Interview: Aral Balkan on the importance of being a designer and rediscovering his atheism

Aral talking at the TED London conference.

Experience designer and developer – and in-demand speaker – Aral Balkan discusses the key experiences that have shaped his life.

1 My family 

“When I was seven, my father brought home a clunky and expensive IBM-compatible computer with a four-colour display and said, ‘Go ahead, play with it, you can’t break it’. So I cracked open the BASIC manual and started making silly little games. And thus began my love affair with computers.

“Today, I try to pass on that spark as a director of Code Club ( – a network of almost 700 volunteer-led after?school coding clubs in the UK where we teach thousands of kids to code.

“Both of my parents have been and continue to be immensely supportive, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. It’s so important to tell your children – as my mother did to me, constantly – that they can do anything they set their minds to. Because it’s true, and they need to hear it.”

2 Being a third-culture kid

“Although my parents are Turkish, I spent my formative years growing up in Malaysia, as an expatriate. As is typical with ‘third-culture’ kids, I feel a relationship to all cultures without a loyalty or ownership in any. I know this fuels my abject distaste for several -isms (nationalism, racism, sexism) and for institutions – like religion – that are based on acceptance of dogma. It also fuels my love of all things open and rational like science and open source.” 

Photo by Mark Power

3 Theatre and presenting

“I was an introverted kid at primary school and theatre was my escape. On stage, I could be anything. I wrote a play when I was about nine and cast myself as the lead: a kid who ran away from home, wore a leather jacket, smoked cigarettes, and had blue hair. I got a wink from the cutest girl in school.

“Ever since, I’ve loved the stage. Today, I speak at international conferences and I’m now about to help others become better speakers with my new masterclass, Slide + Stage ( in June.”

4 Rediscovering my atheism

“We are all born atheists and then get told these stories that we are asked  –sometimes not-so-nicely – to believe.

“Rediscovering my atheism was a gradual process. As a kid, I believed in god without giving it much thought because my parents told me he was real. I knew if I asked for things – and repeated the requests to my parents, oddly enough – sometimes I would get them. It was quite a selfish relationship, to be honest, and I don’t ever remember getting a direct reply. Thankfully, my parents – although they were Muslim – were not practicing, so god never really asked for much from me in return.

“Regardless, as I grew older I developed a new respect for rationality and truth and that has shaped my love of experience design.” 

Aral’s Slide + Stage programme

5 Becoming a designer

“As an atheist, I place extreme importance on the limited time that each of us has in this world before we die. And, as designers, I feel that we have a profound responsibility not to take that time for granted and a unique opportunity to make that time as beautiful, a comfortable, as painless, as empowering, and as delightful as possible through the experiences that we craft.” 

Elsewhere on IDG sites

Read Next...