TED Talks Every Design Student Must Watch – Stefan Sagmeister’s “Happiness by Design”

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 third in a 5 part TED Talks series, features a fun, feel-good, inspirational talk by designer, Stefan Sagmeister.

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.

Stefan Sagmeister’s “Happiness by Design”

Stefan Sagmeister

Our third TED Talk in our series is Stefan Sagmeister’s “Happiness by Design.” In this talk, Sagmeister discusses the various events in his life that have made him happy, and how most of them are tied to good design. He explains that there are two ways design has made him happy: either by happiness in experiencing design, or happiness in creating design. He goes on to discuss examples of design projects that provided happiness not only to him, but also to the public as a whole, and what he perceives as the reason behind their success. Many of these projects use wit in their design, and as such elicit an emotional response in their audience, which in this case often causes laughter. Sagmeister’s TED audience can be heard laughing through almost every example he provides in his talk.

After providing these examples, Sagmeister questions how he can create his own happiness, by doing more of the things that make him happy, and less of the things that don’t. He provides a list of what makes him happy when creating designs, things such as working without pressure and doing more of the projects that matter to him. It’s interesting to see that his list looks similar to what I imagine many designers lists look like. This draws to mind the question of whether certain conditions in designing are almost guaranteed to provide happiness.

Stefan Sagmeister’s “Happy Show" Poster

Stefan Sagmeister’s “Happy Show” Exhibition Poster

Finally, Sagmeister provides a list of some things he’s learned in his life so far, which includes gems such as “thinking life in the future will be better is stupid. I have to live now,” and “trying to look good limits my life.” He then discusses how he used these lessons in various design projects, such as designing six divider pages in an Australian magazine using the lesson “everything I do always comes back to me” or a French campaign using “trying to look good limits my life.” Inevitably, this list eventually became Sagmeister’s “Happy Show,” which has been touring North American museums since 2012 and was displayed this past June at MOCA here in Los Angeles. This proves that design inspiration really can come from anywhere, even a list created in a diary for the purpose of self-reflection.

Sagmeister’s “Happiness by Design” has inspired me to explore design that makes me happy, and what makes me happy when designing. It’s never too early to learn under what conditions designers design best, because the sooner we discover that, the sooner we can implement strategies to create our happiest design environments. As Sagmeister proves, happy designers design better. I strongly encourage you to watch his talk, have a laugh, and start exploring your own happiness by design.

Work from Sagmeister's "Happy Show"

Work from Sagmeister’s “Happy Show” Exhibition


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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