Home Hospitality The Players Richard Saul Wurman: The World’s Greatest Event Designer

Richard Saul Wurman: The World’s Greatest Event Designer


He is the Founder of the TED Conference, the EG Conference, the WWW Conference, the 555 Conference, and over 40 other conferences over the course of his career. He has authored 83 books, and he runs a cartography organization called the Urban Observatory 19.20.21 Project that’s in the process of creating a new standardized the way to map cities. He has spent his lifetime designing the very essence of humanity and understanding, and is in my mind the real life Most Interesting Man in the World. He is, Richard Saul Wurman

The events industry is not an industry that’s founded on technical know-how, which makes it unlike industries such as the tech industry. Creating a valuable tech company — whether it was the software computer companies of the previous generation or the internet companies of this generation — relies foremost on a deep understanding of technology itself. Only with that understanding can one have the necessary vision for leveraging the technology to create change. In the events industry though, the essence of our product and our execution all boils down to one simple mantra: bring people together. It is an accessible yet elusive business, and many of the players in the events industry bring intriguingly unique backgrounds to the table in creating their work.

In the case of Richard Saul Wurman, the most fundamental pattern he self-identifies with is that he is a lifelong information architect. An information architect; someone who’s mission in life is to take the journey from not understanding something, to understanding something, then to make that journey easier for others. Within this context of Wurman’s career pursuit, conferencing has simply been one of the many mediums he has used to convey and organize information.

There are many lenses for measuring success in the events business, and in my mind, Richard Saul Wurman’s greatest strength has been as a designer of human interactions. He wasn’t the one mainly responsible for turning TED into the iconic brand it is today — that process only started with the current owner, Chris Anderson, as he began the initiatives of expanding into TEDx and TED Global and all the other extensions — but Wurman was the one who invented all the iconic designs of the interactions TED has become known for: the 18 minute time limits, no introductions, no lecterns, no panels, no VIP seating in the audience. These seemingly small logistics have actually played a fundamental role in evolving the way people think of conferences.

The design elements that Richard Saul Wurman integrated into the TED Conference influenced the world of conferencing in the same way the apps industry has influenced the world of smartphones. Just as a smartphone user may seem to an outsider (whoever still doesn’t understand smartphones…) like he’s just staring at and tapping a screen no matter what, a conference may seem to those outside the industry like it’s all the same thing no matter what, just a bunch of people getting together in a room. Just like apps may seem like a small nuance to those who don’t understand smartphones, the designs of human interaction at a conference may seem like small nuances to those who don’t understand conferencing. The reality is, these nuances makes all the difference in the world, sometimes fundamental differences to the way we interact as human beings, and Richard Saul Wurman has innovated and influenced these nuanced designs more than anyone else in the industry.

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