10 essential TED talks for UX designers

Leading web design conference Generate New York is taking place 24-25 April 2019. Speakers include Kasey Bonifacio, Ben Callahan, Josh Clark, Sophia Prater and more. Get your ticket now.

Design is an integral part of TED’s DNA. After all, that’s what the D in TED stands for: technology, education, design. Since way back in 1984, the nonprofit has been turning out design inspiration in the form of short talks that change the way we see the world. 

UX design has grown up with TED, coming to maturity alongside the TED audience. So it’s no surprise that TED’s online platform is replete with talks that can inspire and improve UX design processes and outcomes. From talks on the future of prototyping user interfaces to comical musings on how to build a user-focused team, TED offers something for UX designers of every stripe.

These 10 TED talks shine a light on user experience design and innovative ways of building user-friendly products.

If you find yourself inspired by these talks and want to improve your UX design, head over to our rundown of the best user testing software to find your next go-to testing tool.

01. Got a wicked problem? Tell me how you make toast

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 get to the heart of the why users act like they do.

02. Simplicity sells

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.

03. The first secret of design is… noticing

He’s the man behind the iPod and the Nest thermostat, so it’s safe to say that product creator Tony Fadell knows a thing or two about great design. In his feel-good TED talk, Fadell lets us into his secrets for driving positive change in design. 

From understanding habituation and neuroscience to learning from Jerry Seinfeld, Fadell has some awesome tips for building better product solutions.

04. 404, the story of a page not found

Uh oh. Looks like your user just got 404-ed. No one likes that. In fact, landing on a 404 is so unpleasant that it’s akin to a relationship break-up, claims Renny Gleeson. But it doesn’t have to be the case. In this TED talk, Gleeson reveals how he and his tech startup created better 404 experiences for users. 

The key is in having empathy for the user and recognising the UX design potential of 404s. After all, says Gleeson, “little things done right actually matter. Well-designed moments build brands.”

05. The Beauty of Data Visualization

Our digital lives are full of complex data. From media trends to Facebook statuses, we as users are continually asked to parse, sort and understand ever larger quantities of information. It’s up to UI and UX designers, says David McCandless, to make that data comprehensible. 

In this talk McCandless, a data journalist, discusses how designers can combat ‘information glut’ by designing information so it makes sense and tells stories. There are some great visuals and interesting insights into how context, psychology and empathy help users understand the world around them.

Next page: 5 more TED talks to help you improve your UX design

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Three-day web design conference Generate New York opens its doors on 24 April. As well as a packed schedule of talks from the industry’s best and brightest thought leaders, there are workshops, networking opportunities (with free drinks at the after party) and a lot more. Find out more about Generate New York.

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Cassandra is marketing content editor at Justinmind, a prototyping tool that allows you to prototype web and mobile apps so you can visualise and test your software solution before writing a single line of code.