TED is a nonprofit organization that originally began in 1984 as a conference about Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Today, TED organizes conferences and events globally and covers a greater variety of topics in over 100 languages. It also has a video platform and hosts a podcast series driven by the goal of spreading ideas.
Sometimes, a pep talk is all you need to find inspiration, channel your creativity, and procrastinate productively. We've collected 11 fascinating TED talks by experts in their fields that could be of great interest and use to (but not limited to) designers. Some of the videos are short, while others require more time and commitment. Binge-watch all talks at once or savor one per day — in any case, these ideas are worth a listen.
- 3 ways good design makes you happy
- Design is in the details
- How to build your creative confidence
- Forget multitasking, try monotasking
- The first secret of design is…noticing
- How symbols and brands shape our humanity
- 10 ways to have a better conversation
- When we design for disability, we all benefit
- What can we learn from shortcuts?
- Design thinking for complex environments
- How beauty feels
- How to manage for collective creativity
- The complex relationship between data and design in UX
1. 3 ways good design makes you happy
Get comfortable listening to this short talk by UX legend Don Norman. This video is about how beauty, fun, emotions, and pleasure always come together in truly genius products, providing users with the most delightful experience.
Norman points out that people do most things in their lives subconsciously. That's why it's so crucial for designers to create products that trigger positive emotions and joy. The revelation here is that when people use things that make them happy, they get in a better mood, solve problems faster, and get inspired to develop new and fresh ideas.
2. Design is in the details
Many people associate design with big-scale innovation and brand-new ideas. British branding and design leader Paul Bennett has a different opinion. The Chief Creative Officer and Co-chair of IDEO believes that design is actually about "tiny, tiny, tiny solutions that make a huge amount of impact." Companies should bring users in, walk in their shoes, and look at situations from their perspective to create genuinely brilliant products.
As an example of a small step making a significant impact, Bennet talks about adding a mirror to wheelchairs at one large healthcare system in Minnesota. It helped patients see the nurse or the doctor standing behind their wheelchairs while being wheeled around the hospital. The solution helped patients have an eye-to-eye conversation and drastically improved their experience in the hospital.
3. How to build your creative confidence
Do you consider yourself a creative person, or do you shy away from the name because of fear of judgment? David Kelley, Founder of IDEO and Professor at Stanford University, believes that creativity is not a talent that only a small number of people are blessed to have. In fact, he worked with people who think of themselves as only analytical and helped them uncover their creative potential by turning their fear of creativity into confidence.
In this TED talk, you'll hear a fascinating story about a brilliant engineer who was shocked to find out that the MRI machine he created scared kids so much they needed to be sedated for the procedure. Spoiler alert — he discovered his creative potential and transformed the stressful experience into a joyful adventure.
4. Forget multitasking, try monotasking
This video is a bite-sized piece of wisdom that you can enjoy while having your morning coffee. Product designer and Professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, Paolo Cardini, shares a go-to revelation about why you should forget multitasking and get back to good old monotasking to complete tasks more efficiently. It's under 3 minutes, so dive in without further ado!
If you’re in the mood for more productivity hacks, we’ve got you covered with a comprehensive list in our blog post.
5. The first secret of design is…noticing
We're all familiar with little fruit stickers that are unbelievably hard to peel off. You might have lost your cool when trying to take one off for the first time; we feel you! But by the 20th time, you probably hardly even noticed it, calmly peeling it off with your nails.
With this witty and funny introduction, Tony Fadell, author of Build, inventor of the iPod, co-inventor of the iPhone, and Founder and former CEO of Nest Labs, starts his speech. He talks about how humans get used to things very fast and eventually stop paying attention to discomfort, be it nasty fruit stickers or awkward shower handles. Getting used to things isn't always bad — it helps us survive and learn new skills, like riding a bicycle.
However, we as designers should never perceive uncomfortable things as a fact of life and stop noticing things around us. Use bad experiences as an opportunity to make things better and turn them into genuinely fascinating experiences. We bet you're intrigued! Check out this talk to learn some tricks about how to notice things.
6. How symbols and brands shape our humanity
In this talk, Debbie Millman, a brilliant designer, writer, Founder and Host of the Design Matters podcast, leads us through the twisted evolution of branding. What do Nike's logo, the Hamsa Hand of God symbol, and the Nazi swastika have in common? They all demonstrate the human desire to induce meaning with visual signs. However, sometimes, signs evolve, and people "steal" their identity for other, rather contradictory purposes.
Debbie provides brilliant examples of how symbols can be more than just a marketing weapon and unite like-minded people under hashtags like #MeToo or #BlackLivesMatter. This witty, inspiring, and informational talk will warm your heart and perhaps even make you see your designer job in a different light.
To learn more about how icons can shape user experience, check out our blog.
7. 10 ways to have a better conversation
What are the secrets of a smooth, flowing, meaningful conversation? You might have heard recommendations like "repeat what a person says," "look people directly in the eye," or "ask many questions."
Celeste Headlee makes a living by having conversations — she's a radio journalist, author, public speaker, and podcast host. In this talk, she shares a series of brilliant tips on developing the rare 21st-century skill of listening and actually **hearing. One of her tips is not to multitask, be in the moment, and contribute all your attention to the person speaking.
This video is a real gem for designers who struggle with speaking at job interviews, presenting their ideas to clients, or facing criticism from supervisors and colleagues.
Communication is one of the most vital soft skills for UX designers. Explore the Soft skills for UX designers & how to develop them lesson and learn what other soft skills you're likely to see on job descriptions and how to develop them in order to stand out in a crowd of other candidates.
8. When we design for disability, we all benefit
In the 1940s, the authorities of the city of Kalamazoo, Michigan, decided to create curb ramps to make the lives of people with disabilities a little bit easier. Eventually, the solution turned out to be beneficial to everyone — bikers, tourists with rolling suitcases, parents with strollers, not to mention people in wheelchairs.
The topic of this talk by Elise Roy — VP and Principal Architect of Salesforce, artist, lawyer, and human rights advocate — is inclusive design. Elise was only 10 when she lost her hearing, but it didn't break her spirit. As a human rights advocate and holder of a master's degree in social design, she promotes design thinking and believes in its power to make positive changes in the world. She shares the story of a potato peeler initially designed for people with arthritis that turned out so handy that everybody loved it.
Get ready — after listening to this inspirational talk, you might start noticing how things around us need improvements to fit everyone's needs.
9. What can we learn from shortcuts?
Tom Hulme, General Partner & Head of Europe at Google Ventures, believes that observing user behavior is a key asset in designing better solutions. In this talk, he shares a few examples of how people take paths of least resistance — often literally taking a shortcut instead of a paved path.
The architects of the University of California used this to their advantage — they first built the buildings but not the walkways. They waited a few months, letting students move around the campus freely. When the paths formed, the only job left was to pave them.
The secret of creating great products is in learning about users' pains and needs and making them co-designers of these products. Check out this TED talk for more examples of how designers practiced empathy to craft solutions that work.
Consider taking our UX Research course to learn the nuances of researching and learning from your users.
10. Design thinking for complex environments
Designing a product without knowing the "why" and the "who" is a recipe for failure. Nilufer Erdebil, CEO and Design Thinking and Innovation Consultant at Spring2 Innovation, introduces empathy as a crucial extra step in a standard define-ideate-prototype-test approach to problem-solving.
What are the best tools to emphasize and create products that solve particular problems? Nilufer talks about personas and empathy mapping and provides on-point examples of using these practices even for complex products like a management system for federal agencies and departments. Surprisingly, this design thinking approach might be beneficial even when tasks are unrelated to design, like choosing a university for your children or planning a career.
11. How beauty feels
How can you tell that something is beautiful? And why do people find beautiful things that aren't explicitly beautiful at first sight? Richard Seymour, designer and partner at SeymourPowell, believes people feel the beauty in their guts even before their brain starts evaluating an object. The information we perceive about the object in the first fraction of a second can make us either fall in love with the product or pass by without missing a beat.
At the same time, we can also tend to find that something is exquisite when we know the story hidden behind its pretty form. For example, knowing how difficult ballet training makes us appreciate ballet dance even more. From Seymour's point of view, form doesn't just follow the function — form is function.
12. How to manage for collective creativity
Have you ever got a crazy wish to have a glimpse into the lives of the owners of the most successful and innovative companies? Co-founder of Paradox Strategies and Harvard Professor Linda Hill, with her colleagues, conducted an anthropological study of 16 top guns from different cities and industries to unveil their secrets of leadership and creativity.
It turned out their success and ability to build innovation isn't about solo genius or the aha moments of one person. On the contrary, it's about guiding a group of talented people with different points of view in order to unleash their creativity. And this process involves dozens of missteps, failures, and messy processes.
Innovative organizations, like Pixar, Google, or even the Islamic Bank of Dubai, never allow one individual's opinion to dominate, even if it's that of an expert. The key to success is collaborating, exploring different opinions, accepting even opposing ideas, and finally, forging a combined solution.
This talk is highly recommended for CEOs, project managers, and team leads who want to uncover the hidden creativity within their teammates and tackle complicated tasks efficiently.
13. The complex relationship between data and design in UX
Many designers avoid conducting user research because of endless findings that will need to be analyzed. In this talk, Rochelle King — Netflix's Vice President of Creative Production — elaborates on the value of data and the nature of its connection with design.
In her opinion, data provides confidence and informs designers about how people use their products, helping craft the right design decisions. To support her idea, she talks about the value of A/B testing they conducted at Spotify to determine which theme, light or dark, makes more sense to users.
At the same time, King acknowledges the flip side of excessive data. Designers can indeed go too far in numbers and get lost. To prevent this, we should never forget that data isn't a goal but a measurement and representation tool. It helps us know users closer and make their experience more delightful.
Want to learn how to ethically use user research data to your advantage? Check out our comprehensive UX Research course.