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A TED Talk Playlist, from the Practical to the Fantastic

TED2018, “The Age of Amazement,” is well under way in Vancouver and the talks are, as always, audacious, ambitious, and, yes, amazing. Dispatches from TED2018 are making us think about all the TED talks that have inspired us over the years. We put together a playlist to recommend some favorites, from hidden gems to some well-known hits:

1. “The Worldwide Web of Belief and Ritual” and “Dreams from Endangered Cultures”

Besides the fact that Wade Davis is a captivating speaker with amazing stories and anecdotes, I was inspired by the message of the talks and their underlying ideas. What Davis is saying is that each culture is a roadmap to a unique way of thinking about life, and language encapsulates those unique concepts. His concern is that we’re losing these concepts and ideas, and he points to the loss of different languages as a major indicator. While I’m all about forward progress, I do think it’s well worth remembering and learning the other ways we as humans have perceived and expressed thoughts about our lives.

Davis has an amazing amount of very different cultural experiences that he does a great job of articulating. If I were going to tie his ideas to design, I would say that design is about understanding people, and understanding their culture is a vital lens into human behavior. — Ed Mitchell

Watch The Worldwide Web of Belief and Ritual and Dreams from Endangered Cultures.

2. The Polyphonic Me

Beardyman is just a very talented dude, and this is super entertaining and awe-inspiring. — Ed Mitchell

Watch The Polyphonic Me.

3. When We Design for Disability, We All Benefit

Elise Roy, who gives the talk, is deaf and she talks about how being deaf gives her a unique way of experiencing and reframing the world. In general I find the stigma around hearing loss and hearing aids specifically interesting as opposed to vision loss and glasses, which are so commonplace and accepted. The role that products play in our social lives and how we perceive ourselves and express ourselves is fascinating. We’re all disabled in some way at different points of our lives and for different periods of time — when we’re children, when we get older or injured. But also when our hands are full, or when we need to keep our eyes on the road, or when we’re listening to music. These are everyday limitations that solutions for the disabled can help us all with. — Bill Horan

Watch When We Design for Disability, We All Benefit.

4. How We’re Using Drones To Deliver Blood and Save Lives

Keller Rinaudo is CEO and co-founder, of Zipline, the California-based startup that designed a drone delivery system to deliver blood and plasma to remote clinics in East Africa. The ability to deliver medical products instantly solves the conflict in medical care between waste and access. Get doctors what they need instantly, and they’re able to stock fewer supplies at hospitals. In his TED talk, Rinaudo states that in nine months of running the service, zero units of blood expired at the twelve hospitals they serve — something not achieved by any other healthcare system on the planet. And this system of delivering medicine to everyone, no matter how hard they are to reach, is sustainable and scaleable. “Entrepreneurship,” Rinaudo says, “is the only force in human history that has lifted millions of people out of poverty.” This simple and inspiring solution is the new paradigm of thinking about product innovation.  — Aditi Singh

Watch How We’re Using Drones To Deliver Blood and Save Lives.

5. The Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen

I love the way Hans Rosling visualizes big data and makes it more easily understood and more compelling for the viewer. Mega trends like population growth and aging population take on new importance when he visualizes how they tracked over time and what they look like in the future. He also uses unique visual analogies to make the data more interesting. — Chris Murray

Watch The Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen.

6. The Birth of a Word

Deb Roy is an MIT professor who performed motion and audio analysis on 90,000 hours of home video in order to identify patterns in how his newborn was learning language. The data set, recorded over a five-year period, gives unique insights into how a child’s physical and audial environments affect the adoption of new words. Such a study had not been conducted in such depth and technicality until this one, making this talk a very interesting listen. — Christian Kasilag

Watch The Birth of a Word.

7. I Listen To Color

To me this was eye-opening, because it lay bare what we take for granted. We don’t necessarily appreciate how color impacts the way we feel or the way we live. Neil Harrison was born color-blind, so he created an “eyeborg” device that attaches to his head and turns color into audible frequencies. For him to go so far to be able to experience color should be a wake-up call for all of us to pause and appreciate our ability to see life in color. Color, just like appearance and aesthetics, influences our every decision. It shapes our moods and our personalities. His talk is an eloquent demonstration of the value of design. — Mathieu Turpault

Watch I Listen To Color.

8. What If 3D Printing Was 100x Faster?

The content Joseph DeSimone covers is fairly interesting but even more interesting is the fact that while he’s talking, this 3D-printed object emerges from the goop incredibly quickly. If you do a lot of 3D printing, like I do, just how fast this part appears is really amazing. — Marshall Bronfin

Watch What If 3D Printing Was 100x Faster?

9. How To Use One Paper Towel

As far as TED talks go, this one by Joe Smith is pretty unextraordinary … and yet I find myself washing my hands this way and using fewer paper towels ever since I watched it a couple years ago! The main reason why I like this talk is that it’s so practical and simple. Most TED talks I see have lofty visions or are just for intellectual stimulation/entertainment with limited immediate application. The speaker here presents a simple way to decrease waste that actually works and is easy to remember. — Eric Chang

Watch How To Use One Paper Towel.

10. The Power of Vulnerability

Brené Brown is just great. I’ve read all her books and they’ve changed the way I operate, both in my personal life and at work. I have the audio versions of her books on my phone, and when I’m feeling down, I re-listen to some of the most inspiring parts. As a researcher, I really appreciate her qualitative methods, her vulnerability in sharing stories, and the empathy with which she navigates life. She posted a live video on Facebook after the Charlottesville incident last year and in it she explains privilege and power in a very relatable and understandable way — which everyone can benefit from. — Alex Visconti

Watch The Power of Vulnerability.

11. Youth Empowerment and Self-Sustainable Education

I saw this talk by Philly Youth Poetry Movement live at 2011’s Philly TEDx and couldn’t stop thinking about it, specifically about ten minutes in when Charmira Nelson and Kai Davis performed their poem, “Femininjas.” I’m really happy it was caught on video. The courage and insight of those girls! And the literary craft they use to weave humor into a not very funny topic. — Alex Visconti

Watch Youth Empowerment and Self-Sustainable Education.

Bonus Talks: Friends, Family, and TED

Another TED talk that is not to be missed is our own Mathieu Turpault’s “The Disappearance of Everyday Objects” from TEDxPhilly a few years ago.

And, fun fact, we discovered while putting this list together that industrial designer Ed Mitchell has three (three!) family members who’ve delivered TED talks. Is that a record? We’d like to know. (And raise your hand if want an invitation to the Mitchell family Thanksgiving.)

Check out these talks by Ed’s family members on “Gender Transgression,”  “How To Start a Movement,” and “A Performance with Breath, Music and Passion.”