Boring Graphics

5 essential TED talks for UX designers


boring graphics, chicago



“Design” has always been an integral part of TED’s DNA. Since 1984, the nonprofit has always known to organize short talks on design that help people to see the world in a different way. So, it’s no surprise that TED’s online platform is replete with talks that can inspire and improve UX design processes and outcomes. 

From talks on the future of prototyping user interfaces to comical musings on how to build a user-focused team, TED offers something for UX designers of every stripe.

These 5 TED talks shine a light on user experience designs and innovative ways of building user-friendly products.


1. Got a wicked problem? Tell me how you make toast by Tom Wujec




About the speaker: Tom Wujec studies how we share and absorb information. He's an innovative practitioner of business visualization — using design and technology to help groups solve problems and understand ideas. He is a Fellow at Autodesk.

In his TED talk, Wujec talks about a simple design exercise that "reveals unexpected truths about the way we think about things". By breaking down "wicked problems" into mental models, UX-ers can use to get to the heart of why users act like they do.


 2. Simplicity sells by David Pague



About the speaker: David Pogue is the personal technology columnist for the New York Times and a tech correspondent for CBS News. He's also one of the world's bestselling how-to authors, with titles in the For Dummies series and his own line of "Missing Manual" books.

In his TED talk, Pogue exposes the very worst User Interfaces he has seen, and device a phrase 'software rage' – that feeling users get from crummy interfaces. 


3. The first secret of design is… noticing by Tony Fadell




About the speaker: As the originator of the iPod, Tony Fadell is no stranger to disruptive technology. With Nest, he’s zeroed in on tech’s most elusive targets: household appliances.

In his TED talk, Fadell speaks about his secrets for driving positive change in design. From understanding habituation and neuroscience to learning from Jerry Seinfeld, Fadell has some awesome tips for building better product solutions.


4. 404, the story of a page not found by Renny Gleeson



About the speaker: Renny Gleeson helps navigate brands through fresh concepts, such as viral marketing and social media, to find the pulse of the modern consumer.

In his TED talk, Gleeson reveals how he and his tech startup created better 404 experiences for users. Renny Gleeson shows us, while he runs through a slideshow of creative and funny 404 pages, every error is really a chance to build a better relationship.


5. The Beauty of Data Visualization by David McCandless




About the speaker: David McCandless draws beautiful conclusions from complex datasets — thus revealing unexpected insights into our world.

In his TED talk, David points out how visuals can make complex data and information easier to understand and process. 







boring graphics, chicago



Get your graphic design game-face on with these inspiring tips.

Whether you’re a creating graphics for social media or designing an invitation for an upcoming event, the application of graphic design is vast and versatile. From font pairing and scale to alignment and white space, the facets of the design world are complex. Let these 10 epic design tips help you through the pits and the peaks of the creative process.



01. For font’s sake, limit your typefaces


When selecting a typeface or font for headings, subtitles and body text, use easy to read fonts for simple and effective graphic design. The eye finds it hard to scan multiple typefaces, so stick to a simple collection of fonts. This design uses variants from the Aileron font family, a geometric sans serif typeface that has a simple and modern aesthetic.


02. Don’t be scared of scale


Apply scale to type, shapes or compositional features that need proportionate emphasis. Use appropriate colors to enhance this technique while making sure suitable typefaces that look good when increased in size. Here, Raleway for the word ‘Scale’ is strong and bold with clear forms.


03. Respect the space of other elements


Use letter spacing to fill dead space, aligning text, or condense words that take up too much space. However, be careful not to reduce letter spacing so much it can’t be read, or increase it so much the letters become detached from one another. Here, the decreased letter spacing on the word ‘Respect’ gives a condensed effect, as a visual representation of space, or lack thereof.


04. Be clever with your colors


Choose a color scheme that has 1-3 primary colors and an additional 1-3 secondary colors that contrast and complement each other. Use different tones of the same color for consistency by adjusting brightness for contrast. Finer typefaces will need stronger distinction against a colored background. Here, bright aqua is offset against forest green background for clarity and readability.


05. Clean, crisp, clear


Pump up contrast by adjusting the brightness of the background image so that it offsets the text color, making the design clear and easy to read. This is a great way to apply white or black text over an image to create a strong ‘cut-out’ effect.


06. Fonts have feelings too


Chose a typeface that sings the song of your content. Typefaces with rounded edges are a usually friendlier note, Quicksand is used here); hard-edged geometric fonts (sans serifs) are solid and strong; while serifs convey an elegant and sophisticated look.


07. Create order with alignment


Apply a line or an embellishment to for design balance and composition. Here, a line to the left of the text mimics and margin line and anchors the block of text.


08. Keep it simple


Keep it simple, but don’t forget your basics. Make sure every element has a reason to be in the design and keep the number of fonts, colors, shapes, and frames to a minimum. Use contrasting tonal color combinations to text is sharp and easy to read. Applying a solid frame to contain your copy will enhance the compositional structure of a design.


09. Multi-page magic


The easiest way to ensure aesthetic unity across a document or presentation is by duplicating pages then editing text and replacing images.


10. Creativity and originality


Push your creative abilities and graphic design skills to achieve original graphics. Be inventive and experimental and choose and combine different typefaces and filters. Avoid trends and create designs that correspond with your own unique style, leaving a personal stamp on your work.






Boring graphics, Chicago




For a significant number of us, the possibility of secondary school summons recollections of adequate journal doodles. Hand-drawn air pocket letters, pictograms, and stick-figures would adorn homework, tests, and papers - and instructors, obviously, were always requesting that we thump it off. 


Thus the vast majority of us did, maybe on the grounds that we made sense of that we simply weren't that great at drawing on paper. However, when a few of us were in secondary school, we didn't yet have the various computerized alternatives for "drawing" our thoughts. Be that as it may, now, machines can enable us to breathe life into them - and it's turned into a vocation way for some individuals. 


Visual depiction is something that advertisers can simply profit by adapting, even without a formal instruction. In those cases, we enter a universe of do-it-without anyone's help training, with rehashed proposals like, "learn Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign," or, "read a book about essential plan standards." And as much as that assistance, learning basics, exploring new devices and building up an individual style make for a dubious exercise in careful control.


That is the reason we set up together this rundown of tips that we wish we had gotten at the beginning of our individual DIY visual computerization ventures, alongside a few instruments that can help you with them.


8 Tips for Learning Graphic Design


1) Always keep an ear to the ground.

As marketers, we already know how much there is to learn from influencers. After all, 49% of folks trust the people they know above anyone else for product or service recommendations, and in the digital age, that includes influencers.

Influencers -- who according to NeoReach are “individual[s] with an online presence who ... influence the opinions and behaviors of your target audience” -- are often willing to share the secrets to their success in their content. If you make a point to listen to and engage with them, you'll become more familiar with the online design world, which can help you discover more tips from other industry experts, become comfortable with the relevant terminology, and stay on top of trends.

Wondering how to engage? Turn to Twitter or Instagram as a place to start conversations with these influencers. You never know who might respond to your questions -- and any positive connection you make can only help you learn more. Following along and joining the exchange can naturally lead you to become a part of a design community that will support you throughout your journey.


What to Do Right Now

Create a targeted list of influential designers on Twitter so you can follow their daily insights without having to pick out their tweets from a sea of friends, coworkers, and news sources. You can use the Social Monitoring tool in your HubSpot software to do this by following the people on this list, specifically as they discuss topics that matter to you.

Add a variety of influencers to this list -- a mix of those who are well-known among most designers, those that personally inspire you, and those whose work you do not enjoy. That last point may seem counterintuitive, but consistently observing the work of that group can help you understand why you don't like it, which is a key part of the understanding design.

If you're not sure how to discover designers to follow, try 365 Awesome Designers, which features the work of one designer each day.


2) Collect inspirational work.

Once you decide to learn design, start building a catalog of work you think is successful. That can be as simple as bookmarking images in your web browser, making a Pinterest board, or saving items to a folder on your computer. Like a list of influencers, a catalog of inspiring work will help you to identify trends -- both past and present -- in design as you begin to recognize patterns in the work of others. You'll also start to understand your own personal style preferences and interests. If you find yourself continually saving infographics, for example, you might start looking into specific resources to learn how to create them.

Your catalog will also serve to inspire designs you create in the future, which is underscored by the idea that "all creative work builds on what came before" -- a line from Austin Kleon's TEDx talk. If you can reference items in your catalog quickly, you'll be better equipped to begin your own projects.



What to Do Right Now

Get acquainted with leading designer portfolio sites like Dribbble and Behance. These platforms showcase an abundance of high-quality work from leading designers across the spectrum -- everyone from web and UX designers, to graphic designers and typographers. The designers on these sites often provide insight into their design processes, which will be key as you start your own creations.

Setting aside time in your day to review these sites might be hard on top of your workload. One way to naturally work it into your day is to use the app Panda, which replaces your "New Tab" in Chrome with an aggregated stream of content from various sources, including Dribbble. Each time you open a new tab, you can discover and save something that catches your eye. Fair warning, though: An application like this might be distracting to some.


3) Dissect the process.

One of the most pivotal moments in my design journey was when I recognized that every single illustration, infographic, an icon I had ever ogled over was the product of someone mastering how to combine shapes and lines. That's not to say that other factors don't play a role -- just wait until you try and learn meshes in Illustrator -- but fundamentally, these designs were built up from simple shapes.

Analyzing the process behind a design will allow you to understand the steps required to produce a piece of work. Depending on your current skill level, you may have a leg up in knowing which tools were used, or which aspect was created first. But don't let that stop you -- examining the construction of a design will let you flex your creative muscle. Educated guesses will do far more to teach you than doing nothing at all. Plus, you'll likely find that:

You know more than you think you do.

When you identify holes in that knowledge, you'll know what techniques or concepts you need to explore to narrow the gap.

There's more than one way to achieve the desired result.


What to Do Right Now

A quick way to expedite the learning curve when dissecting a design is to download a free vector or PSD design resource, and dig through the layers to see how the designer constructed the object -- you can find a number of those files here.

Once you pick your file, open it in Photoshop, then open the Layers Panel (which you can learn to use here) and un-collapse some of the folders, so that you can see the layers contained within them.

By simply changing the visibility of the layers, you can begin to see how the designer used each shape to build upon one another. You can also begin to understand how to use Photoshop Effects, like drop shadows and strokes.


4) Get specific with your online search queries.

As you begin creating your own designs, you'll likely hit an obstacle where you think to yourself, "Hmm. How the heck do I do that?" Chances are, others have wondered the same thing. Like many self-taught disciplines these days, the majority of my own technical design knowledge was gained by watching a YouTube tutorial while I actively followed along.

The key is to be really specific with your searches, so you can find a highly relevant tutorial. Searching for something like "how to create an icon" might deliver really broad search results. Instead, type in exactly what you want to learn, like, "how to create a flat icon with a long shadow." Boom.


What to Do Right Now

Browse a design terminology glossary to find the specific terms for techniques you're trying to learn. That can help you find what you're looking for online much more easily, in addition to helping you familiarize yourself with the language.


5) Reproduce your favorite work.

Let me be clear: Under no circumstances should you infringe on anyone's copyrighted work. Never reproduce someone else's work and try to pass it off as your own.

That said, re-creating a design you like -- without advertising it as your own work -- will help you gain a deeper understanding of design technique. As with dissecting a design, it'll help you learn new technical skills that'll come in handy when you're creating your own designs.

You'll have to get creative with the method you choose to recreate the design so this exercise will utilize both the left and right sides of your brain. Don't get frustrated if you can't duplicate a design exactly -- remember, the process is more important than the result.


What to Do Right Now

Find a design piece you think is successful -- which should be easy if you've created an inspiration catalog -- and use your preferred piece of software to recreate it, whether that's Photoshop, Illustrator, or another software. It's really up to you to choose how you go about actually creating it. Use specific search queries and tap into your design community relationships as resources.


6) Embrace negative space.

The proper use of negative space is often overlooked by beginner and advanced designers alike. What is negative space (or "white space")? It's the space in your design that's not occupied by any visual or written element. A design piece that doesn't incorporate enough negative space is like a sentence with no spaces - itisdifficulttocomprehend.

Jan Tischold, one the most influential typographers in history, stresses this importance: “White space is to be regarded as an active element, not a passive background.” The effective use of negative space is just as crucial as the design itself. Don't believe me? It's scientifically proven that white space improves legibility and comprehension.

What to Do Right Now

Learning to effectively use white space won't happen overnight. You'll have to try out different options to find what works for each design. First, I'd recommend reading some of the articles on this list, compiled by David Kadavy, author of Design for Hackers: Reverse Engineering Beauty. Then, try to put some of these theories into action.

Remember, there's no hard-and-fast rule to using white space. It takes practice. Eventually, you'll find that exercises in resizing elements of your composition and changing the layout will lead to a natural understanding of the amount of breathing room required.


7) Don't be afraid to get feedback.

On some level, everyone is afraid of criticism. We're afraid our ideas will get shot down and we'll be sent back to square one. Learning to accept constructive criticism is no easy task, but it's key to becoming a better designer.

Paul Arden, who was the creative force behind Saatchi & Saatchi at a pinnacle of its success, wrote this in his best-selling book, It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be:

If, instead of seeking approval, you ask, ‘What’s wrong with it? How can I make it better?’, you are more likely to get a truthful, critical answer. You may even get an improvement on your idea. And you are still in a position to reject the criticism if you think it is wrong. Can you find fault with this?"

The takeaway: Design critics allow us to incorporate others' viewpoints into our work and improve upon our ideas. You always have the option to reject the feedback -- but considering it in the first place is what's important. The design is subjective in nature, and just because someone else has a different opinion doesn't mean you're wrong. In fact, trusting your intuition is equally important. Just make sure you have the means to back up your design decisions.

What to Do Right Now

The best way to get feedback is to have a one-on-one conversation with an experienced designer. If you don't know anyone in the design world, that can be difficult. Fortunately, the internet is filled with communities of designers eager to give feedback -- that's why we suggested finding influencers and peers to engage with.

If you haven't had time to become a part of a community, now's the time to step outside of your comfort zone and take action. offers a great feedback center where viewers can comment directly on your design. Other great forums include The Crit Prit and Reddit's Design Critiques.


8) Pick a passion project.

If you only listen to one piece of advice from this post, let it be this one.

We all know how hard it is to work on something you don't want to. It just plain sucks. Picking a project that you aren't passionate about will likely lead to frustration, as you'll likely feel reluctant to devote the time and effort necessary to complete the project. And you would be remiss to ignore the fact that, at some point in your career, you'll have to design something you may feel less than thrilled about.

But that likely won't occur until you've learned a thing or two and have advanced your design skills. In the beginning, it's OK to focus on passion projects.

When you're taking the time to teach yourself graphic design and the consequences -- like money lost on a wasted design class -- are minimal, passion is a major motivator. When you pick something you care about, you'll compel yourself to work through the frustration that comes with the sometimes tedious nature of design.

It'll also provide direction. Time and time again, the hardest part of learning design is not knowing what to design. Be decisive and choose something you can work on for a length of time.

What to Do Right Now

Align your interests or current situation with your projects. If you're a blogger, try creating the header image for your next post. Voice your willingness to work on an offer with your content team. Looking for a job? Redesign your resume and try to further your personal brand by creating a logo. There's a number of ways to work design into your day, but it's up to you to pick something that matters to you -- don't design something simply because you think you should.

And Above All

It's important just to get started. It's easy to be intimidated by the sheer amount of learning associated with graphic design, but remind yourself that even the most talented designers were newbies once, too.

What makes the creative field so special is that everyone's journey is unique -- there's no one way to approach DIY design. You'll find your own means to discern what you want and need to learn.

Design is an iterative process, so keep reworking your ideas and projects. As you progress, you'll develop your own workflow and one day that design that took you all day will only take you an hour. Trust me, I'm living proof.




Boring Graphics, chicago




Every small business needs to work with a graphic designer from time to time to create marketing materials and if its not managed well it can be a very time-consuming process and in some cases unsuccessful. From working extensively on both sides of the fence I have put together the following eight tips to help make the process a lot smoother and to give the client insight into how they can contribute to a successful outcome.


1. Be Realistic When Establishing Time Frames

Agree with the designer on the timeline for the project, and be clear on when you need things like the first draft, the final proof, and the print-ready piece. Understand, however, that some things in graphic design can be more time-consuming than you think. (For example, it only takes you a second to say “clean up that background,” but it could take the designer hours to do it depending on the image). Remember that there’s a lot of specialized skill and knowledge that goes into a professionally-designed piece.


2. Provide Examples

Providing examples of design work that you like is probably the single best way to fast-track the design process. A picture really is worth a 1000 words. You may not think that this is your “job” but it's important to understand that the graphic design process is a collaboration and the clearer you can communicate your vision (regardless of how refined it may be) the better. The designer can, and should, still come up with original work, but the examples give them a great starting point.


3. Don’t Expect Perfection in the First Draft

There’s a reason it’s called “a first draft.” It’s a starting point. Think of it as the first step on the path to a finished piece. This is where your input is crucial, and a good designer will appreciate your suggestions and constructive criticism.


4. Avoid Generalized Feedback

Unfortunately, there is nothing very constructive about “make it pop.” What, exactly does that mean? And what is a “wow factor?” Specific examples or descriptions are much more useful, and your designer will appreciate this input far more. It is one thing to give them creative freedom, it’s quite another to expect them to read your mind.


5. Consider the Components

There are five main components to graphic design. Commenting on them individually when giving feedback can be very helpful in narrowing down what you’d like to see in the finished piece. Sometimes, as the client, it can be hard to know exactly what you do and don’t like about that the design work. But just saying “I don’t like it” isn’t going to be very constructive. So breaking the design down into its components can make it easier for you to identify what you do and don’t like and it also makes it more constructive if you do say “I don’t like...the colors.” Here the five main components of graphic design:


  • Color
  • Fonts
  • Images
  • Layout
  • Overall Aesthetic


6. Don’t be Too Controlling

Always allow a space for the graphic designer's input and creativity. One dynamic that can happen if the client is very particular or if they lose faith in the designer is that they start to direct every little design change and start to micromanage the designer. The designer slowly gets excluded from the creative process and at some point, they may eventually give up artistic input altogether. When this happens the job can start to slide down a very precarious path.

Usually in a situation like this what has happened is that the designer doesn’t know exactly what you want, you have mistaken that for them being a bad designer and you have felt that you need to take control. A good designer will know how to remedy this. But if you feel this is happening the best thing to do is step back, get some altitude, talk to the designer and try to clarify with visual examples exactly what you want. Then the project can get back on track.


7. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions

You are paying the designer for a creative process and point of view, but you’re the boss. If the image they selected confuses you, ask them to explain it. Rein them in if necessary. If it confused you it may confuse your audience as well.


8. Know When to Say When

It’s never going to be perfect. It’s easy to obsess and lose perspective when you are too close to something. Step back, take a deep breath, and always try to view it from the point of view of your target audience. If you are very close but just can’t seem to get exactly what you’re looking for perhaps it’s time to embrace what’s good about it and move on.

Design is a subjective process and there is no set-in-stone “right-way” to go about it. But it is a collaborative process and understanding that process, having realistic expectations, patience and excellent communication will go a long way towards a successful outcome.


Logo design is by far the most sensitive graphic design project simply because your logo is a such a defining representation of your business. If you ever get a new logo designed this is a must read: The 4 Fundamentals of Good Logo Design.

banner 1 boringgraphics.jpg



Banner 2 Boring Graphics.jpg