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It’s over 10 years since TED Talks first appeared online, bringing expert research, wisdom, and inspiration in just about every discipline. We’ve gone through the archives, and picked out 7 of the best and most relevant talks for designers. Do you have another favorite TED Talk? Let us know in the comments!

1. Tony Fadell: The First Secret Of Design Is… Noticing

Tony Fadell explains how, as humans, we get used to the things around us. This process of “habituation” is one of the main ways that humans learn and live peaceably with their environments. Habituation has the advantage of freeing up our conscious attention so that we can focus on other things; but it can also prevent us from noticing everyday problems, and therefore stop us fixing them. Fadell says that, as designers, our first job is to notice.

2. Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts

Susan Cain, author of Quiet, praises the power of introverts, and reminds us of the long historical association between solitude, deep individual thought, and creativity. She argues that our schools and workplaces are increasingly set up to accommodate the needs of extroverts and shame introverts’ need for quiet. She finishes with 3 calls for action—including “stop the madness for constant group work!”

3. Tim Brown: Designers - Think Big!

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, talks about how design “got small”—unwittingly shrinking from the ambition of engineers like Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and replacing it with design centered on objects, aesthetics, and fashion. However, he says, design is getting big again. By adopting “design thinking”, a problem-solving process of listening, rapid prototyping, and testing, Brown argues that we can make users participants in design rather than simply consumers of it.

4. Amber Case: We Are All Cyborgs Now

Before the computer age, the function of tools was almost exclusively to amplify our physical abilitiesallowing us to go faster or hit things harder. In this talk, “cyborg anthropologist” Amber Case argues that today’s technology augments not only the physical self, but also the mental and social self. She says that the internet and social media even create a “second self” for us, complicating our identities. 

5. Aaron Draplin: Making It In The Little Leagues

Portland-based designer Aaron Draplin tells the story of his career so far in this funny and inspiring presentation. He talks about how he got into design, presents some of his favorite projects, and advocates “Free Fridays”—a few hours spent at the end of each week performing unpaid design work for charities or clients in need of a break.

6. Celeste Headlee: 10 Ways To Have A Better Conversation

Whether it’s going to a job interview, discussing a brief with a client, or presenting our work to fellow designers, conversation is crucial to creative work. Here, radio host Celeste Headlee rejects some of the received wisdom about conversational skills, and presents her own 10 tips. She argues that the essence of good conversation is listening—not just superficial listening, but rather full and authentic engagement with what the other person has to say, and openness to what we can learn from them.

7. Don Norman: 3 ways good design makes you happy

User experience (UX) design legend Don Norman talks about the connection between design and emotion. He asks why pleasant things seems to work better, and examines the difference between “depth-first” thinking (which we do when we’re afraid or anxious), and “breadth-first”, or “outside-the-box” thinking (which we do when we’re free and relaxed). He also discusses three levels of pleasure we can experience through design: “visceral”, “behavioral”, and “reflective”.

Bonus! Stefan Sagmeister: The Power Of Time Off

Graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister explains how he decided to chop five years off his retirement, and sprinkle those years “off” throughout his working life instead. Every seven years, he completely shuts down his studio and spend 12 months pursuing personal projects. He demonstrates how that time off has led him to creative rejuvenation, sustaining and improving his next period of paid work.

Want to learn more about design?

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