-selling book, Information Anxiety, published in 1989, (and then again in 2000 with Information Anxiety2).
In addition to publishing Wurman uses the conference format to explore and extend his ideas. He chaired the International Design Conference in Aspen in 1972, the first Federal Design Assembly in 1973, followed by the National AIA Convention in 1976.
The TED conferences that Wurman created and chaired from1984 until 2002 did much to initiate and nurture improved relations between the design community and business leaders. In 2001 he sold the TED conferences to The Sapling Foundation but continues to produce TEDMED conferences.
Among the commendations Wurman has received are the Chrysler Design Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a lifetime achievement award from the Pacific Design Center. In 1994 Wurman was named a fellow of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and he has been awarded three honorary doctorates.
“TED itself is a triumph of information design. The meticulously tended social dynamic of the conference is the crowning achievement of a talented man—one who realized long ago that the presentation of information can be more important than the information itself.”
—Gary Wolf, “The Wurmanizer,” Wired, February 2000