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The 10 TED Talks Every UX Designer Needs To Watch

Design has always run through TED’s veins—in fact, the ‘D’ in ‘TED’ stands for design. Through the years, the nonprofit has become an outlet of inspiration for many creatives alike.

Primarily, design has one ultimate purpose—creating something that users can work with. TED focuses on UX design a great deal, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that its talks have shaped the industry tremendously.

1. Got a wicked problem? First, tell me how you make toast

Video via TED

Have a problem; make toast. Or, to put it more finely, think about the process you go through to make toast, and then apply that systematic approach to your original problem. That’s the advice of designer and problem-solver Tom Wujec.

In his TED talk, Wujec walks through a simple design exercise that "reveals unexpected truths about the way we think about things". By breaking down wicked problems into mental models UX-ers can use to get to the heart of the why users act like they do.

2. Simplicity sells

Video via TED

Ever thought of exposing UI blunders through some snappy musical numbers? Us neither, but former New York Times columnist and tech nerd David Pogue does just that. In Simplicity Sells, Pogue exposes the very worst UIs he’s seen, and coins the phrase 'software rage' – that feeling users get from crummy interfaces. From Microsoft to Dell, no interface is safe from Pogue’s song and dance takedown. The Steve Jobs song is a must-hear.

3. The first secret of design is… noticing

Video via TED

In this lighthearted talk, Tony Fadell—the man behind the iPod and Nest thermostat—shares his tips for driving positive change in design.

4. 404, the story of a page not found

Video via TED

No one likes error pages, but here, funny new media expert Renny Gleeson proves that the appearance of a 404 page doesn’t have to be an ‘oops’ moment—it could be an opportunity for better relationships.

5. The beauty of data visualization

Video via TED

Complex data sets don’t have to be a sight for sore eyes. In data journalist David McCandless’ talk, he transforms messy data like Facebook status updates and worldwide military spending into beautiful, simple, diagrams.

6. How Airbnb designs for trust

As the co-founder of Airbnb, Joe Gebbia knows a thing or two about designing delightful digital experiences. In this talk, Gebbia tells the story of how Airbnb got started, and how he and his UX team create UIs that build trust. Gebbia explains the ‘stranger bias’ that Airbnb users have to overcome by describing his own anxiety the first time he let a stranger sleep on an airbed in his apartment. In this talk, he also reveals how Airbnb uses of microcopy, user flows and microinteractions to build experiences that make strangers into friends.

7. How giant websites design for you (and a billion others, too)

Facebook’s Like and Share buttons are two of the most-viewed UI elements ever created. Get them right, and you can make life more delightful for billions of users, points out Margaret Gould Stewart; but get them wrong and you’ve got a riot on your hands.

As director of product design at the social media behemoth, Stewart has to be on top of the how and why of designing user experiences on a massive scale. Using real-world examples, she reveals three tips for how to design user interfaces for the entire world’s population.

8. Designers, think big!

What happens if you move from plain old ‘design’ to ‘design thinking’? That’s the question posed by CEO of IDEO Tim Brown in this talk. Brown argues that focusing on the small stuff in design isn’t working for us, and it’s time to make the shift to design thinking. 

Starting with the example of the original design thinker, 19th century engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Brown explains that design thinking can help us visualise the whole user experience and create new human-centric solutions through prototyping, collaboration and participatory design. Through inspiring examples of design thinking in the developing world, Brown breaks down of the benefits of thinking big in design.

9. Reinventing User Experience

Design. You’re thinking about it wrong. At least that’s what Kes Sampanthar thinks. We all want to create engaging products, but counting clicks isn’t the way to do it. Instead of thinking about aesthetics or even usability, we have to think about motivating users. We need Sampanthar’s design paradigm, ‘motivational design’. 

Through a murder mystery story set in the Louvre and other fun stories, Sampanthar explains the psychology behind motivational design and how tapping into human pleasure centres can help us make engaging products.

10. The best computer interface? Maybe… your hands

Mobile gestures. Click rates. Pixels. Just some of the things that UI and UX designers won’t have to worry about any more if designer James Patten is right. He thinks the future might well involve digital information made visceral through incorporating physicality into a UI. 

In this talk, Patten draws on his experience in robotics and kinetics to explore how we can use physical objects in interface design. Drafting in an army of mini robots, Patten experiments with taking the user interface off the screen and putting it into our own hands – literally.


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