A few years ago, I began to immerse myself more deeply in the world of design, initially because I wanted to answer, for myself at least, the fundamental question, “What is design?” It’s a big question and one that gets asked a lot, by designers and non-designers alike. Design is a fascinating subject in that everybody’s interested in it, but very few have a clear understanding of what it is and how it works. So I set out to write a book that might demystify design a bit, without oversimplifying it. I wanted to take some of the best thinking and principles of the world’s top designers and try to make that accessible to the rest of us.
I discovered (as I’m sure design professionals already know) that the more you learn about design, the more fascinating it becomes. And the more you begin to see that it is relevant to, and has an impact on, just about every facet of our world and our lives.
This was my first book, and it remains one of my favorites. I was asked by the classy art-book publisher Phaidon to create an art book all about advertising. It was a perfect assignment for me, because I’ve spent years writing about the creative side of advertising. While most advertising is mindless junk, the very best ads can be clever, insightful, hilarious, and even elegant. I filled this book with those kinds of ads (400 of them!) and analyzed what makes a great ad, how those ads get made, and the effects of ads on the culture. The book was cited as one of “the best books of the year” by Barnes & Noble, while Esquire magazine called it “remarkable,” and the Independent of London recently named it one of “the 50 all-time best books on the subject of media.” By the way, that striking cover (and the whole book) was designed by the renowned Pentagram design firm.
April 2008; 288 pages; co-authored with Barbara Corcoran, founder of The Corcoran Group; Springboard Press/Hachette
Sometimes I write my own books, and sometimes I co-author books. But I only take a co-authoring project if it’s with someone who really sparks my interest. When I was approached to help Barbara Corcoran write a book, I was immediately intrigued: Corcoran is a legend in my hometown of New York City, a self-made woman who rose to the pinnacle of the real estate industry. As I discovered when I met her, she’s also a funny, super-energetic, larger-than-life character. Our assignment with this book was to address the restless spirit of today’s Baby Boomers by trying to help them answer the following: What are you going to do with the rest of your life? Where do you want to live out that next great “second act” of life—and when you get to that special place, what will you do there? We tapped into Barb’s vast experience in real estate to suggest great places, and I interviewed lots of Boomers who’ve moved to fascinating places to pursue their dreams. Design is playing a key role in all of this, as people try to design new ways of living—innovative communities, green homes, and purpose-driven lifestyles. In essence, this is a new kind of retirement book for a generation that is redefining the whole notion of “retirement.”
Soon as you touch this book—and feel its sandpaper dustjacket—you’ll know you’re dealing with something unusual. I worked on it with Crispin Porter + Bogsuky, a gang of crazy guys from Miami who’ve grown up to become the hottest ad agency in America and maybe the world. CP+B is filled with creative people who don’t make ads—instead, with each assignment they endeavor to create a pop cultural phenomenon. They took on big tobacco with their infamous “Truth” anti-smoking campaign, they launched the Mini car craze in America, they injected weirdness into stodgy Burger King by creating that creepy “King” guy in the mask—the book deconstructs all of these efforts, and I also try to explain how and why these guys represent the end of advertising as we once knew it.
November 2004; 224 pages; co-authored with Phil Keoghan, The Amazing Race; Rodale Press
This all started when I was assigned by The New York Times to interview Phil Keoghan, the host of a new reality TV show called The Amazing Race. I’m usually not a big fan of reality shows, but I was impressed with Keoghan—when it comes to daredevil adventurers, he’s the real deal. And more importantly, he has a great philosophy on life: Phil has always believed that people should stop and figure out exactly what kinds of adventures or experiences would be most meaningful to them—and then set about doing those things. (Sounds simple, but very few people actually do this). About a year after the Times article ran, Phil came back to me and asked if I could help him articulate his philosophy and develop strategies to help people live what he calls the “NOW” life. No Opportunity Wasted guides the reader step-by-step on how to seek out great experiences and actually get them done. Just working with Phil on this book changed my whole outlook—not that it turned me into an adventurer (that’s not really Phil’s goal with this book), but it just got me to think more about the importance of pursuing rich experiences, taking a few chances, and occasionally veering off onto the unbeaten path.
A few years ago wrote and published my first novel, The Purples (Ringer Books, 2011; website). It’s loosely based on real-life events that took place in Detroit in the late 1920s and early ’30s, as the story follows the rise and fall of the notorious Purple Gang. The book was a semi-finalist in Amazon’s “Breakthrough Novel of the Year” Awards, and here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about it:
“The rich detail of the multifaceted characters brings realism to this well-crafted tale. The author reveals that not even the most hardened gangster is truly good or evil as gang violence erupts and the story reaches its fitting conclusion.”