06:24
TED2012

John Hodgman: Design, explained.

Filmed:

John Hodgman, comedian and resident expert, "explains" the design of three iconic modern objects. (From The Design Studio session at TED2012, guest-curated by Chee Pearlman and David Rockwell.)

- Expert
John Hodgman is a writer, humorist, geek celebrity, former professional literary agent and expert on all world knowledge. He was the bumbling PC in Apple's long-running "I'm a Mac; I'm a PC" ad campaign. Full bio

Today I'm going to unpack for you
00:16
three examples of iconic design,
00:18
and it makes perfect sense
00:21
that I should be the one to do it
00:22
because I have a Bachelor's degree in Literature.
00:25
(Laughter)
00:29
But I'm also a famous
00:30
minor television personality
00:31
and an avid collector of
00:34
Design Within Reach catalogs,
00:36
so I pretty much know
00:37
everything there is.
00:39
Now, I'm sure you
00:41
recognize this object;
00:42
many of you probably saw it
00:44
as you were landing your private zeppelins
00:45
at Los Angeles International Airport
00:47
over the past couple of days.
00:49
This is known as the Theme Building;
00:52
that is its name for reasons
00:55
that are still very murky.
00:57
And it is perhaps
00:59
the best example we have in Los Angeles
01:01
of ancient extraterrestrial architecture.
01:04
It was first excavated in 1961
01:09
as they were building LAX,
01:12
although scientists believe that
01:14
it dates back to the year 2000
01:15
Before Common Era,
01:18
when it was used as
01:20
a busy transdimensional space port
01:21
by the ancient astronauts
01:24
who first colonized this planet
01:26
and raised our species
01:28
from savagery by giving us
01:29
the gift of written language
01:31
and technology and
01:33
the gift of revolving restaurants.
01:35
It is thought to have been
01:37
a replacement for the older space ports
01:40
located, of course, at Stonehenge
01:43
and considered to be
01:46
quite an improvement
01:47
due to the uncluttered design,
01:48
the lack of druids hanging around all the time
01:50
and obviously, the much better
01:53
access to parking.
01:55
When it was uncovered,
01:56
it ushered in a new era
01:59
of streamlined, archaically futuristic design
02:01
called Googie,
02:04
which came to be synonymous with
02:05
the Jet Age, a misnomer.
02:07
After all, the ancient astronauts who used it
02:09
did not travel by jet very often,
02:12
preferring instead to travel by feathered serpent
02:14
powered by crystal skulls.
02:17
(Applause)
02:20
(Music)
02:22
Ah yes, a table.
02:26
We use these every day.
02:30
And on top of it,
02:31
the juicy salif.
02:33
This is a design by Philippe Starck,
02:35
who I believe is in the audience at this very moment.
02:36
And you can tell it is a Starck design
02:38
by its precision, its playfulness,
02:40
its innovation and
02:44
its promise of imminent violence.
02:46
(Laughter)
02:49
It is a design that challenges your intuition --
02:51
it is not what you think it is when you first see it.
02:54
It is not a fork designed
02:57
to grab three hors d'oeuvres at a time,
02:58
which would be useful out in the lobby,
03:02
I would say.
03:04
And despite its obvious
03:05
influence by the ancient astronauts
03:06
and its space agey-ness and tripodism,
03:08
it is not something
03:12
designed to attach to your brain
03:13
and suck out your thoughts.
03:16
It is in fact a citrus juicer
03:18
and when I say that,
03:20
you never see it as anything else again.
03:22
It is also not a monument to design,
03:25
it is a monument to design's utility.
03:29
You can take it home with you,
03:31
unlike the Theme Building,
03:33
which will stay where it is forever.
03:35
This is affordable
03:38
and can come home with you
03:39
and, as such, it can sit
03:41
on your kitchen counter --
03:43
it can't go in your drawers;
03:45
trust me, I found that out the hard way --
03:47
and make your kitchen counter into
03:49
a monument to design.
03:51
One other thing about it,
03:53
if you do have one at home,
03:54
let me tell you one of the features you may not know:
03:56
when you fall asleep,
03:58
it comes alive
04:00
and it walks around your house
04:03
and goes through your mail
04:05
and watches you as you sleep.
04:07
(Applause)
04:09
Okay, what is this object?
04:13
I have no idea. I don't know what that thing is.
04:20
It looks terrible. Is it a little hot plate?
04:23
I don't get it.
04:25
Does anyone know? Chi?
04:27
It's an ... iPhone. iPhone.
04:29
Oh yes, that's right, I remember those;
04:30
I had my whole bathroom tiles
04:33
redone with those back in the good old days.
04:35
No, I have an iPhone. Of course I do.
04:38
Here is my well-loved iPhone.
04:40
I do so many things on this little device.
04:42
I like to read books on it.
04:45
More than that, I like to buy books on it
04:47
that I never have to feel guilty about not reading
04:49
because they go in here and I never look at them again
04:51
and it's perfect.
04:53
I use it every day to
04:56
measure the weight of an ox,
04:58
for example.
05:00
Every now and then,
05:02
I admit that I complete
05:04
a phone call on it occasionally.
05:05
And yet I forget about it all the time.
05:07
This is a design
05:11
that once you saw it,
05:13
you forgot about it.
05:15
It is easy to forget the gasp-inducement
05:16
that occurred in 2007 when you first
05:19
touched this thing because it became
05:22
so quickly pervasive
05:24
and because of how instantly
05:26
we adopted these gestures
05:28
and made it an extension of our life.
05:31
Unlike the Theme Building,
05:34
this is not alien technology.
05:36
Or I should say,
05:38
what it did was it took technology
05:40
which, unlike people in this room,
05:42
to many other people in the world,
05:43
still feels very alien,
05:44
and made it immediately and instantly feel
05:46
familiar and intimate.
05:48
And unlike the juicy salif,
05:50
it does not threaten
05:52
to attach itself to your brain,
05:54
rather, it simply
05:56
attaches itself to your brain.
05:58
(Laughter)
06:00
And you didn't even notice it happened.
06:02
So there you go. My name is John Hodgman.
06:05
I just explained design.
06:07
Thank you very much.
06:10
(Applause)
06:12
Translated by Katheryn McGaffigan
Reviewed by Jenny Zurawell

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About the Speaker:

John Hodgman - Expert
John Hodgman is a writer, humorist, geek celebrity, former professional literary agent and expert on all world knowledge. He was the bumbling PC in Apple's long-running "I'm a Mac; I'm a PC" ad campaign.

Why you should listen

You may know him only as the PC in Apple's PC vs. Mac smackdown ads, or as the Daily Show with Jon Stewart's Resident Expert. But John Hodgman has many other claims to fame. He's the author of The Areas of My Expertise, which provides vital and completely fake details on the great lobster conspiracy, hoboes, nine US presidents who had hooks for hands, and how to win a fight; the followup More Information Than You Require; and his newest (and he claims last), That Is All.

He is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine; host of the Little Gray Book Lectures, a monthly series that has aired on This American Life; and an actual former professional literary agent.

More profile about the speaker
John Hodgman | Speaker | TED.com