Talk to Me: A Symposium

Aaron Straup Cope of Stamen Design. Prettymaps, Manhattan. 2010. Polymaps, Mapnik, and TileStache software. Photo Credit: Stamen Design, base map data. © OpenStreetMap, CC-BY-SA

In the spirit of the exhibition Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects</a>, we have invited a remarkable group of designers, thinkers, and writers to talk to us on the evening of October 18 and all day on October 19 at The Museum of Modern Art. The event, Talk to Me: A Symposium, will address some of the key topics discussed in the exhibition and on the website, acknowledging the fact that whether openly and actively or in subtle, subliminal ways, things talk to us, and whether tangible and intangible, and at all scales—from a spoon to the city, the government, and the Web, and from buildings to communities, social networks, systems, and artificial worlds—they communicate.</p>

The event will begin with an evening keynote address on October 18 from our idols, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich of WNYC’s Radiolab</a>, the famed radio show that celebrates curiosity and ingenuity, in complete and glorious disregard of prejudice and disciplinary boundaries. Just the perfect way to set the tone for the day to follow, when scriptwriters, designers, artists, activists, thinkers, and a chef will gather to discuss the ways in which design can enrich, streamline, and improve our built world by focusing on communication.</p>

Jon Ardern and Anab Jain of Superflux. The 5th Dimensional Camera. 2010. Steel, Perspex, timer display, and LCD screen. Photo: Superflux

During the next day on October 19, moderated discussions and presentations by designers featured in the exhibition will follow each other at a sustained rhythm. The first panel, Design and Scriptwriting, moderated by Jamer Hunt and featuring Ayse Birsel, Kenyatta Cheese, and Kevin Slavin, will address contemporary designers’ need to move beyond the proverbial balance of form and function, beyond the infusion of meaning, and on to full-fledged scriptwriting. Since things communicate, designers have to learn to write the initial script that will let people develop and improvise the dialogue.

Translating Worlds, moderated by Adam Bly and featuring Revital Cohen, Natalie Jeremijenko, and Matt Jones, argues that one of design’s foremost directives is to bring technological breakthroughs up or down to a comfortable and understandable human scale and transform them into objects that we all can use. In other words, on the idea of design as the interface of progress, the bridge between progress and humanity.

Activist and environmental advocate Majora Carter will moderate The Talkative City, a discussion on how the city relies on communication for sheer survival. The city is an environment of continuous negotiation and navigation, founded on codes of behavior that are timeless—the basic laws of human cohabitation—and designers have an important role to play, stimulating the flow of communication in the city by enhancing clarity, civility, and engagement. Carter will be joined by Sandra Bloodworth and Dwight Garner.

Sputniko! Design Interactions Department, Royal College of Art. Menstruation Machine – Takashi's Take. 2010. Video Installation, variable sizes. Photo: Rai Royal

The fourth and final discussion, moderated by yours truly, is entitled Xtreme Communication and celebrates the impulse and desire to transcend spoken or written words in order to connect with the world and with others at a deeper, more empathetic level, using, for instance, play, food, music, or even wondrous contraptions enabling men to experience menstruation. The discussion with Bjarke Ingels, Marcus Samuelsson, and Sputniko! will be followed by a musical performance by Sputniko!, which will lead into a closing reception in MoMA’s Sculpture Garden.

And what a day it will be. There are only a few weeks left until the closing of Talk to Me on November 7, and we still have so much to talk about. We want to go out with a BANG!

Below is the full schedule for the event. Tickets are still available online at, and I hope you will join us.


Talk to Me: A Symposium

October 18, 6:00 p.m.

An evening with Radiolab

October 19, 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.

10:00 a.m.: Introduction by Paola Antonelli

10:15: Design Snippets: Matt Jones and Jack Schulze

10:30: Design and Scriptwriting

Ayse Birsel, Kenyatta Cheese, and Kevin Slavin

Moderator: Jamer Hunt

11:30: Design Snippets: Jake Barton and Tahir Hemphill

11:45: Translating Worlds

Revital Cohen, Natalie Jeremijenko, and Matt Jones

Moderator: Adam Bly

12:45 p.m.: Lunch

2:00:  Design Snippets: Ayah Bdeir and Kati London

2:15: The Talkative City

Sandra Bloodworth and Dwight Garner

Moderator: Majora Carter

3:15: Break

3:35: Design Snippets: Laura Kurgan and Alex Kalman

3:50: Xtreme Communication

Bjarke Ingels, Marcus Samuelsson, and Sputniko!

Moderator: Paola Antonelli

4:50: Performance by Sputniko!

5:10: Wrap Up

5:30–7:00: Reception in MoMA Sculpture Garden