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The best TED talks inspire those watching to consider things in a new light, and that’s exactly what these five talks from 2016 do. They look at user experience from a variety of places, fusing art, music, trust and empathy into discussions that challenge the way we view the relationship between users, designs and the world around us.

Beyond this, these talks encourage designers to consider their role in creating these experiences. They talk about the need to kill your darlings (as we say in the writing world) in order to provide users with more relevant experiences. They encourage consideration not only of a user’s fears, but of a designer’s fears as well. And most important of all, they inspire us to think a little bit differently.

From Airbnb to virtual reality, we roundup five must-see TED talks from 2016.

How Airbnb Designs For Trust

In this talk, Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia looks at what it means to start designing for trust—not just so your users can trust you, but so they can trust each other as well. “We bet our whole company on the hope that with the right design, people would be willing to overcome the stranger danger bias. What we didn’t realize was just how many people were ready and waiting to put the bias aside,” Gebbia says. Find out how trust holds the key to helping strangers open their homes to one another, and how it’s typically good design that takes them there.

When We Design For Disability, We All Benefit

When Elise Roy went deaf as a teenager, she realized she was given the opportunity to see the world differently. In this talk she discusses design thinking and the five-step process designers can take to build products that benefit all users, including those who face challenges. Plus, she talks about why this is also exactly why people with disabilities make great designers for their ability to provide unique perspectives. This talk was originally given in 2015, but only found its way onto TED’s website this year. With so much inspiration packed into just 13 minutes, we’re so glad it did.

The Unexpected Benefit of Celebrating Failure

Go ahead; kill your projects. “Discovering a major flaw in a project doesn’t always mean that it ends the project. Sometimes it actually gets us on a more productive path,” says Astro Teller, head of X (formerly Google X). As he explains in this talk through innovative examples including balloon-powered Internet, taking risks can ultimately build the foundation for better products going forward—especially if these tactics fail. Though this talk doesn’t speak specifically to UX, it covers many of the same issues UX designers face each day. The trick, Teller says, is empowering yourself and your teams to tackle the hardest parts first.

What Can We Learn From Shortcuts?

Tom Hulme opens with some real talk. “When we’re designing new products, services or businesses, the only time you’ll know if they’re any good, if the designs are good, is to see how they’re used in the real world, in context,” he says. How do you quicken this process? By observing where your users take shortcuts via the desire path—the point where design and user experience diverge. In this talk, Hulme provides short real world examples that look at why users favor the path of least resistance and how designers can leverage this to improve their products. He looks at why a designer’s job is not only to watch where these paths merge, but to also “pave these desire paths” on behalf of the user in order to design meaningful experiences.

Watch now. 

The Birth of Virtual Reality As An Art Form

Chris Milk’s stunning TED Talk layers live music on top of visuals and thought-provoking dialogue that challenges our understanding of how we experience the world around us. Using virtual reality as the crux of his message, he looks at the relationship between consciousness and technology, drawing parallels between a user’s consciousness and VR as an extension of experience. Calling VR “the last medium,” Milk says VR is also “the first medium that actually makes the jump from our internalization of an author’s expression of an experience, to us experiencing it first hand.” This interactive and emotional talk is a must watch for anyone who is interested in VR and how this powerful tool can be used to engage users and tell stories in new ways.

What are your favorite UX talks from 2016? Share your thoughts on these videos and your other picks in the comments below.

Sheena Lyonnais

Sheena Lyonnais

Sheena Lyonnais is a Toronto-based writer, editor and digital specialist. She works in content marketing by day, studies digital strategy by night, and practices yoga somewhere in between. Follow her on Twitter @SheenaLyonnais.


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