Rob Walker.

“These were taken over two days. Still they’re kinda lame. My office lighting is usually the windows, it’s been really overcast. Basic view of my “work space.” It’s upstairs in my house in Savannah. The actual desk is just an old wooden desk I’ve had since I was about nine years old (I’m now 41). A friend of my father gave it to us, back in Texas. It’s very unspecial, but it, you know, works. I have a hard time getting rid of anything that works. So this desk has now been in Houston, Austin, Dallas, New York, New Orleans, Jersey City, and Savannah. I have no idea how old it is.”

Rob Walker writes the Consumed column for the New York Times Magazine, and is the author of Buying In. He is co-founder of Significant ObjectsThe Hypothetical Development Organization, and the Unconsumption Project.

That’s a Shepard Fairey print (above) portrait of Warhol, if that matters.

FROM YOUR DESKS: Beyond the Obama Hope Poster, will we see Shepard Fairey mass productions (ten years from now) similar to what the Warhol Museum puts out in the way of notebooks, clothing, calendars at places like Urban Outfitters?

ROB WALKER: Obey already has a brand iteration. Actually — I think fits in well with Fairey’s general approach. I’m a great fan of his work, have been for many years, and always look forward to seeing whatever he does next. I’m also a great fan of Warhol, so I had to have this one, and I enjoy looking at it every day. What more can you ask from a piece of art?

I have a lot of stuff in paper files. Note the tower of paperbacks of my own book in the background! From the publisher. I send out freebies to readers who give me useful tips. I guess it’s obvious, but that’s HAL from 2001 — I got that image of the internet and printed it on sticker paper to cover the logo on my laptop.

FYD: That’s a commitment to put a sticker on your computer. Do you have one on your car?

RW: Nope, no stickers on the car. Although we keep this IN the car.

Desk detail. Post card related to my current side project,  Hypothetical Development. And the “Steady Work” candle, I burn every year when my contract is up at the NYT Mag. I believe in magic. Desk drawer, happened to be open. I use this headset when interviewing/recording on Skype. That notebook — I’ve been using those since college. The paper quality has gone WAY down since then, but I still use them.

I would like to start a consultancy called The Other Hand, and all we would do for our clients is talk them OUT of redesigns.

Mantle detail — the tall thing there was given to me by Dirk Fowler/F2 Designs, I hired him to make promo letterpress posters for my book.

The little car I bought at a yard sale, intending it to be included in Significant Objects. By chance it turned out my partner on that project, Josh Glenn, had basically an identical toy car. I decided I’d keep mine and we’d have this mystical object-link.

FYD: Did you think of something else to pass along?

RW: Luckily we had no shortage of geegaws to sell, so the impact on inventory was minimal.

“A pencil monkey that was given to me. In the background, a picture taken by my wife, Ellen Susan, a photographer who works in wet-plate collodion format, of our dog, sleeping in the back yard of a house we rented on Tybee Island when scoping out Savannah as a place to live. The dog’s name is El Rey De Los Perros, and he just turned 14.”  

FYD: Does he have a nickname?

RW: He goes by Rey.

Nobody matches Steve Heller for quality productivity.

FYD: I enjoyed your Sunday piece. How heavily do you rely on raw data and statistics?

RW: It depends. With data/stats, usually the way that becomes relevant is there’s no data to back a product-maker’s claims, or their data is selective (sales up 50% — well, over what?). This often leads to things NOT being written about in the column.

FYD: How important (or perhaps how much stock do people put in) academic research and studies?

RW: Academic research/studies — that also varies. Something has to be interesting, and I have to believe the analysis, or the experiments, are at least plausible. This means sometimes stuff I’m excited about at first I end up not doing because when I read the actual paper (as opposed to the abstract) I just can’t get behind it. That said, I don’t NEED such research for every column, just when there’s some good new study, or something really on point.

FYD: Did the Gap make a wise decision to dump their new logo?

RW: So many redesigns are just pointless. I would like to start a consultancy called The Other Hand, and all we would do for our clients is talk them OUT of redesigns. The other comparable backlash was all the hoo-ha about the Tropicana redesign. In both cases what astounded me was how worked up consumers can get about such things. Who really cares what the Gap’s logo looks like?

FYD: You must be blotched with pitches from high-rent PR companies all the time.

RW: Yeah I get a lot of pitches. It’s amazing how off base they are most of the time. I almost never get good pitches that lead to a column — I’d say two a year, tops. I do get good ideas from readers, but almost never from official pitches.

FYD: Will Consumer Reports regret not passing the iPhone.

RW: That’s interesting — I’d already forgotten about that! I’m going to say no, they won’t regret it. I can’t recall the details but didn’t Apple essentially concede there were problems with that version of the iPhone?

FYD: As usual, they delivered a press conference and sent out free cases or “bumpers.” All is good in the world. Do you sleep? Or are you like Steve Heller in that Renaissance way.

RW: Nobody matches Steve Heller for quality productivity.

FYD: How did the idea for the Hypo D surface?

RW: The secret origins of Hypo D are explained here.

FYD: How often are you in New Orleans?

RW: I try to get to New Orleans about once a year.

FYD: With all your coals in the fire; how do you stay organized?

RW: I wish I could say I had a system, but the key to those side projects is having great collaborators. Which is easier said than done, but I’ve been lucky lately. Having said all that, the last year has been a bit of a challenge, and things are particularly busy right now.




Check in with Rob’s MURKETING. Something for everyone. There are past and current side projects noted in the sidebars of Murketing Journal. And of course, his New York Times Consumed is a Sunday must and Sunday best.

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