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Jonathan Adler: Keep Other People’s Opinions Out Of Your Creative Process

About this talk

Jonathan Adler is now synonymous with the irreverent designs—pottery, housewares, furniture and beyond—that he sells around the world, but it all started with a college professor who didn’t believe in him. After receiving discouraging feedback about his ambitions to be a potter, Adler wandered around New York City doing odd jobs that usually ended with him getting fired. After some soul-searching, Adler returned to his true love, pottery, and learned the value of ignoring the expectations of others and following your dream.

Here, he injects his trademark wit while sharing how he found his underlying message of “irreverent luxury” as his business evolved from pottery to pillows to rooms. Adler preaches that we should keep other people’s opinions out of our creative process and attributes his success to his disdain of focus groups and feedback.

Jonathan Adler, Founder, Jonathan Adler

Seventeen years ago, a little-known potter named Jonathan Adler was thrilled to receive his first order from Barneys New York. He couldn’t have dreamed that today, in 2012, he would lead an international design company offering decorative accessories, tabletop collections, bedding, furniture, rugs, pillows, lighting, and fabrics, all featuring Jonathan’s signature Modernist forms, bold colors and groovy graphics. Jonathan is obsessed with creating beautiful design mixed with impeccable craftsmanship. His motto is “If your heirs won’t fight over it, we won’t make it.”

Comments (27)
  • Stefan

    I agree with this message, most people who live in their narrow comfort zone would prefer that you stay being modest (read=mediocre) so they don’t feel bad about not doing anything themselves.

    Therefor I never waste time speaking about ideas with those people, I only do it with those select few that are on the same wavelength as me and who know how to encourage me to get further.


    FUCK IT! Great speak man, speaks like this remind me to keep at my art because I simply believe it and think it has a message!

  • Ben

    Loved the speech fuck the assholes, be happy, and dont listen anyone 🙂

  • Scott Wagers

    Reminds me of Steve Jobs, he was also very adverse to focus groups and achieved a high level of creativity.

    What is also particularly interesting is how Jonathan designed the restaurant by first making a story about Mr. Parker. This is another example of how storytelling powerful. Here it was a way to guide the creative process.

  • Chris

    Great post! Thanks for information.

  • Shelly Porter

    Having been to the Parker Hotel in Palm Springs, I have witnessed Jonathan’s ingenious design. My inspiration and confidence have found a wellspring in his attitude and outlook. I am off to work in my studio reminding myself to “F*#k it”!

  • sammi

    Just make sure your parents can afford to send you to a top drawer private high school and ivy league college. Then you can tell everyone to …

  • JayGrc

    You lost me with the outsourcing to Thailand

  • Su

    you are saying “fuck it” too often. otherwise, orginal and beutiful work.

  • Matt

    Yup. Originality is extremely uncomfortable right now. Mediocrity is extremely uncomfortable later. Yet, discomfort is more solvable now rather than later.

    If you look at anyone who has honestly shaped the world through their ingenuity and creativity, these people do not follow the status quo. Some are totally unaware that there is a status quo to begin with.

    Yet, in many of our “creative” institutions status quo is what is highly advocated. Companies want status qo because the risk of originality is to shall we say, ” too risky”.

    The point is. If you’re sole mission to create is for profit, you will always have to design within the constructs of status quo. However, if your mission is to create for creation sake, because it stems from your core, you have full reign to do whatever it is you do and no one can really touch that or have enough basis around your creativity to judge it as viable or not.

    I’m ill in the ways that professors believe in themselves a little too grandly. Only you can be the “professor” of your own vision.

    You can teach skills. You can’t teach what is unteachable.


  • Mihai

    Just had a conversation with a friend of mine today and told him not to waste anymore enthusiasm on people who just don’t get the point and/or who are on another wavelength that doesn’t deserve any second spent: sometimes, you can read Shakespeare to a dog and the dog might get something, but some guys just wouldn’t get it anyway.

    Matt is right when he said: “If you’re sole mission to create is for profit, you will always have to design within the constructs of status quo. ” That’s the biggest problem of all. In schools, they teach about and within boundaries. So, what to do? Maybe as I did – telling my photography class teacher that he is supposed to teach about technique and some skills, but to let the students see everything from their perspective and not from their teacher(s)? Maybe, maybe not.

    Jonathan had and has a healthy attitude with his “f… it”, but that’s because “nothing to loose, nothing to gain” applied on him at all time, but only a few can have this attitude. And, if they don’t have it, either are mediocre for all their life, either will be making “stuff”, but will never be creative indeed.

  • Patrick Wagner

    I agree with Stefan, you need to be ready of changes not happy to avoid change at all cost. Today you no longer have the choice to ignore technology thinking you couldn’t benefit from it.

  • Simon Garrett

    tell everyone to do what? or tell everyone ‘too’ as in ‘as well’?

  • Brian Cohen

    Thank you for the encouragement, Jonathan!

  • Mo

    I’m grateful for the computer I have to check my emails, signing in to Behance to read something, finding this interesting tidbit of wisdom, and decided to listen to Jonathan’s message which leads me to here to write this message of thanks. As always I stray off the path, except this time I’m guided back. Thank you Jonathan.

  • Warner

    Potentially great message about following your own creative vision…being passionate about what you do in the face of adversity but man what a terrible delivery. Breaking ALL of the rules is not innovating or even inspiring to me. It’s just being provocative for it’s own sake. Sure it’s flashy but it’s not sustaining and not innovative because it takes no discipline to attain. Breaking the rules is not the same as writing new ones.

  • charlene walker

    timely article when our state government in Australia has just axed all fine arts courses at the state technical colleges. These courses train over 70% of all artists, potters, etc and are the only schools that operate in regional & remote areas.

  • Prue

    I love this man. He is my new hero.

    I too make stuff than can be visceral and makes people go “Hmmm”. I was starting to think I should tone it down or make it more cutesy. This is what I needed to hear!!

    My business starts next month and now I shall go in to it in the spirit of “fuck it”, this is what I want to make.

  • sunnybeegood

    Agree completely!

  • &rew

    Good advice for people who are too young or too stupid to handle other people’s opinions.

  • Stephen Lee

    Great presentation….the world is filled with Dream Killers..his message inspires because it rings true. Do what you feel express your creative and be happy. If you are in it for the money then you are doing it for the wrong reasons.

  • Nour

    I like the part about “branding”. What does it mean for an artist to “make a statement and then keep refining it, and developing and nuancing it…etc?” There is, without doubt, an importance to branding as means of reserving identity (or identification.) But when does that start to become a barrier?

  • Lovefilm Free Trial

    Stunning presentation, couldn’t agree more.
    People really need to open up a little and think about everything a little more.

  • Ton
  • Christie

    I absolutely loved this. He is a true Trail Blazer and Outlier! If we can stop looking to other people’s opinion’s and be the unique, diverse creators we are and create from our highest passion then we will have challenges but also immense joy and freedom. The success is a natural reflection and outcome of a person staying true to who they are authentically, expressing themselves from their passion rather than out of “shoulds” and “others opinions”. So gorgeous!

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