TED Talks Every Design Student Must Watch – David Carson’s “Design & Discovery”

There’s a world of inspiration out there for Graphic Design and Digital Media Students, but sometimes it’s hard to know where to look, and hard to narrow down what you find. By the time you’ve filtered through twenty or more videos, books, and blog posts, you don’t want to read or watch any of them. That’s where I come in. As a Graphic Design Student, I am constantly on the lookout for great resources to supplement my education at FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. I love weeding through the mass amount of information available to find the best inspiration for students. This post, our last in a 5 part TED Talks series, features an informative, humorous talk by famous graphic designer David Carson.

Ted Talks LogoFor those that don’t know, TED is a nonprofit devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading.” It was conceived in 1984 as a conference devoted to bringing people together from the three worlds of Technology, Entertainment and Design. It has evolved into two annual conferences, the TEDConference on the West Coast each Spring and the TEDGlobal conference in Edingburgh each summer. There is also the award-winning TED Talks video website, the Open Translation Project, TED Conversations, TED Fellows, TEDx, and the annual TED Prize. The mission of TED is simply to spread ideas. The founders, participants and viewers “believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives, and ultimately, the world.” To that end, their website stands as a sort of “clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.” It’s a website that is certainly easy to get lost in for hours on end, but unlike cat videos on YouTube, every TED video will teach you something, whether it be about the forefront of technological innovation, the power of music on the brain, new discoveries in principles of education, or, most relevant to FIDM Graphic Design and Digital Media students, the importance of good design.

David Carson’s “Design & Discovery”

David Carson Graphic Designer

David Carson | Photo Credit: Marceckard.de

Our final TED Talk comes from the infamous David Carson, who students in FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising’s Graphic Design program study in the History of Design class. In his talk, “Design and Discovery,” he discusses his belief in the emotion of design and the messages sent through it, even before the audience begins to receive the rest of the information. The emotional response the audience has to design is the most interesting area of design for Carson, and he opens his talk with examples of designs that ignite an emotional response within him. He goes on to discuss his belief in the power of intuition as one of the most important factors in design, noting that it is not something a designer can be taught in school, and that in fact it is actually something that is commonly discounted by teachers because it can’t be quantified.

Carson moves on to providing various examples of his own designs, many of which exemplify a key point of advice he provides, which is “don’t mistake legibility for communication.” He discusses the different designs, some of which have carefully thought-out purposes to their styles, and some of which he glosses over fairly quickly. All, however, evoke a sense of emotion and, through this, communicate—despite lacking legibility in many cases.

After providing many examples of his own work, Carson goes to discuss the way large magazines companies handled stories of 9/11. He makes an interesting discovery—many of these companies bungled their communication of these stories by pairing photographs and articles of devastation with positive advertisements, inadvertently creating distasteful and inappropriate spreads. These examples highlight the various things he has already discussed in his talk, namely the emotional impact of design and the importance of considering what your designs are communicating to your audience.

David Carson - Book of Probes

David Carson – Book of Probes

Finally, he ends with some more slides where he moves quickly through pictures of his disorganized desktop and notes for his TED Talk (which explain a lot about his design style), to a “Vote for Hitler” poster, which he cites as one of the best examples of the power of emotion in graphic design. He finishes by describing what’s next in design, which he claims is “people” and bringing the personal element of your own life and the lives of those around you into your designs to create truly unique work.

David Carson - Ray Gun Magazine

David Carson – Ray Gun Magazine

Carson concludes his talk with a great point. When he used to teach, he would ask his students what made a great job. The best answer he’s received is that a great job is the one that you would still be doing if money were no object. If you don’t feel that way about design, Carson says, “then what are you doing? You’re going to be dead a long time.”


Check Out Other Ted Talks From This Series

Part 1: Rory Sutherland’s “Sweat the Small Stuff”


Part 2: Milton Glaser’s “Using Design to Make Ideas New”


Part 3: Stefan Sagmeister’s “Happiness by Design”


Part 4: John Maeda’s “How Art, Technology and Design Inform Creative Leaders”  


Part 5: David Carson’s “Design & Discovery”  



Thank you to Sara Berkes for this wonderful article.

FIDMDigitalArts contributor, Sara BerkesSara Berkes is currently a Graphic Design/Branding major in the Professional Designation Program at FIDM. She has a B.A. Honors in English and Creative Writing from the University of King’s College and enjoys any opportunity to combine her interests in writing and design. She loves design that uses lots of white space, hand lettering, geometric shapes and excellent kerning, though not necessarily all at once. When not designing or writing, Sara enjoys knitting, sewing and reading lots of books.

Be sure to check out her website by clicking here.


Questions/comments? Email the editor, Mani O’Brien at mobrien@fidm.edu

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Author: Sara Berkes

Sara Berkes is a graphic designer, writer and maker based in Ottawa, ON, Canada. She has a combined BA in English and Creative Writing from the University of King's College and an AA in Graphic Design, which she earned from FIDM in December 2013 along with the 2013 / 2014 Graphic Design Award. When not designing or blogging at Sara Berkes Creative or writing for the FIDM Digital Arts Blog, Sara can probably be found sewing, knitting, or hiding from Winter. You can find out more about her and her work at www.saraberkescreative.com

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