Debra Swersky
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Journal

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Fortune Cookies

After I started working with the guy behind the BIL Conferences, I started paying more attention to the TED Conferences and talks. Though I love the BIL Conference concept, I downloaded the TED Talks app and started poking around. (The talks are great to watch while I brush my teeth or fold the laundry.) During one of my “test the functionality of the app” moments and TED Talk ignorance, I stumbled upon Chip Kidd’s talk: The Art of First Impressions. As a book cover designer and master of “first impressions,” I was intrigued… enough to read his TED book: Judge This. (Just watch the talk. But, feel free to wonder why the book cover is so awful? Yes, I’m judging.)

Chip’s talk (and book) explain(s) the spectrum of first impressions from “super clear” to “very mysterious” and talks through examples of both and when/why you would be one vs. the other. Through his talk and book he explains many different examples and literally puts the content onto the spectrum. What caught my eye was his explanation of the fortune cookie.

Remember back in the day when I moved to Dallas and I was trying to figure out what to keep on my desk? One of the items I had selected was a glass fortune cookie that my mom had bought me in Vail. I had to make the same important selections again when we moved into our new place. But, without hesitating I put the fortune cookie back on my desk in the same, prominent spot as before. (One less thing to think about!) 

When we moved this time around I found a couple of other fortune cookies that I had purchased, which got me thinking: why do I like fortune cookies so much? And no, I’m not much for the actual cookie. (Unless of course they’re these ones.)

Enter Chip Kidd. Here’s his take on fortune cookies: “On the one hand, [the fortunes are] silly; on the other, [they are] possibly something to think about. The design of the fortunes is a fascinating combination of simplicity and reduction that enlivens the theater of the mind and its infinite conjectures on the possibilities of fate. And all from one sentence on a tiny slip of paper! And then, of course, there is interpretation: the fortunes are deliberately vague, so that we draw from our personal experiences in order to bring an explanation to them.” (For the record, fortune cookies scored a 13 on Chip’s “super clear” to “very mysterious” scale of 1-10.)

For me, fortune cookies represent short phrases that are open for interpretation that elude to what’s coming next. It could be anything! They aren’t necessarily predictors of what’s to come (only you can get yourself to that point), but they can motivate or encourage you to live out or up to the fortune that you selected.

And that’s the key: You select the fortune. It’s nearly random. You can’t see the fortune inside the cookie before you select it (unless you have my favorite glass one). But, once you select it and/or open the cookie to get the fortune, you can’t put it back. The fortune is yours to live with. And that’s why I like them: simple, tangible representations of a phrase that I have written about often (also from my mom): “Everything happens for a reason.”

Debra Swersky