Comedian John Hodgman, author of best-seller Areas of my Expertise, correspondent on the Daily Show, and writer for the New York Times Magazine, is known by many as a hilarious wonder, but not much more. Others probably recognize Hodgman from the iconic Mac vs. PC ads—But when audiences were treated to his first TED talk in 2008, “Aliens, love – Where are they?”they found the familiar face appealing on a new level.
It was his most recent appearance on the TED stage with his talk “Design, Explained.” in June 2012 that got a lot of attention—On the surface, the talk has little merit beyond comedy — But there’s a reason it’s TED-worthy. Hodgman has an uncanny ability to use his entertainment background to translate thoughtful ideas around the innovation of design, in humorous fashion.
He sets forth to describe how modern architecture resembles something extraterrestrial using the Theme Building in Los Angeles as an example, then how a citrus juicer looks like it would come to life at night, and how the iPhone looks like a hot plate of sorts. But there is a much deeper message beyond his imaginative stories about the three iconic objects.
He uses his talents as a comedian to show the progress of design, and its ultimate purpose. From the building that exists as an example of monumental design, to the juicer that allows for you to take the design home with you, to the phone that’s already in your pocket, alien-like design has come a long way from feeling “extraterrestrial.”
He says that good design should simply attach to your brain, without you knowing that it happened.
After five minutes of laughter and ridiculousness, he brings it all into perspective. When he shifts focus to the design of the iPhone, he concludes, “What it did was take technology, which to many other people in the world still feels alien, and made it immediately feel familiar and intimate. And you didn’t even notice it happened.”
“This is design that once you saw it, you forgot about it. Because of how instantly we adopted these gestures and made it an extension of our lives, unlike the Theme building, this is not alien technology.”
Hodgman has the remarkable ability to use humor and hyperbole to showcase innovation, and stimulate dialogue around good design. The talk reminds us, in simplest terms, of the power of innovation and how great ideas can come together over time.
Written by Maria Stephens/ Contributor
Maria Stephens is a marketing professional working in B2B technology. She enjoys reading nonfiction and learning as much as possible. Maria was born in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and speaks fluent Russian. She currently lives in Vinings with her husband and cats.