TED, if you haven’t heard of it (and what’s wrong with you, if not?) is a vehicle for “Ideas worth spreading”. As an idea-driven person myself, I have enjoyed many, many TED talks on their website as well as through Facebook. For this post, I also reviewed their presence on Instagram. TED has a strong, bold, minimalist brand that highlights the content itself, but is still easily recognizable, as seen in the branding of the wildly-popular TEDx local events that are held around the world.
Here is their brand on their current website:
From the TED website
TED is a nonpartisan nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 110 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.
TED’s audience, as they’ve covered a broader range of topics, has become likewise, broad. Anyone interested in learning new things in a fairly pithy, time-respectful way. When I attended my local TEDx event, the audience consisted of the young, the old and the in-between. It was diverse in interest, in culture and in life story.
TED’s social presence shows use of at least three Seascape principles. The Presentation principle works well for them, as people care how they’re perceived online and will be pleased to share TED talk links to show that they’ve been learning. This is true for Value, as well. TED talks offer real educational value in a short timeframe for those who value lifelong learning, and don’t we all, really? At least in the subjects we care about. Third, TED benefits from the Zeitgeist of our modern internet age. The Ancient Greeks called it the “Agora Square” where there could be a free exchange of enlightened ideas. The early American settlers stood on crates and preached and teached to the town square on their “soapbox” platforms. Today, there has been a revival of the exchange of ideas through the internet, and TED seeks to elevate that discussion by picking some of the timeliest topics and strongest advocates to speak for them.
TED’s branding reflects this broad audience, with a highly-accessible brand. I’ll cover their design choices relating to Contrast, Typography, and Composition.
First, let’s notice (in the yellow draw-over) the contrast of TED as a logomark/brandmark. They exclusively use a modern, tri-color scheme (if it can be called that when two of the colors are black and white): Black, White and Pure Red. The TED letters are always in red. Occasionally, the TED lettering is encircled by, well, a circle, which is also a strong contrast with the angular letters.
In TED’s social channels, you’ll notice they employ “flat design” (no soft outlines, radii, shadows, etc) which also allows strong contrast between elements. TED’s photos tend to be high contrast: bold splashes of color, bright illumination on the subjects. On Instagram, TED allows more variety and uses illustrations as well as photos, making each post a little piece of art or visual candy. Sometimes, they visualize quotes as images. True to their flat design, they don’t make use of Instagram’s filters at all in their stream.
TED always uses bold, block, sans-serif lettering. Its main logo is so bold it nearly eliminates the spaces between the letters, yet because it is always used on a very light or very dark background, the letters are still clear. TED also seems to value ADA-compliance / accessibility because their standard font (“Helvetica Neue”) is usually featured large and clear. Also, the width of the font hints at technology, whereas a slender font would tend to say more of classical elegance. TED’s typography puts it comfortably in the cyber-world where content is king and style is second. They keep comfortable margins and line-heights, ensuring readability for their broad audience.
Here I’d like to call attention to the “hero” portion of their website. Notice the strong elements of contrast and typography, all working cohesively in the composition of the page. Also, notice that hierarchy is clear, with the featured talk twice the width of the secondary talks, giving your eye a place to start, and then to flow (if the first talk doesn’t interest you). Alignment, balance and symmetry are strong in the “card” layout, while the photos offer variety in the form of vivid color and very often feature the rule of thirds.
TED has strong online branding, so that when we look at any of their channels, we know we are looking at the official TED content, even though their brand elements, individually, are very simple. For example, the TED circle is often used like a giant punctuation mark under speakers’ feet, providing contrast with the mostly bare stage on which TED talks are often performed. This gives a sense of brand even though most content is from the speaker herself (in her voice, her person or her big-screen slide projections). TED’s reputation relies on the quality of the speakers themselves. But TED’s name recognition relies on a few well-designed elements that together enhance the experience of their product.
*TED is adding a new show to their brand, a FB life show about neuroscience. For the show, they’ve added a color to the brand palette: green. It is a little softer than their typical hues and works well as a subsidiary color to the trademark red. The typography on the show remains true to the blocky lettering they are known for.