Our guide to the best free and paid talks that you can stream online, from legendary names and star talents all across the design spectrum.
There's a lot of design-related conferences out there, and perhaps not enough money or time to attend them all, especially as a freelancer. Even we at Digital Arts can't catch them all - but we sure can compile you an essentials guide to all the amazing talks and presentations from these conferences that you can watch online for free (bar a few exceptions).
With this list we look at not just big names like Ted, but also newer regulars like Offset and the Do Lectures. We've also selected talks that span across graphic design, illustration, UX design and branding, meaning there's something here for any creative to learn new tricks from. These talks also provide a great insight into the early careers and struggles of big names such as Anthony Burrill, Marion Deuchars and Paula Scher, showing that all creatives have to start somewhere.
These talks cover design as a broad discipline, and most should resonate with you whether you're a graphic or UX designer, creative director or illustrator. For more specific talks, read our stories on great UX talks and talks on how psychology affects design.
Also, while compiling this guide we noticed that trolling illustrator king Mr Bingo appears at a lot of these things, so he's probably the only person around who doesn't need our piece as he's got the time to attend whatever he wants, the lucky beggar.
Digital Arts readers will be familiar with creative conference Glug, which has branched out from English roots to slowly take over the world. For our money, we'd say the best speakers are the ones you can see in the UK, ranging from class artists like Supermundane, Sam 'The Doodle Man' Cox, to Middle Boop and - no surprises - Mr Bingo.
We interviewed designer and typographer extraordinaire Anthony Burrill ahead of Glug's 2018 event; that particular talk is yet to hit the official site, but you can watch Anthony's 2017 talk to hear about how he found his voice through early experimentation. There are also some nice videos in the presentation of Anthony at work, thankfully inserted into the upload as opposed to being kept onto the projector screen.
Emily Forgot's Glug talk is a fascinating and often surprising look at the very varied influences behind her work, including offbeat designs by obscure architects like Adolf Loos and Louis Khan.
The Awwwards Conference
Next up is the most recent highlight of the design conference calendar, the Awwwards Conference, which took place in San Francisco this August. Prize-giving is just one aspect of these global events, with the Conference being an ideal showcase for designers, web developers and 'digital dreamers' from a whole range of fields. You can stream talks from these creatives for free on the Awwwards website or watch three of our personal faves below.
The above talk from web animation expert Val Head is an essential watch for anyone wanting to learn how to design chatbots and virtual assistants for brands. In the video, Val stresses the importance of not just the code behind visual user interfaces, AI and VR, but also the design experience of these experiences as a whole. Essentially, she argues, good design brings a much needed humanity to these evolving technologies.
Another recent Awwwards highlight is this presentation from Netflix product designer Navin Iyengar, where he talks about why designers everywhere should 'design like a scientist' for the best results - in other words, test like there's no tomorrow.
The talk gives detailed insight into Netflix's user interface design, and how the biggest impact on getting guests to sign up to Netflix was not letting them interact with their catalogue on the homepage, surprisingly enough.
We've mentioned Mr Bingo's ubiquitous presence at these things, so let's highlight one of his talks for good measures. This presentation on how to get crowdfunding for 'daft ideas' is from last year's London-held Awwwards, which is probably wise as his humour may not go down well in the sunny side of the States. For all the comedy, it's got some good tips on anyone wanting to break into the Kickstarter game - making money as a creative is the Holy Grail, after all.
The Do Lectures
Another pan-global highlight that always guarantees a good lineup are The Do Lectures. Tickets are hard to get, whether lectures take place in Australia or the edge of west Wales where it all originated, but the Do homepage handily keeps a free archive of all its talks. The Lectures are not necessarily design based, but there are some good creator ones from the likes of Matt Miller, Marion Deuchars and - who'd have guessed? - Mr Bingo.
Matt 'Mills' Miller
You may know Matt 'Mills' Miller as head of the ustwo creative studio behind Monument Valley, and in this Do Lecture he advises about perfecting the work-life balance by turning your company into a 'fampany.' It's less corny than it sounds, and it's got a cute intro from Matt's daughter, Gracie.
You'll know Marion Deuchars from her cracking editorial work and wonderful books on Thames & Hudson like Lets Make Some Great Art. In this lecture, she tells a teenage audience about finding one's voice and breaking into the creative industries.
Offset is the more artsy-counterpoint to Glug, with its most recent conference taking place in March of this year. Our selections below both come from the 2017 event; please be shocked to learn that even though no Offset footage of Mr Bingo lurks online, he did actually give a talk at the 2016 incarnation.
The work of illustrator Rod Hunt is a permanent fixture on Digital Arts, so sharing this talk was a no-brainer. His talk for Offset is an hour long, but worth it for hearing about the laborious nature of an Ikea project he bravely undertook; Rod describes it as rather OCD, which would be an understatement.
Another long one - Offset talks usually clock in at around the hour work - but this Bruno Maag presentation is worth a watch for anyone into their typography.
Probably the funnest talk by a mile, this one by animator Kirsten Lepore is a deep dive into her 90s/early internet influences and stop-motion methods. It ends with a look at the story behind her biggest piece to date, creepy 2017 viral sensation Hey Stranger.
We all know Ted of course, but did you know there's a wealth of Ted Talks on design and art? The selection currently available is sadly a bit too male-dominated, so perhaps a lesson needs to be learnt from the previously highlighted conferences.
Don Norman is the design author and consultant behind the classic tome The Design of Everyday Things. His 2003 talk is an essential primer on the three emotional cues that a well-designed product must have to succeed; consider it a more classical, 20th century counterpoint to the Val Head talk from earlier.
Paula Scher is the mind behind logos for Shake Shack and Windows, along with some classic 1970s album covers. You can trust her then when she argues that great design should be serious, not solemn. At one point in the lecture she points out that Broadway branding basically "ate" her pioneering designs, making the famous theatre district full of copycats of her work; she's also a big Helvetica-hater, we learn. All in all, a fun talk essential for any sort of designer wanting to learn more about the essence of style.
Graphic design Stefan Sagmeister's talk is a fun ride, with a great section on some guerilla subway ads he made that basically tell commuters to cheer the hell up.
You've probably never designed a city flag, let alone contemplated one, but let the host of design podcast 99% Invisible Roman Mars reveal the five basic principles of flag design and show why he believes they can be applied to just about anything. Shame then, that most city flags ignore these basic fundamentals, alas.
Oglivy's yearly behavioural economics conference may seem an odd place to look for design learnings – as the talks range from the mating habits of bonobos to how checklists prevent plane crashes – but what they are at their core are presentations of research about human behaviour and how to influence it at scale (ie to an audience of more than one person). If you want your design work to be effective, there's lots to learn here.
The best talk to start with is by ex-RAF officer Wing Commander Keith Dear. Here he traces how we are hard-wired to behave better when we feel we are being watched – even if the eyes on are are just in a poster – and how this has been used in circumstances from peacekeeping in Georgia to posters reducing vandalism in the West Midlands.
Pictoplasma is the essential conference on character art and design, and the website is chock full of talks from amazing names. You'll have to pay watch these, unfortunately, but it's probably worth it to hear star talents like Jack Sachs, Cachetejack, Charlotte Mei, Jean Jullien, Martina Paukova, Brosmind and - drumroll please - Mr Bingo.
There are a few free videos on the Pictoplasma site to sample, such as this one from illustrator Rilla Alexander which gives great advice on how to keep going with a project when all seems lost.
Read next: 6 great UX design talks you can watch online