Design is Conscious | Sam Nevarez | TEDxMSJC | Summary and Q&A

September 28, 2023
TEDx Talks
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Design is Conscious | Sam Nevarez | TEDxMSJC


Design is a conscious, evolving force that uses us to shape itself and progress, as seen in historical examples like the Mayans and modern applications like AI.

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Key Insights

  • 🎨 Design is a conscious and evolving force that progresses alongside technology, shaping our future.
  • 🎨 Historical examples, like the Mayans' intentional design in Chichen, showcase how design can anchor knowledge and create significant moments.
  • 👤 Design influences various fields beyond aesthetics, such as civil engineering, hydrology, and user experience.
  • 👻 AI is becoming integral to the design process, allowing for data-informed decisions, automation, and improved efficiency.
  • 🌍 Design is increasingly mirroring the patterns and behavior observed in the natural world, creating harmonious and efficient systems.
  • 🏑 Fields like civil engineering and hydrology are incorporating design principles to drive progress and ensure safety.
  • 🤔 Design prompts self-critique and logical thinking, paving the way for problem-solving and innovation.


over the years I've had the opportunity to work for multiple companies in San Diego and Los Angeles I've worked as a user experience designer for American Addiction centers which is a company that helps people with uh substance abuse the other company I've worked for is internet brands and over the years I've um I've had the opportunity to understa... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How did the Mayans use design in Chichen?

The Mayans used design in Chichen to anchor knowledge, particularly in physics and astronomy. They created structures and intentional placements that produced significant moments like the equinox's shadow forming a snake-like figure.

Q: How does design impact fields like civil engineering and hydrology?

Design plays a crucial role in civil engineering and hydrology. For example, the design of roads and turns takes into account factors like weight distribution and water runoff to ensure safe transportation. It connects diverse professions and leads to progress in these fields.

Q: How does AI impact design?

AI is creating a shift in how design is approached. It introduces a new form of thinking into the existing feedback loop, enabling more data-informed decisions and streamlining processes. AI can automate tasks, improve efficiency, and even assist in problem-solving and decision-making.

Q: How is design mirroring the natural world?

Design is increasingly reflecting elements of the natural world. Examples include brain-inspired networks that mimic human neural pathways, citadels mirroring protective behavior observed in bees, and transportation systems mirroring the coordination seen in ant colonies.


In this video, the speaker shares his experience and perspective on design, highlighting its evolution and impact on various aspects of our lives. He discusses historical examples like the Mayans' use of design in architecture, as well as modern-day examples such as user experience audits and the integration of artificial intelligence into the design process.

Questions & Answers

Q: How has design evolved over time?

Design has evolved significantly over time, especially with advancements in technology. The speaker mentions how he has worked for different companies and seen design progress in terms of understanding user behavior and utilizing technological advancements to create better digital products.

Q: How did the Mayans use design in their architecture?

The speaker shares his experience of visiting Chichen Itza, where he was impressed by the intentional and impactful design of Mayan structures. The Mayans used design to anchor different forms of knowledge, such as physics and astronomy, in their architecture. For example, the shadow produced by the pyramid El Castillo during the equinox created a snake-like figure, allowing them to understand the time of year and prepare for celebrations.

Q: How did the speaker incorporate his experience at Chichen Itza into his design portfolio?

Inspired by his visit to Chichen Itza, the speaker designed his own icons and animations themed around the Mayan pyramid. He created a representation of the pyramid with light emanating from it as a personal representation of his experience. He integrated these elements into his design portfolio, which can be seen on his website.

Q: How do we sometimes miss or dismiss design in everyday life?

The speaker discusses how we often overlook the intentional design behind everyday objects and infrastructure. For example, we might dismiss the design of tires that allow water to run off through grooves, keeping us safe while driving in the rain. He also mentions the design of road turns, calculated by civil engineers to ensure vehicle weight distribution. The way water is dispersed from roads during rain showcases the importance of design by hydrologists.

Q: How has data informed design impacted the speaker's understanding of design?

The speaker explains how his experience performing a user experience audit on a website taught him about data-informed design. Through analyzing user behavior data, he gained insights into user frustrations, session durations, and profitable funnels. This shifted his understanding of design beyond aesthetics to aligning design choices with business goals and addressing user needs through data analysis.

Q: How do Hicks Law and Miller's Law relate to design?

The speaker references these two laws from the book "Laws of UX" to showcase how human behavior influences design. Hicks Law suggests that the time it takes to make a decision increases with the complexity of choices, while Miller's Law states that the average person can only retain around seven items in their working memory. The speaker applies these laws to compare the cluttered experience of Craigslist to the more minimal and personalized experience of OfferUp.

Q: How does the feedback loop of design impact progress and filling in knowledge gaps?

The speaker describes design as a constant feedback loop that drives progress. As we build infrastructure and create solutions, advancements in technology and the insights we gain from design highlight gaps and areas for improvement. This loop impacts various aspects of our lives, ranging from our daily activities to safety measures. Design dictates where we should go and what we should achieve.

Q: How does the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) impact design?

The speaker explains that the increasing integration of AI into our daily lives is impacting how we view work and design. AI is disrupting various aspects, from writing emails to programming, and is embedded into many areas of our lives. By inputting more information into AI systems, we gain a better understanding of our resources and habits, allowing for improved efficiency and connectivity. AI can streamline processes and provide guidance, which influences our behavior and shapes the future of design.

Q: How does the speaker believe AI will impact our everyday lives in the future?

The speaker anticipates that AI will play a significant role in our lives by enhancing our understanding and interaction with various systems. He gives an example of using AI to determine the best time for a festival in Southern California based on the percentages of daylight and night throughout the year. AI's ability to learn from our inputs and integrate with technology will enable us to have better control over our environment and optimize our resources.

Q: What does the speaker want us to understand about design?

The speaker emphasizes that design is a method of problem-solving, which requires self-critique, logic, and comprehensive thinking. He sees design as a force that propels us forward and influences the way we think and build. Design is not just about aesthetics but is ingrained in various professions and fields, constantly shaping our progress and future.


Design has come a long way and continues to evolve with advancements in technology. It is not just about aesthetics but also about understanding user behavior and using data to make informed design choices. Design is a methodical and intentional process that impacts various aspects of our lives, from architecture to infrastructure. The integration of artificial intelligence adds a new dimension to design, streamlining processes and allowing for greater connectivity and efficiency. Through a constant feedback loop, design drives progress and fills in knowledge gaps. It shapes the way we think, build, and interact with our environment, using us to shape itself and the future.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The speaker has worked for multiple companies as a user experience designer, gaining insights on design's role in technology and digital product development.

  • Through a trip to Chichen, Mexico, the speaker discovered how the Mayans used design to anchor different forms of knowledge and create significant moments.

  • Design extends beyond aesthetics; it influences fields like civil engineering, hydrology, and user experience, driving progress and shaping the future.

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