TED Videos for Web Designers: Tips, Insights and Inspiration

Looking for inspiration to take your web design skills to the next level? Look no further than TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design). Since 1984, this conference has been spreading some of the world’s most innovative ideas related to technology, entertainment, and design. In fact, some of today’s coolest devices, like the Xbox Kinect, were inspired by TED talks.

As a hybrid of web developers, designers, and graphic designers, you’ll find a wealth of valuable insights from top-notch professionals at TED. In this article, we’ll introduce you to 10 unmissable TED videos that explore how to create great design, encourage you to think big in your design career, and even predict the future of the web.

Each video may take 10 to 30 minutes of your time, but the investment will be worth it for your personal and professional growth. Get ready to be inspired!

1. Finds Design In The Detail – Paul Bennett

Paul Bennett, creative director at IDEO, presents a humorous take on how solving individual needs can also solve corporate needs. In other words, he demonstrates how the small things can help facilitate and create big things. His presentation is not filled with creepy organizational charts or ghastly death-by-PowerPoint slides, but rather a series of playful products that solve small, universal, and overlooked problems.

As designers, we often design from our own perspective, without considering that it is the user who will actually use our product. Through several examples, such as helping the healthcare system in Minnesota to improve patient experience, Paul Bennett emphasizes that viewing things from the user’s perspective is crucial for solving their problems, which may seem small, but can have a huge impact.

Paul then shares some famous stories of invention to encourage designers to be aware of their surroundings and transform them into simple solutions for users. For him, spending too much time thinking about making a product beautiful is irrelevant compared to solving the user’s real needs. Watch his talk for more practical examples and explanations.

2. Design + discovery – David Carson

Many designers share how to create great designs, but they often don’t share how they discover the world to make great designs. David Carson fills that gap by sharing his inspiring and amusing life experiences that ultimately led to his own great designs.

Unlike most talks featured here, this talk is pretty random. However, it covers many kinds of designs, especially typography designs, with his own expressed opinion. One of the great and entertaining examples is two different parking signs that write the same phrase ‘No Parking’, but the writing style has caused the driver to feel that one of the sign’s authors is a psycho killer, thus preventing them from parking their car before that sign.

The talk then progressed with more entertaining discoveries, and David touched on more designs that have serious issues which should be noted by web designers to avoid similar mistakes. For example, bad emotions expressed by the characters in ads have ruined the entire feel of what should be a happy advertisement, or putting inappropriate ads beside the 911 incident’s photo was a terrible mistake that will make people really angry.

David ended the talk with encouragement for designers to have the courage to try something new, and he further made a great definition of a ‘good job’. So this talk is not just about laughter and entertainment; it’s a real-life discovery that is aimed at exploring and solving real-life design problems.

3. Three Ways Good Design Makes You Happy – Don Norman

Don Norman is a design critic who believes that following his advice will result in a usable yet ugly design. However, in this talk, he discusses the relationship between good design and emotion, and explains the three emotional cues that a well-designed product must hit to succeed.

In the talk, Norman explores designs that are less functional but are bought solely for their beauty, as well as designs that contain both immense beauty and excellent functionality. He thus extends his topic to explore the levels of information processing by the human brain and how we can build a design based on these information processing levels.

The information processing levels are broken down into three levels: visceral, behavioral, and reflective. Visceral is the level where the brain tells us whether the thing, color, sound, and even face is good or bad. You can decide which font or color will make customers feel good based on this level.

Behavioral is all about feeling in control, so it generally includes usability, understanding, and perhaps the feel. The global knife is a great example used by Norman to explain this level.

The third level – reflective level – is explained through a series of examples that prove that humans buy something not for its functionality but for a deeper reason, such as their own images or environment protection, as explained by Norman.

4. Happy Design – Stefan Sagmeister

This is a talk that will make you laugh and feel very happy. Graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister shares how those happy moments of his life are related to good design.

After sharing his amusing moments in Hong Kong, Stefan showed a list of happy incidents that happened in his life, then brought the audience to the discovery that most of these happy incidents have a relationship with his design career. He then concluded that there are two ways of experiencing happy design: being happy while experiencing the design and being happy while designing.

Following the talk are a series of real-life stories that explore true happy design, which is the design that makes you feel genuinely happy, not just some visualizations of happiness. The designer ended the talk by sharing three types of designs that bring you true happiness, and you can probably expect that some of them are also very funny designs.

5. Intricate beauty by design – Marian Bantjes

Doubtlessly, throwing your individuality into your products make them unique, and Marian Bantjes is not going to show you some case studies, but her real-life experience that proved this ideology.

Marian used to believe that the ego should not be involved in design, like most designers. However, after working in typography and graphic design for 20 years, she decided to adopt a more personal approach to her work, as she wanted to do what she truly loved. Initially, she thought it was a bad decision, but something unexpected happened: she became extremely popular.

Since then, Marian has been applying her personal style to her designs, creating products that benefit both her customers and herself. She showcased several designs that reflected her personal style and talked about how they work and the customers’ reactions to them.

Marian believes that by applying a more personal approach, your product will become more compelling, interesting, and sustainable. She thinks about whether her designs bring joy, a sense of wonder, and curiosity in her current product creation process.

6. A Darwinian theory of beauty – Denis Dutton

Oftentimes, we want to design a beautiful product but lack knowledge about human perception of beauty. Denis Dutton wants to explore this topic with you using what he calls the Darwinian theory of beauty. And of course, being a lover of art, he explains the theory with very entertaining and lively animations.

Denis studies philosophy of art and aesthetics for a living. He figured out that this is an extremely complicated subject since things that we humans call beautiful are so different. It can be a baby’s face, movies like ‘The Wizard of Oz’, or even a stunning match-winning goal in a World Cup soccer match. An account that explains the existence of beauty in everything is going to be insane.

However, he discovered that there is some sort of uniformity in human perception of beauty, and it even passes through human evolution. He gave a few persuasive examples, such as a peacock’s beautiful tail and an Acheulian hand axe, to prove that humans have exactly the same perception of natural beauty and artistic beauty.

7. Breakthrough designs for ultra-low-cost products – R.A. Mashelkar

Engineer R.A. Mashelkar wants to challenge your thinking about the possibility by sharing three real-life stories of how products that seemed impossible to achieve were created for people with low income in India. These are stories of faith and smart business.

The first story is about the production of a $2000 car. It sounds really impossible, as even if you want to produce the worst car in the world, the production cost must still exceed $2000. But they did it, and the car functions very well, just like any other car in the world. Behind the success is an ideology that you cannot use the same method as before if you want to break through. He then explains in detail how they achieved the product.

The next story is even more incredible and touching. Have you ever seen an artificial leg? It costs $20,000 and you can only use it to walk, provided that the pavement is perfect and smooth. And guess what, since Indian society cannot afford this cost, Jaipur foot was created as a $28 artificial leg for them. It’s not even an alternative, as with Jaipur foot, people with leg disabilities can walk, run, and even climb trees. Simply incredible.

He then talks about a medical story that sounds completely ridiculous but has been achieved in India. All the shared inventions were impossible for humans before, but then they were invented successfully. The drive behind these inventions is the belief that you can achieve the impossible and also create more from less for more. This is what R.A. Mashelkar considered as Gandhian Engineering.

8. Simplicity sells – David Pogue

Simplicity, every designer knows about it, but not every designer can achieve it. David Pogue uses both he considered worst interface designs and encouraging examples of great designs to tell you what simplicity truly is.

The video is humorous, but it may not be appreciated by PC users because David criticizes anything related to Microsoft Windows while praising anything related to Apple. However, this bias does not mean that all of his points are untrue. For instance, why do the choices in the old Microsoft Windows log-off dialog box need to be in a pop-up menu? It takes three clicks to shut down the computer, while Apple Mac only needs one click.

There are also some amazing examples other than Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac, such as Google’s simple user interface and speech recognition software that focuses on increasing speech recognition accuracy. All of these examples convey the message that simplicity is the ultimate reason why a customer purchases a product.

9. The next Web – Tim Berners-Lee

20 years ago, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web. But he didn’t cease to create, and now he’s building a web for open, linked data that could potentially unlock our data and reframe the way we use it.

What is linked data? Think about a world where everybody puts data on the web, and everything you imagine is on the web. It’s called linked data. To help you understand the concept easier, here are four principles for Linked Data, taken from the author’s note:

  1. Use URIs to identify things.
  2. Use HTTP URIs so that these things can be referred to and looked up (“dereferenced”) by people and user agents.
  3. Provide useful information about the thing when its URI is dereferenced, using standard formats such as RDF/XML.
  4. Include links to other related URIs in the exposed data to improve the discovery of other related information on the Web.

The entire presentation revolves around these four principles with elaborations that touch on real-life examples and actual activities Tim Berners-Lee and others are doing to promote linked data.

10. The next 5,000 days of the web – Kevin Kelly

World Wide Web is undoubtedly one of the fastest evolving things in human history, and it will evolve even faster than before. Kevin Kelly discusses what will possibly happen in the next 5000 days of the web.

Kevin Kelly believes that by purchasing devices such as computers, handhelds, cell phones, and laptops that are connected to the internet, we are creating a single, global machine. According to his survey, this machine generates 100 billion clicks per day, and there are 55 trillion links between all web pages worldwide.

So, how will building a global machine affect the future? The answer is that everything will be connected to the web, and everything will have a chip connected to the web. Ultimately, we humans will become co-dependent on this global machine that we created.

It’s not just about connection but also about the existence of linked data. One of the excellent examples Kevin gave is that when you sign up for a social site, linked data will identify you and your entire friend’s network on the web. This is because the web has linked all existing data and takes information from that data.

Since linked data requires all of our information, we will need to be completely transparent about ourselves and share all of our personal information with the web. This is the price we have to pay to achieve this very convenient feature. Will this be the future of the web or the future of humanity? You will need to determine the possible answer by following this talk.


I have really enjoyed many TED videos, but I have yet to see a designer or developer speak about how to make a lot of money in the design industry. However, I have learned from TED that a web designer’s life is not just about making money but also about pursuing art, skill, experience, leadership, and contribution. I admire them and hope to be a part of this community.

Which TED video has impressed or taught you the most? With a few hundred videos, 10 is a small number for TED. If you have discovered a great talk about design or web development, please share it with us!