Meet TED2012 guest host Chee Pearlman: A short Q&A

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For the third consecutive year, TED has invited a guest curator to host a session at the conference. This time, duties have fallen to a duo: design commentator, Chee Pearlman, and architect and founder of Rockwell Group, David Rockwell.

The two are collaborating on “The Design Studio,” a session featuring a host of boldface creative world names. TED’s Helen Walters caught up with Pearlman the week before the conference to ask her how things were coming along.

What rules did you have to abide by when putting together a TED session?

It was a blank slate. Chris [Anderson, TED curator] has handed us the reins of the stage for 105 minutes and it’s all up to us. It’s a huge responsibility and honestly a little bit terrifying, too.

How was the collaboration with David Rockwell?

David and I have done a lot of projects together in the past and we have a good creative synergy. We worked on the book Spectacle together, which was a great adventure into a lot of ideas about what makes a place transform in a moment. That’s obviously very helpful at TED, while we both know how much work, preparation and rehearsal goes into a TEDTalk. It’s staggering.

A provocative thought: designers often seem to make the least exciting speakers at TED. Is that fair? 

I’d agree that it is a challenge to find designers who are comfortable with the big performance aspect of being on the TED stage. We’ve worked with everyone to find their comfort level and to find the way they’ll be comfortable talking about what drives them.

How have you put together a session that can speak both to the breadth of design as well as its intricacies?

There are so many different ways to address design, design issues and design questions that we decided to cram the session with as many speakers as we could. We’ve tried to use every minute of the session to make a very fast-paced excursion through a lot of design issues and elements. And we’ve put together a group of disparate big thinkers with very different kinds of passions who can address design through their particular lens.

Can you give us an idea of what we’ll hear?

Everything from thoughts on building-without-building on the Mall of Washington DC  to what it means to take a raw manuscript from an author and create a visual haiku of an image that becomes the book’s cover. Then, because design can be filled with convoluted language and can difficult to understand, we invited an uber-expert to explain design to us at three different points in the session.

So, what are you nervous about?

I’m nervous about everything, truth be told. Then again, if I weren’t nervous, I wouldn’t be doing my job.