David Byrne Wants You To Imagine the Future.

A conversation about creativity with the legendary Talking Heads founder.

In advance of his keynote presentation at Utopia vs. Dystopia, the inaugural A/D/O Design Academy Festival, we spoke with musician, artist and New Yorker David Byrne about his work, the role of design in future-making and the city he calls home.


On the City as Inspiration

I think the city is a huge, huge influence. I usually get around on a bicycle, weather and distance permitting. It allows me to engage with the city, not just visually. It means I can stop if I want to. I can visit a person, a store, a business, whatever it happens to be—I feel a little more independent that way.

I find that the diversity of things people are doing in the city and the kinds of people in the city, that, in itself, is really inspiring. It helps you break out of whatever box you're in. When I look at what other people are doing, I often find a correlation between some problem I'm trying to solve and something in another field or in another area. Is there some kind of parallel there that I could apply? The city offers you all that, in a way. It offers those kind of inferences that you can make. Instead of searching for it, it's right there in front of you.

On the Value of Play and Engagement

Maybe I've had my own experiences where I've been allowed to touch stuff, engage with stuff—whether it's art or design or something else. It seems to enrich the experience.Rather than being told about something, it seems you incorporate it more into your being if you experience it.

On Neurosociety

Neurosociety is an installation in Menlo Park based on a lot of neuroscience, sociological experiments and psychology experiments—for example there's one room that's about morality, and another room about perception, and another room about your bias towards different kinds of faces.

A lot of the work that the neuroscience labs are doing affects how we think about our place in the world, whether it's our place politically or personally. Even their work on perception makes us think about how we perceive the world. Do we see the real world? No we don't. We see our own version of it. All those kinds of things have influence in how we deal with other people and how we relate to the world at large and each other. I haven't quite gotten to that part, which is the trickier part to get to. It should be something that everybody is familiar with because it changes the way we think.

The scientists, they're great, but they do not know how to do a show. Not all of them. Some of them do. For the most part, they have no concept of time or the attention span of an audience. From a scientist's point of view, they're the ones collecting the information. When you're doing a show, it's the audience who's collecting the information. That's the difference.

On Design Lessons for Artists

I like the idea that artwork is a problem to be solved. What you're engaging in is trying to figure something out; it's not enough to just have the idea, you have to figure out how to execute it so this idea gets communicated to people. To be honest, I find that a lot of artists don't take this  step. They could learn a lot from designers about actually communicating to other people, and having their ideas be easily understood.

On Designing the Future

The opportunity is to present futures that we haven't imagined. Let's offer people, whose business is their imagination, ideas they might not have thought of, and present those as possibilities. My feeling is that helps us imagine what's possible. We have trouble doing that unless we have an image of it, or some kind of conception of it. That's really important.


LinYee Yuan