Talkin’ TED with Chip Kidd: The Talk, the Experience, and How He Got Away with Wearing a Tie

As Chip Kidd’s crackerjack TED talk—“Designing books is no laughing matter. OK, it is.”—delights design junkies and design neophytes the world over, we asked the man himself to tell us about the challenge of distilling a career’s worth of memorable book jackets into a brief yet memorable and cohesive (and funny!) presentation—delivered whilst wearing a “Lady Gaga skanky mic,” no less; his overall TED experience; and how his distinctive sartorial flair was received by an audience that tends to view khakis as dress-up pants.

How did you approach the task of distilling what you do into a few minutes (or at least 17 minutes and 16 seconds)?
That was the hardest part, because I’m usually given anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour or more to speak, and I use it! And what I don’t use is notes or a script of any kind. But TED of course has strict time limits (which they do for very good reasons) and encourages all speakers to write out what they’re going to say, memorize it, and rehearse, edit, rehearse, edit, rehearse, etc. So that is what I did, and boy am I glad. I knew I wanted to start with the ‘Apple’ lesson (which has nothing to do with Mr. Jobs’ company, in case that was unclear) and end with 1Q84. It was what went in between that I really sweated over. I cut a lot from the first version and along the way.

What was the most exciting/surreal/strange aspect of your TED experience?
I’d say all of it. More specific: meeting and talking with Al Gore; rehearsing in the theater and finally understanding how big it was; thinking that I would not need a speaking coach but reluctantly meeting with Gina Barnett and getting 100% more confident because of her. She is amazing.

Did they give you a special commendation for being the best dressed speaker in the history of TED?
No, but there’s a funny story about that. I had my outfit picked out about a month in advance (all of it from Brooks Brothers!), but when I casually mentioned a week before that I was going to wear a tie, I was told by one of the organizers that was not allowed (!!!). So my sponsor, Chee Pearlman, had to go to bat for me on that. She’s the best. I just want to add that it was the biggest honor to be there and I am eternally grateful for the experience.