Tobi Wong for a Day
I thought I would end my short series of posts on the Tobi Wong fake-out with the perspective of the man who successfully fooled much of the audience at the Core77 panel last Friday. Rama Chorpash (aka "Tobias Wong") graciously answered my questions via email, clearing up a few of the mysteries surrounding this spectacular design switcheroo.
At what point was the project conceived?
Tobi had apparently thought of the project a long time ago, to have some else represent him. He asked me to do it three weeks before the event, as I guess he decided I was the one. I'd invited him as a juror for a Charrette project (check out eameshack.blogspot.com) my students were doing on DIY design, and we had been in some group art/design shows together since around 2001.
What were the reasons for the switch? What issues do you feel you were attempting to illuminate/demonstrate?
For me, the switch was really a statement that design is about the work. It was a sophisticated play on the understanding of design as that of merely a star culture – an opportunity to celebrate idea over the individual (‘the’ project as opposed to ‘my’ project). A few people in the audience knew me, but many looked at the picture of Tobi in the catalogue, that didn't know his face and assumed they had the wrong guy. I gave away MANY hints, but as I can speak with such authority, many were unable to pick them up. Hopefully they realize later...
How much preparation was necessary for you to “become” Tobi Wong?
There was really almost no preparation. Tobi and I had a long lunch. We discussed design, life, fears, hopes, relationships, etc. at length. I was really interested in what drives him, and how I could represent his ideas and stay true to his spirit. We shared much, and I learned what we share, and what we don't. I'm pretty good at modeling different perspectives. We've admired each other's work in the past, so we also shared that affinity.
What were your impressions of the experience of becoming another designer?
Empathy and role-playing is probably the most basic and important thing a designer does. As a writer, I'd imagine you're an expert at this as well. When Tobi asked me, I actually felt nervous, something I rarely feel. I can stand-up in a board room, lecture to a University, but to pretend to be another person and be able to answer questions as they would, that was a serious responsibility. I had to do it. I really enjoyed the exercise - be someone else for a day.
How do you feel it came off? Were you happy with the results?
I was nervous during the beginning of my presentation, as I was learning the slides and proper project names and dates. Tobi had just loaded them before I presented. I generally knew the work, but not the exact pictures. The results were phenomenal! I was informally interviewed by a number of magazines including Fast Company. People were convinced and enjoyed the dialogue. A number of people complimented me on my 'incredible' acting ability and asked how I could speak so well about design. I jokingly said Tobi had implanted a mic which of course was not true.
Why was there ultimately no “reveal”? Was it a spontaneous decision not to call attention to the joke?
Yes, it was a spontaneous decision not to call attention with a reveal. I looked out at Tobi sitting next to my girlfriend, and he shook his head no. I respected this. One man can only know so much, I suppose if you want to know the answer to this, you have to ask the maestro himself...
Do you think it would be fair to call the project a “prank” or a “stunt,” and why/why not?
No, it certainly wasn't a prank or a stunt. The questions were real as were my responses. I'm a serious designer, thinker and risk-taker. Maybe that's why Tobi signaled to not reveal. Suspending disbelief certainly allowed many in the audience to experience Tobi Wong. I now know a lot more about him as well as myself. It was great fun!