Rich Gold talk notes

I went to see Rich Gold speak at Stanford last Friday.

You may remember that a while ago I complained about Rich’s contention that a designer’s primary concern is whether or not the “thing” is cool.

I approached Rich about this after his talk. He said he knows that the characterization is problematic, but maintained that there are still a large group of designers (someone nearby mentioned the Philippe Starcks of the world) for whom this really is the concern.

Based on Gold’s own mention of Gropius’ now famous phrase “form follows function,” I suggested that the concern of “new designers” is whether or not the thing is useful. Rich said this “new design” really emerged when we figured out what interaction design was. I thought that was a pretty interesting observation – even if I sort of knew it already.

Rich also let me fondle his Xerox PARCTAB. Thanks Rich!

Click MORE to read my raw notes from his talk.


Reflections on the nature of Engineering Problems.

Desire and Context

Developed an autonomous person “game” for Activision.

Will Right (wright?) – toy genius, The Sims creator.

Most recently at PARC created “Experiments in the medium of Reading.”

The Four hats of Creatvity

  • Artist
    • important or boring
  • Designer
    • cool or uncool
  • Scientist
    • true or false
  • Engineer
    • good or bad

Let’s think of Engineering as creating a form that solves a problem.

Gropius, Bauhaus founder: Form follows function

Susannah Rosenthal, my mattel boss, used to say: Form follows fun.

Bran Ferren, designer: Form follows funding.

Whose problem:

  • Function: user’s
  • Fun: engineer’s
  • Funding: client

There’s tension between what’s fun for all involved: user, engineer and client.

Jokes tell you a lot about what a profession thinks of itself.

Context -> Desire -> Solution. The solution creates new desires that require solutions.

Mark Weiser – the father of ubiquitous computing.
Weiser argued against agents.
He wanted ubi-world to be more tool-like, than agent like.

Levels of humidity in human interaction:

  • Dry – one person
  • Wet – public places
  • Damp – “tele-presence,” interaction via internet, telephones


1. Big Brother

  • The system had to know where the tab was, but people Desired not to be watched.

2. Road Warrior

  • The makes the tab useful, you had to have it with you, but people desired not to change their social status just to read email.

3. Humidity Matters

  • Because we wanted the tab to be really useful, we made it work everywhere, but it destroyed the wet space.

4. Devices Desire Complexity

  • The idea of the simple tab quickly grew to video, web, phone, etc. But people desired the simple.

5. It’s jungle out there.

  • Lots of more devices emerged, but people desired calmness.

6. McLuhan was Right

  • The tab was primarily for communication, but because it was placeless. But people desire understanding (meaning).

Engineering has developed rules of thumb – referred to patterns.
So what is the relationship of design to engineering?


Problems are narrow, but solutions are wide.
Therefore treat antithetical desires your friends and not your enemies.

Small things make a big difference.
Therefore assume that fashion and design are critical components.

There are always be multiple competing desires.
Therefore don’t assume that every solution is universal.

Stuff always desires to be more complex.
There try to say to no.

The world is already a mess.
Therefore try to simplify.

The medium and the content are just two ends of a continuum.
Therefore figure out how people should


Rich Gold is a questioner.

We haven’t figured out how to make a living by making less stuff.

7 thoughts on “Rich Gold talk notes”

  1. PARCTab? Sheesh, are they still using those things, 9 years later? For $200, they could each buy a hiptop and stay connected outside of the confines of their offices 😉 d|b

  2. Naaa, they don’t use them anymore, but I had never played with one myself, so it was cool in a “I’m a product design slut” kind of way.

    Thanks for stopping by brad lauster (dot com).

  3. Brian,
    You’re absolutely right! It was the American architect Louis Sullivan and not Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius who is credited with coining that phrase.

    In fact, another one of my friends, Jen Strong, also wrote to correct me. She pointed me to this source: “Form Follows WHAT? The modernist notion of function as a carte blanche.”

    Actually, I’m little embarrassed that I didn’t catch this myself. Oh well!

    Rich wrote me the other day and mentioned that an annotated version of the presentation he gave at Stanford, “Desire in Context,” is available on his website.

    Here’s a link to the slide where he mentions “form follows function” and Gropius. In Rich’s defense, he doesn’t really state that Gropius coined the phrase, just that he made that statement. None-the-less, I took the slide to mean the former.

    Brian and Jen, thanks for the clarification! Cheers!

  4. I’m pretty bummed to see that this summer IDSA national conference ( will have some blurbage there) is about “cool.” Yecch. You’d hope that the talks would all be about debunking the need for cool, but you’d also know that won’t be happening…sigh…

  5. I am Rich’s son, and just wanted to mention that if anyone wishes to contact Rich, you will need to E-Mail my Mom, as Rich has recenly passed. -Thanks.

Comments are closed.