Richard Saul Wurman awarded for Lifetime Achievement by Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

Richard Saul Wurman has been named this year's Lifetime Achievement Award recipient by Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. This top honor recognizes an individual who has made a long-term contribution to the practice of design.

Described by Fortune magazine as an "intellectual hedonist" with a "hummingbird mind," Richard Saul Wurman seeks ways to make the complex clear. Recognizing at an early age that his ignorance is his greatest asset, he has made it his mission to sort through the abundance of information that is available on every topic, and design the techniques to make it understandable.

In doing so he has continually sought to put himself in the presence of extraordinary people, including (all now all deceased), in the sciences Francis Crick, Richard Feynman and Jonas Salk; in the arts Eva Zeisel, Louis I. Kahn and Charles Eames; in communications Steve Jobs and Frank Stanton; in history and archaeology Schuyler van Renssalaer Cammann, and Arnold Toynbee. There are many others. The only two bosses he ever had who didn't fire him were Lou Kahn and Charlie Eames.

As a result, Wurman has had many lives: as an author (83 books); FAIA Architect, 13-year partner in Murphy Levy Wurman Architects; cartographer (mapped 1/3 of the Mayan city of Tikal and current project 19.20.21.); teacher (Cambridge University, England; Princeton; Washington University, St. Louis; University of Southern California; University of California Los Angeles; City College of New York, and Dean, Cal Poly School of Design); urban designer (recipient of MIT's Kevin Lynch award in urban design); graphic designer (AIGA Gold Medal, membership in AGI and inducted into the Art Directors Hall of Fame); information theorist (Information Anxiety, Follow the Yellow Brick Road); in medicine (6 books and creator of TEDMED), and as a conference convener. The path of this journey has been paved by one surface: his curiosity.

The acknowledged father of Information Architecture, Wurman has written, designed and published 83 books on a range of topics, while creating conferences and new mapping projects. All contribute to a greater understanding of complex information. They spring from his particular brand of innovation: doing the opposite of what is rote or expected. Of these characteristics, Nancye Green wrote: "…as an architect, [RSW] has been responsible for building a community addicted to curiosity. He continues to put himself out there inventing and reinventing the ways we see and experience anything and everything that interests him. He has influenced so many of us, even if this was not his intention."

Wurman published his first two books in 1962. The first featured models of 50 world cities all constructed on a uniform scale, the other was the first book to be written on Louis Kahn. In 1967 he co-authored the first comparative statistical atlas of major American cities. His latest book is called 33: Understanding Change & the Change in Understanding. It chronicles the adventures and musings of the eccentric main character, the Commissioner of Curiosity and Imagination.

Wurman created the ACCESS city guides, using graphics and logical editorial organization to make places such as New York, Tokyo, Rome, Paris and London understandable to visitors. Other volumes he created focus on topics such as baseball, football and the 1984 Olympics, the latter with over with 3.2 million copies sold. His road atlases employed similar techniques that elucidate U.S. geography and transportation networks. In addition he completed many one-off projects, such as his book Twin Peaks Access, which he co-authored with David Lynch. Of his written work, designer Massimo Vignelli notes: "the design of his guides has been a landmark in the definition and development of this form of communication."

Several of his books are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The extraordinary graphic designer Milton Glaser wrote: "Richard Saul Wurman's impact on the design community and the public at large has been profound. Through his books and his instructional manuals, he has been exceedingly exceptional in informing the public about critical issues."

Wurman began his career in conferences in 1972 when he chaired the International Design Conference in Aspen. He then co-chaired the first Federal Design Assembly in 1973 and the annual AIA Conference in 1976. With each of these he changed the fundamentals of how gatherings were run. All these helped his creative molding of TED, TEDMED, eg, and the upcoming WWW Conference, now in development. Says acclaimed architect Frank Gehry, "The programs, conferences and books that he has developed have created an interactive dialogue between art/design and many of the disciplines in all fields on a wide range of all topics from technology, education, entertainment, medicine and science to name a few."

Wurman created the TED conference in 1984, which he chaired through the 2002 meeting. TED brings together many of America's clearest thinkers in the fields of technology, entertainment and design. He created the eg conference in 2006 and the TEDMED conference in 1995, which he chaired through 2010. Other conferences he created and chaired include California 101, TEDSELL, TEDNYC, TED4Kobe in Japan and TEDCity in Toronto. Noted graphic designer and typographer Stefan Sagmeister said that "…he has had the most profound influence on our industry: he pioneered and basically invented the field of information architecture. He created and chaired TED Conferences, which might have become the single most important communication platform for our own field and many others, and thereby connecting design effectively to science, technology, education, politics and entertainment."

Now in his 77th year, Wurman continues to quell his restless intellect with a series of new projects. The WWW Conference will be an active gathering of some of the brightest thinkers of our time discussing the complexity of emerging patterns on our planet in improvised conversation – intellectual jazz. In partnership with ESRI and, 19.20.21. is a major cartographic initiative that endeavors to standardize a methodology for comparative urban data. His Urban Observatory project aims to establish, for the first time ever, a series of live and changing electronically connected urban observatories around the world.

Wurman received both his B.Arch. and M.Arch. degrees with highest honors from the University of Pennsylvania in 1959. While there, he was awarded the Arthur Spayd Brooks Gold Medal, 2 Chandler grants and two graduate fellowships. He has also been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Architecture and Design, three honorary doctorates, two Graham Fellowships and numerous grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Wurman currently lives in Newport, RI with his wife, novelist Gloria Nagy, and their three yellow Labradors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They have four children and six grandchildren.

Awards and Honors

  • University of Pennsylvania first prize in watercolor painting, 1954, 1955, 1956
  • Member of the initial year of exploration and mapping of Tikal, Guatemala, 1958
  • Several grants from the National Endowment for the Arts
  • Guggenheim Fellowship in Architecture and Design,1969
  • 2 Graham Foundation grants
  • AIA Fellow, 1976
  • Kevin Lynch Award from MIT for his creation of the ACCESS travel guides, 1991
  • Honored by a retrospective exhibition at the AXIS Design Gallery in Tokyo, 1991
  • Computer Press Awards - Best Introductory How To Book, Systems for Danny Goodman's Macintosh Handbook - Featuring System 7, 1992
  • Stars of Design lifetime achievement Award, 1992
  • Named a Fellow of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, 1994
  • Honorary Doctorate, University of the Arts, Philadelphia, 1994
  • Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Art Center of College and Design, 1995
  • Chairman of Graphic Design & Product/Industrial Design of the Presidential Design Awards, 1995
  • Chrysler Design Award from the Pacific Design Center, 1996
  • Named one of the 100 elite of the technology industry by Upside magazine, 1997 & 1999
  • Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, Art Institute of Boston, 1999
  • Induction into the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame, 2003
  • AIGA Gold Medal, 2004
  • Member, Alliance Graphique Internationale
  • Board Member, Glen Gould Foundation
  • Board Member, Gehry Technologies, Inc.


Teaching Positions

  • The University of North Carolina, Raleigh
  • Cal Poly, Pomona
  • Princeton University
  • CCNY
  • Cambridge University, England
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • NY Program, Cornell
  • Columbia University
  • University of Southern California
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • Washington University, St. Louis
  • Otis Parsons, Los Angeles


Courses Taught

  • Basic Design
  • Architectural Design
  • Urban Planning
  • Cartography
  • Information Architecture


Conferences Created and Chaired

  • California 101 Conference 1981,1982,1983
  • TED (12) 1984-2002
  • TEDMED (5) 1995, 1998, 2003, 2009, 2010
  • TEDSELL 1996
  • TEDNYC 1997
  • TEDCity Toronto 2000
  • eg 2006


Conferences Chaired

  • International Design Conference in Aspen The Invisible City 1972
  • First Federal Design Assembly (Co-Chairman) 1973
  • AIA National Convention, Architecture of Information 1976
  • Pacific Design Center 1981,1982


A Selection of Books Designed, Authored and Published


  • Cities: A Comparison of Form and Scale
  • The Notebook and Drawings of Louis I. Kahn
  • Urban Atlas: 20 American Cities (with Joseph Passonneau)
  • Various Dwellings Described in a Comparative Manner


  • Aspen Visible
  • Guidebook to Guidebooks
  • Making the City Observable
  • Man Made Philadelphia (with J.A. Gallery)
  • The Nature of Recreation (with Alan Levy & Joel Katz)
  • Our Man Made Environment Book 7 (with Alan Levy)
  • What-If, Could-Be: An Historic Fable of the Future
  • Yellow Pages Career Library (12 volumes)
  • Yellow Pages of Learning Resources


  • Baseball Access
  • Dog Access
  • Football Access
  • Hawaii Access
  • Las Vegas Access
  • London Access
  • Los Angeles Access
  • Medical Access
  • New Orleans Access
  • New York City Access
  • Olympic Access
  • Paris Access
  • Polaroid Access
  • Rome Access
  • San Francisco Access
  • Summer Games Access
  • Tokyo Access
  • Hats
  • Information Anxiety
  • Wall Street Journal Guide to Understanding Money & Markets
  • Washington, DC Access
  • What Will Be Has Always Been, The Words of Louis I. Kahn
  • Winter Games


  • Barcelona Access
  • Boston Access
  • C, The Charleston Guide
  • California Wine Country Access
  • Chicago Access
  • Danny Goodman's Macintosh Handbook (with Danny Goodman)
  • Florence/Venice/Milan Access
  • Follow the Yellow Brick Road (with Loring Leifer)
  • Fortune Guide to Investing in the 90's
  • Information Architects (co-published with Graphis)
  • N, The Newport Guide
  • On Time, Airline Guide to North America
  • Office Access
  • San Diego Access
  • Twin Peaks Access (with David Lynch)
  • USAtlas


  • Understanding USA
  • Can I Afford To Retire?
  • Information Anxiety2
  • Drugs, Prescription, Non-prescription & Herbal
  • Heart Disease & Cardiovascular Health
  • Wills, Trusts & Estate Planning
  • Diagnostic Tests for Men
  • Diagnostic Tests for Women
  • Understanding Children (with Civitas)
  • 1000 - Richard Saul Wurman's Who's Really Who
  • Understanding Healthcare
  • 33: understanding change & the change in understanding