5 Ted Talks to Inspire your Graphic Design Career

There are so many career pathways for graphic designers it can be difficult to know where to start. Then there’s the ongoing battle of trying to find the balance between what’s popular and ‘likely to get you work’ versus what actually inspires you. A balance that can be even more difficult to master if you create graphics for film, TV and live events. These challenges can leave your creative fuel tank empty but fortunately, Ted Talks are the perfect quick fire route to getting a refill.

Whether you’re an aspiring graphic artist looking for inspiration or an experienced graphic designer who’s nailed your niche and looking to shake things up, we’ve selected 5 ted talks to inspire your graphic design career and stimulate your imagination. Talks that will help you explore different art forms and learn from designers who have carved out their careers in their own unique way.

1. Milton Glaser: Using Design to Make Ideas New

World renowned graphic designer and creator of the I heart NY logo, Milton Glaser, explores themes and variations and how it can turn ideas into something completely different. He surmises that by repurposing old ideas or making amendments, eventually “new” emerges from it. Furthermore, Glaser explains how experimentation and extracting ideas as opposed to stumbling blindly onto a design are key to making a convincing poster. This combined with confidence or having two design ideas on the same poster can break down a concept and make it new. If you find yourself struggling to reinvent the wheel with your current design ideas, or you’re having a crisis about hitting a dead-end, this one is worth a watch.

“Sometimes, in the middle of a resistant problem, I write down things that I know about it. But you can see the beginning of an idea there, because you can see the word “new” emerging from the “old.” That’s what happens. There’s a relationship between the old and the new; the new emerges from the context of the old.”

Milton Glaser

2. Janet Echelman: Taking Imagination Seriously

Sometimes art is unorthodox and not as simple as picking up a paint brush, it comes in all shapes and sizes. Most importantly inspiration can come from anywhere. In her talk ‘Taking Imagination Seriously’ Janet Echelman shares her story being stranded in India for a scheduled exhibition with no paints and how she transformed a moment of quiet observation, watching fishermen with their nets on a beach, into an art form.

An art form that became so fascinating and popular Echelman began utilising fishnets and arranging them into vast sculptures and was able to create work that came to life, choreographed by nature itself. Looking at additional materials that could create vast sculptures which couldn’t be made from metal, art has been combined with engineering to expand her artistic horizons. While this may not be graphic design, this talk is a great awakening for any designers learning to nurture their originality and to more boldly allow their imaginations to run wild. In fact, Echelman was rejected from seven art schools after college, so this is also a story of an artist that carved out her own career based on one original idea.

“Fourteen years ago, I first encountered this ordinary material, fishnet, used the same way for centuries. Today, I’m using it to create permanent, billowing, voluptuous forms the scale of hard-edged buildings in cities around the world.”

Janet Echelman

3. Stefan Sagmeister: Happiness by Design

Stefan Sagmeister looks back at how good design and happy moments in his life are interwoven. While many pieces of work about happiness are around visualisation, they’re not necessarily about happiness. So much so that happiness in art had become a facade for him and would not evoke any emotion, which made authenticity impossible. Sagmeister goes on to look at designs that, intentionally or not, have made him happy and explores how to incorporate that feeling into art. Definitely a Ted talk for anyone who wants to get back to the roots of what makes their design good and them happy in the process.

“Well, there was a question, of course, that was on my mind for a while: You know, can I do more of the things that I like doing in design and less of the ones that I don’t like to be doing? Which brought me back to my list making — you know, just to see what I actually like about my job.”

Stefan Sagmeister

4. Matthew Carter: My Life in Typefaces

You definitely know Matthew Carter’s work and will have seen it daily without even realising. That’s because he’s the inventor of typefaces such as Verdana, Georgia and Bell Centennial. In this Ted Talk ‘My life in typefaces’ Carter discusses how typefaces have more purpose beyond a functional design and looks at how a designer can interpret a typeface based on aesthetics alone. Carter also looks at how adapting to technology can result in it promoting influence upon art and question whether constraint equals a compromise to work. While anyone with a design background in typeface should watch how technology has evolved this art form, this is also relevant to anyone who is going against the technological grain as opposed to adapting to it.

“What makes these two letters different from different interpretations by different designers? What gives the work of some designers sort of characteristic personal style, as you might find in the work of a fashion designer, an automobile designer, whatever?”

Matthew Carter

5. David Carson: Design and Discovery

Ted Talk ‘Design and Discovery’ takes us on a journey of great design, whether minimalist, simplistic or unintentional. In it, surfer-turned-designer David Carson, provides a humorous perspective on design and how consumers and designers alike can connect to it emotionally. He explores how an artistic concept can be discovered through intuition and the everyday. In particular, Carson looks at the link between legibility and communication in design and how they do not always go hand in hand. This then leads otherwise well-intentioned designs to portray a very different message to the one intended, which often hilariously inappropriate or silly results. This is the perfect Ted Talk for anyone who doesn’t like to take themselves too seriously and will enjoys some witty rhetorics about design gone wrong.

“If you ever doubt the power of graphic design, this is a very generic sign that literally says, ‘Vote for Hitler’. It says nothing else. And this to me is an extreme case of the power of emotion, of graphic design, even though, in fact, was a very generic poster at the time.”

David Carson

Now concentrate, create and innovate

Now that you’re feeling refreshed and inspired, go forth and design! Use this surge of energy to give you momentum on your latest project, setup a new collaboration or just put brush to paper, finger to tablet or [insert your design tools of choice] and create!

For more design career inspiration you can also read our featured artist interview with Run DMC logo designer Josh Riley. If you’re already a working graphic artist then you can also find out more about the Artwork Bazaar community and how you can get involved.

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