11 Awesome TED Talks About Design

TED Talks are great conferences on technology, entertainment and design (TED). Organized by the non-profit Sapling Foundation, the talks started in 1984 as a singular event and then blossomed into an annual conference in 1990. Today, TED Talks occur regularly from all parts of the world with live streaming in many cases.

While there are many great talks, we picked 11 truly terrific TED events focused on design to show off the best of this storytelling conference.

1. Alexander Tsiaras: Conception to birth – visualized

Alexander Tsiaras provides a series of images that display the “unbelievably machinery” that produces human life. The beautiful but sometimes graphic visualizations show human pregnancy starting from conception to birth and beyond. Tsiaras is an artist and author of Body Voyage, From Conception to Birth: A Life Unfolds and The Architecture and Design of Man and Woman: The Marvel of the Human Body, Revealed.

2. Neil Harbisson: I listen to color

Color-blind artist Neil Harbisson uses a special device worn on the head that allows him to sense color as sound. Harbisson hears rather than sees the world in grayscale. His artwork fuses sight and sound in unusual ways. In his Sound Portrait series, he uses color sounds to produce a microtonal design. His City Colours project depicts Europe’s capitals in two-color schemes.

3. Saki Mafundikwa: Ingenuity and elegance in ancient African alphabets

Graphic artist Saki Mafundikwa creates designs based on the scripts of Africa. The Ghanaian character, Sankofa, meaning “to learn from the past” characterizes his work, which examines African history through written symbols and words. From Zimbabwe, Mafundikwa is author of the book African Alphabets and director of the film Shungu: The Resilience of a People.

4. Alexa Meade: Your body is my canvas

Alexa Meade paints her works not on canvas but on the human body. In this video, we see how Meade makes a three-dimensional scene, including a human subject, look two-dimensional. She manipulates shadows to create highly unusual works of art that she photographs for exhibition. The photos merge the subject, background and foreground seemingly into a single plane blurring the lines between 3D and 2D perception.

5. David Kelley: How to build your creative confidence

In this video, David Kelley shows us that creativity is not restricted just to certain people. He suggests ways that we can build our confidence to create new things. Kelley founded the famed design company IDEO that brought us such creations as the mouse and the thumbs up/thumbs down button on the Tivo remote control. Kelley’s ideas on creative methodology led to the founding of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. The school teaches students from various disciplines how to collaborate on creative projects. Kelley tells stories of how people were able to create confidence by changing their attitudes towards their projects. One of the first steps is for people to simply consider themselves as creative.

6. Jae Rhim Lee: My mushroom burial suit

Artist Jae Rhim Lee shows us her commitment to the environment by designing a unique burial suit that helps reduces pollution. The suit contains fungi spores that will produce pollution-eating mushrooms as our bodies fertilize the Earth after death. A visual artist who studied human processes at MIT, she is also a mushroom fan who thought of an idea of combining the last human process with mushroom propagation. Her Infinity Burial Project allows people to use their bodies after death to remediate industrial waste products while at the same time creating loads of new compost.

7. Raghava KK: Shake up your story

Raghava KK is an artist who shows us his new children’s book for the iPad. The book allows kids to draw on the pages, and he challenges us to present children with new perspectives that will lead to open minds. Starting out as a newspaper cartoonist, Raghava KK’s drawings create a new world that pushes against current ideas of conformity. His iPad book, Pop-it, presents different versions on what we might view as the “ideal family.”

8. Lucy McRae: How can technology transform the human body?

A self-described “body architect,” TED Fellow Lucy McRae creates designs that interact with the human body. For example, in a project for a music video featuring musician Robyn, she designs clothes that mimic the internal anatomy. “I became obsessed with this idea of blurring the perimeter of the body, so you couldn’t see where the skin ended and the near environment started,” says McRae. Her creations often look bizarre and are truly cutting edge in terms of creativity.

9. Ronny Edry: Israel and Iran: A love story?

Israeli Ronny Edry accidentally created a design movement on Facebook when he shared a poster featuring himself with his daughter. The poster contained a message to Iranians, during a tense period between Israel and Iran, with the message “Iranians… we [heart] you.” There was an immediate reaction with other Israelis sharing similar posters with the same message. Iranian Facebook users soon responded cordially to the overture. Edry is a graphics teacher and designer who is active on Facebook. The image posted on March 2012 may have helped to diffuse a very tense situation between the two countries at that time.

10. Doris Kim Sung: Metal that breathes

Architect and former biology student Doris Kim Sung shows how she designed metals that act much like human skin. The smart materials can react to current weather conditions to increase ventilation or provide extra shade. Her designs can help reduce urban “heat islands” that contribute to climate change.

11. Jinha Lee: Reach into the computer and grab a pixel

TED Fellow Jinha Lee explains how we can remove the boundary between the physical world and the digital one. A special 3D space above the computer monitor allows users to reach into this space and actually grab and manipulate virtual objects. Users can even touch and feel pixels to experience a unique interactive environment.

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