TED Talks Every Design Student Must Watch – Milton Glaser’s “Using Design to Make Ideas New”

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, the second in a 5 part TED Talks series, features a 15-minute inspirational talk by one of the most respected graphic designers of all time, Milton Glaser.

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 Edinburgh 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.

Click here to read last week’s Ted Talk article featuring Rory Sutherland’s “Sweat the Small Stuff.”

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

Milton Glaser's "I Love New York"

Milton Glaser’s “I Love New York”

The second video in our TED Talks Series is the famous Milton Glaser of “I (Heart) NY” fame and his talk, “Using Design to Make Ideas New.” Glaser starts his talk by describing a project where he had to create a series of paintings somehow celebrating the birth of Piero della Francesca. He notes how difficult a time he had wrapping his head around how to represent della Francesca until he stumbled upon the realization that he could approach the project as a study, studying della Francesca the way a person studies nature. He then created a series of paintings of Piero della Francesca’s famous “The Duke of Montefeltro,” exploring textures, directions, overlapping and interesting cropping—utilizing some of the key elements of graphic design.

From this description of his thought process concerning painting, Glaser moves on to describing the process of creating a poster. He shows various examples of the poster process including drafts that work, drafts that don’t, scribbled notes, and sketches. They are all of his “New / Old” poster created for the School of Visual Arts in New York. The finished poster is one that stands out because of how different it is from traditional poster design. Glaser describes it as his exploration of whether the old adage “if you have to explain your design, it isn’t working” is even true. Along the bottom left side of the poster, he has a column of “thoughts” about the design process, about his final design, and about whether or not it even really matters whether the design is good or not. He states that in this unconventional poster design he is “introducing the idea of doubt to graphic design.” After surveying various other unconventional poster designs of his—particularly those that aren’t constrained to the square or rectangular shape but rather break free of this convention— Glaser explains another of his famous designs, the “Art is Whatever” poster also created for the School of Visual Arts. This is another poster that challenges the idea of good design requiring no explanation. Glaser’s description of the poster is a poignant remark on the place of art (particularly surrealism) in the modern, digital age.

Milton Glaser Posters

Milton Glaser’s “New / Old & “Are is Whatever” posters for the School of Visual Arts

Milton Glaser

I gleaned many ideas from this short, 15-minute talk by one of the greatest graphic designers of all time. First, I discovered that even the most famous graphic designers have bad drafts tucked away. Second, I was reminded that not being afraid to challenge conventions could lead to truly inspired design. Finally, I learned that I could probably watch Milton Glaser talk about anything and be interested. Even though this talk lacks the sleek polish of many of the later TED Talks, and Glaser moves from one subject to another barely before he’s finished the first one, listening to someone with equal amounts of passion and experience talk about his work is truly inspiring. I strongly encourage all of you to watch this video.


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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