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TEDx Philadelphia: Design and the Disappearance of Everyday Objects

At TEDxPhiladelphia last March, Simran Sidhu of YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School started her talk by sharing how TEDx speakers begin to prepare for a TED talk: “What you do is you watch a million TED talks and freak out,” she said.

That sounds about right.

You also revise the outline and then the draft of your talk about a million times before you feel it’s any good — or as good as it’s going to get.

Now that TEDxPhiladelphia has posted videos of talks from last spring’s New Workshop of the World event online, you can see for yourself the end results of all that iterating. Here’s mine:

Designing a TED Talk

As I suspect is true for many TED speakers, my talk was about something I’ve been thinking about and working on for a long time — in my case, how technology is transforming and shaking up industrial design. Designing the talk was a challenging opportunity to synthesize these thoughts into a tightly packaged 18 minutes (TED founder Chris Anderson’s formula for being, as he has said, “long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention”).

how would you actuate this doorbell?

This very simple device (a doorbell) speaks volumes about its user depending on how you actuate it. With your forefinger? Baby boomer or GenX. With your thumb? Millennial.

The experience was a bit of a therapy session — TEDx Philadelphia co-producers, Thaddeus Squire and Emaleigh Doley, urged me off the diving board and into my own personal background to figure out why this subject resonates with me so much.

Personal and Professional Reinvention

I ended up talking about my grandfather, who introduced me to design, and about my son, whose behavior teaches me about the evolving nature of design. Humans are constantly reinventing ourselves — my son’s generation interacts with products completely differently than my own or my parents’ generation does. Design is constantly reinventing itself to keep up with humans — this is vital, because the most successful design is human-centered.

And I have reinvented myself several times — for instance, when I moved to Philadelphia from Paris to work at Bresslergroup. My talk, while about design, is also about my personal and professional reinvention.

the evolution of industrial design

A history of industrial design in three objects: from an emphasis on styling products (Raymond Loewy’s streamlined pencil sharpener) to solving problems that impact our lives (solar roofing system) to designing digital experiences (smartphone interface for Tado thermostat).

Design and the City

In the talk, I give a quick history of industrial design and the ways it has reinvented itself over time. As designers we have moved from styling products to solving real problems to designing digital experiences. I also get into the phasing out of the design artifact, which is the future of industrial design. Industrial designers are no longer product designers; we’re interaction designers and experience designers.

new and old workshops to the world

Workshops old and new — from manufacturing physical objects to designing digital experiences.

Cities too, are moving away from manufacturing physical artifacts toward manufacturing digital experiences. A city no longer needs hundreds of thousands of assembly-line workers to boom anymore like in the 1900s. Instead a city can become the new workshop of the digital world and a leader in innovation with only a few thousand designers, entrepreneurs, and creative thinkers. To me, the key is to stay nimble and so open to waves of change that you are built for reinvention — whether that means reinventing a career, a business, an industry, or even a city.

Yes, I packed all of that into 18 minutes (okay, maybe I went a bit over 18 minutes) and reinvented myself again — into someone who has given a TED talk! If you have a chance to watch it, email me or Tweet me at @mturpault and let me know what you think.