All posts by racheltobias


After every talk this week, we would see these gorgeous speaker caricatures pop up on our Instagram feed. Intrigued by the hashtag #TEDdraw and the artwork, we reached out to Gabriel Campbell and his team to learn more about what they were doing.


Gabriel Campbell, Arian Behzadi and Kimberley Chambers are part of the Experience Design team (XD) at Adobe. They are a team of designers, developers, project managers and researchers who are passionate about creativity and love building tools to delight and inspire the next generation of creatives. Kimberley gave us a great run-down of what they were up to all week:

“During the entire week of TED 2014, Adobe hosted a Drawing Lab in Vancouver for attendees to encourage conversations about drawing and invite them to try their hands at our upcoming creative hardware: a cloud connected pen (Project Mighty) and a digital ruler (Project Napoleon) for the iPad. This creative hardware was conceived and designed by XD. We believe that drawing is a fundamental part of literacy and that everyone can draw. Throughout the week, countless drawings by attendees were broadcast live and shared across social media using #TEDdraw.

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In keeping with the theme of TED “Ideas worth spreading,” we wanted to share our passion for creativity and the team’s exploration around the future of drawing and creativity with fellow TEDActive attendees. So we packed the prototype hardware in our bags and headed for the mountain!

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Throughout the week, we enjoyed many fun conversations with fellow attendees about drawing and creativity. During the speaker sessions, Gabriel created caricatures of every TED speaker using Mighty, Napoleon and the companion app for iPad, Project Parallel.

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To learn more about our team and our work, check out our online portfolio on Behance here.”

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Speaker caricatures and gorgeous header image created by Gabriel Campbell. Gabriel is an artist and experience designer at Adobe, having recently been selected by IxDA for a design award for his work on Adobe Kuler for iPhone. Gabriel draws upon his eclectic and risible background in the fine arts, scenic design, engineering and illustration to create user-centered experiences in the creative arts. 

Ads Worth Spreading: A Brief from TED

“We’re all gathered here to celebrate Ads Worth Spreading,” announced co-hosts Cindy Gallup and Abigail Posner, dressed head to toe in Zara, or “recession-chic” as they called it. “We are going to see the creative approach about how we think TED can spread its own ideas.”

But the conversation quickly took on a bigger and broader question, as conversations at TED often do. What we were really here to talk about, Cindy revealed, is what the future ads worth spreading will be.


Earlier in the week, Google’s Creative Director Ben Jones had discussed the opportunity to create impactful and meaningful content within the context and the mediums that the world of digital media has to offer. What happens when we ask people the really fundamental questions, like the Doador Sport Campign, for example? How can we create structures that people can and want to participate in, with platforms like Kiva or calls to action like Amanda Palmer’s TEDTalk? How might we create brand ambassadors though the content we create, as Heineken has done with its #Dropped experiment? With so many new kinds of content and mediums with with to capture peoples’ attention, Ben says, “amazing is always on the other side of yes.”

So what should advertisers be saying yes to?

“We need to delve deeper into the nature of our relationship to the different digital spaces that we play in,” Abigail says. Instead of just putting content on a mobile screen, she explains, how can we leverage the insight that mobile is a way for us to build and share culture?

From Cindy’s perspective, we also need to be saying yes to advertising. She points to an almost universal, fundamental belief that advertising is a bad thing. This belief, she points out, exists here at TED, among consumers of advertisments, and among advertisers themselves. We can’t leverage the great things technology and creativity have to offer if we continue believing this to be true, she notes. “The future is about creative collaboration in a way that assumes positive intent on both sides, and that enables us to do our best work together,” says Cindy. “Despite what everybody else thinks, we absolutely have the ability to change the world, just as much as any other speaker you’ve seen on stage this week.”


Over the course of this week at TEDActive, advertising gurus, AWS nominators and judges, as well as the winning ads themselves, came together around TED’s Ads Worth Spreading initiative to think about creating some new ads worth spreading to solve some of TED’s biggest challenges. Ads Worth Spreading began in 2011, to “recognize and reward innovation, ingenuity and intelligence in advertising,” that is, ads that spread an idea through powerful and meaningful connections with their audience. This year, ten winners embodied powerful and transformative work with the power to change the world. You can watch the winning pieces here.

With facilitation led by IDEO, winners, nominators and leaders alike, split into three teams, each handed a brief and three days to design a compelling pitch, the winner of which would be awarded $25K in seed funding by TED to bring this idea to life. The outcome reflected the curious, innovative and proactive spirit that TEDActive is all about.


Think Globally, Act Locally
Create a campaign that tells people how to become a part of the volunteer community of TEDx.

How can TED better tell the stories of local change and engagement? How can we reach everyone who wants to get involved with TED and make a difference in their communities?

Tom Wong (TBWA) and Ben Jones (Google) presented for the group. Ben shared how during dinner the night before, he sat next to Ilwad Elman, a young woman who grew up in Ottowa, but returned to her home country of Somalia after the assassination of her father, to carry on his human rights work with her mother through their Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Mogadishu, and has used the TEDx platform to connect with her community and others around her ideas. “This isn’t just playing around with a brief,” says Ben. “This is incredibly, incredibly important.”

TEDx is a great gateway product to get involved with a much larger brand, explain Tom and Ben. “We want to help turn TEDx organizers from a power to a great big superpower. Local action, global impact.” This group had several concepts, including TEDxMe, which makes everyone a TEDx organizer at an atomic level and lowers the barrier so that anyone can immediately do so through personalized TEDx playlists. Another, called TEDxEveryday filters personally-tailored TEDx talks to the user based on the amount of time they have to watch. A third (and there were several beyond this) entitled BatSignal, was a way to connect TEDx communities to help each other with common challenges. This collection of offerings centered around a core belief that “local is not measured from where my feet are, it’s measured from where my heart is.”


Youth and Education
Design a strategy to help create awareness of the TED-Ed ecosystem and its potential. 

How might we reimagine the current TED-Ed videos to reach the common person, strike chords in people, and generate emotional investment?

John Mescall (McCann Australia) and Kate Smither (Ogilvy & Mather) shared a plan for unlocking the TED-Ed potential. “There are 2 billion youth in the world. They’re curious souls, but they’re at a time in their life where they’re put into a school system, told to be less curious, not ask why or why not.” From ages 0-9 and 18-18, we’re told to go out and try things, make things, do things. But from ages 10-17, we’re told to sit, be patient, absorb, and wait.  Where TED-Ed can play is in this middle section, where students are made to wait.

You’re not ready. Wait your turn. Pay your dues. You’re just a kid. This is the message we’re telling kids at a time when they’re most excited about the world. What we need to tell them, say Kate and John, is to be impatient. “If you have something inside of you, go learn about it, go do it. You do not need to wait your turn or be taught something by the system.” What their team created was an unlockable device, aimed at 14-year olds. To unlock it, you need to know something you might not traditionally know until age 17 or 18. You can wait to play the game until then, says John, or you can be impatient and use TED-Ed to learn what you need to know to unlock it. “Kids have never been more ready to blaze their own trail and make their own destiny.” And here’s how.


The Ripple Effect
Tell the story of the ripple effect of one idea, to inspire others. And build a clear incentive for people to push ideas forward. 

How might we amplify an idea that can change the world, bring it to the attention of people with the ability, drive and imagination to make a difference?

When an idea worth spreading spreads, what does it create? Georgia Challis (Wieden & Kennedy) and Jesse McMillin (Virgin America) presented for their group. “TED is about ideas worth spreading – big, inspiring, touching, brain-expanding ideas. They’re so big, they can feel daunting to the rest of us.” How do we help those of us who aren’t going to stand on the TED stage understand the key role they have in spreading an idea. How do we compel them to be more than just viewers?

Georgia takes us through their treatment, a action-inspiring piece that shows the impact that sharing can have on the proliferation of an idea. We see a speaker on the TED stage, ready to begin a talk, but seemingly struggling to begin. Then we see someone share his talk online and he begins to proceed. Then another, then another. The shares are powering his talk, making him come alive. “It takes many people to deliver a TEDTalk,” says Georgia. “One person stood on stage, a million people spoke. Share TED.”

After each pitch had been presented, the group talked about the potential for implementation of each idea. Not able to decide on a final one (they were all so great!), the folks at Ads Worth Spreading decided to take the ideas back into TED for further discussion. Stay tuned!

After Blackfish

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of TED.

I was five the first time I visited SeaWorld, completely overwhelmed with awe, as any five-year old would be, with the beauty and immensity of the killer whale. Sitting anxiously in the splash zone, I was sure that any droplets of Shamu water had some kind of Neptunian anointing power that might bring me closer to this beautiful animal. From that day on, I contemplated how I might moonlight as a mermaid to swim with the local gray whales migrating down the coast. I held bake sales at my elementary school to raise money for the endangered right whale. I took every possible opportunity to write papers and do presentations on whales, until my teachers made me choose to do something else. For more years than not I was certain, absolutely certain, that I wanted to be a whale trainer at SeaWorld.

I took Blackfish pretty hard.

And as I’ve watched the story unfold over the past year and seen the different reactions of those around me, I’ve begun to question my own reactions and assumptions.

Earlier this week, Scott Gass spoke on the TEDYou stage about the cooperative power of the killer whale. Scott is the Director of Zoological Communications and Interpretation at SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. While he did not cover Blackfish in his short, but fascinating 6-minute talk, he invited anyone interested to discuss the film with him throughout the week at TEDActive. I jumped at the chance.

Scott grew up in the midwestern United States, more than a thousand miles from the closest seashore. From an early age, however, he was captivated with the sea, and ravenously consumed everything he could to feed his passion. When he was a bit older, Scott’s family moved to the Florida Keys, where finally, the ocean was at his fingertips, and after pursuing a degree in biochemistry, he showed up at SeaWorld for what originally meant to be a year off before going to grad school. Nearly 20 years later, he now spends most of his time at SeaWorld focusing on ways to better connect people to the animals and habitats living at SeaWorld, as well as the issues these species face.

As you might expect, Scott has an opinion about Blackfish, and given his background, it’s a particularly informed one. “It’s not that everything that is portrayed in Blackfish is wrong or untrue,” he says. “But there is a whole host of stuff in the film that is highly manipulated, highly twisted and turned, and started from a very distinct viewpoint. You’re being manipulated throughout the course of this film.” Where the film shows you one thing, they’ll say another, Scott explains. He points to an example where one of the former trainers featured in the film, Samantha Berg, is sharing the story of her first time in the water with a killer whale, while the overlaid footage is of another trainer altogether. This is only one of many misrepresentations and untruths, he notes.

One of Scott’s biggest frustrations, and one which with I empathize, is that Blackfish severely undermines the passion and intent of the employees of SeaWorld, in particular the trainers. “I work with these folks every single day,” says Scott. “My wife is an animal trainer. I know for certain their passion, their position, the things that are driving them, and the way decisions are being made about how to care for the animals. To try and suggest that anything other than what’s best for the animals is what these people are about, is just dishonest.”

My conversation with Scott reiterated what we’ve been hearing from SeaWorld over the past nine months or so; it is worth noting that the purpose this conversation (and this article, for that matter) was not to debate which parts of the movie were true and which were false. But whether or not you agree with or believe what he’s saying, he brings up a good point. I think it’s important to recognize that when we’re talking about Blackfish, we do so with the understanding that this film is designed to send a very specific message. It has an agenda. And while I’m compelled by the premise and the evidence put forth by the film, I’m equally as interested in the other sides of the story, and even more interested in the questions that have arisen in its wake.

What is so exciting about this conversation is that it provides us with a new opportunity to reimagine what could be. Interestingly enough, I think Blackfish and SeaWorld actually have the same mission, and are both succeeding wildly at it, which is to inform and encourage people to care about protecting whales, and by extension, our oceans. “It’s important for folks always to be asking or thinking about the welfare of the animals being maintained in zoological settings,” says Scott. I couldn’t agree more.

Which brings us to this big, hairy question that we’re all facing now (new legislation proposed in California is fast-tracking an answer), which is: Should whales be in captivity at all?

I think this is fundamentally the wrong question. The question we should be asking is, what do we want our relationship with nature, in this case whales, to look like in the near future?

Now I’ve already told you how SeaWorld changed my life, and I’m certain there are many others who share my same story. What SeaWorld has done over the past 50 years, has actively and deeply engaged generations of children and adults with the sea. When you first see a killer whale, up close, there’s an undeniable emotional transformation that occurs, at least for most. Scott and I share the same take here. “Most folks are never going to have a chance to see, let alone be close to, a killer whale, a shark, a penguin. For the vast majority of my childhood, I’d never even seen a starfish up close.” And if we’re disconnected from animals that we’re actually capable of accessing, like killer whales or dolphins or sea turtles, it’s less likely we’re going to be engaged with the ones that we may never see, such as endangered blue whales for example. “I don’t care about something, I don’t think about something, I don’t act on something’s behalf unless I’m emotionally engaged, and have had some sort of direct kind of connection to it,” Scott says. SeaWorld has made these connections for people not only with killer whales, but with sea turtles, manatees, and hundreds of other species that need our help. Not to mention, over the last 50 years, SeaWorld has rescued and rehabilitated more than 23,000 animals, funded wildlife research globally, and shed light on behaviors and characteristics of animals that we might not have been able to determine from studying them in the wild.

However, there is something that does feel painfully unnatural about keeping such a powerful animal in a tank. I honestly believe SeaWorld when they say that their facilities are state of the art, and that the animals lead healthy, relatively happy lives in these parks. But that doesn’t change the pang of guilt I feel as that powerful rush of adrenaline runs through my veins while I stand nose to nose with a whale in what is a very large swimming pool. Scott and I talked about performances, and he believes the assumption that it is innately damaging or disparaging to the whales to engage in public performance display is false. And this is where our opinions begin to diverge slightly. While certainly educational in many ways, the Shamu show, in my opinion, can often feel a bit like spectacle, and somewhat inauthentic to the majesty of the whale. That’s not to say that the show is without educational and emotional value. Indeed, their killer whale show has evolved significantly in the recent past. For example, for the past four years, trainers have no longer performed in the water with the whales, and the newest iteration of show emphasizes more than ever our responsibility to protect and respect the ocean. Scott spends a lot of time thinking about and crafting experiences, from digital experiences that put you in the shoes (flippers?) of a sea turtle, to the newest Shamu show, called “One Ocean.” For Scott and his colleagues, the message that comes through, more than anything, is the most important part. “Every moment must be considered, and designed, and made impactful on behalf of the species in our care.”

Performance has the opportunity to be a key educational platform, and on that front I think SeaWorld has room for improvement. For example, I would love to learn more about the whales’ natural and group behaviors through a performance experience. With its immense brand power, SeaWorld can shape how we as a society define the expectations around the zoological experience. “I’m certain it’s not impossible to create a very entertaining show that also feeds the mind and gets you super engaged with what’s going on,” Scott says. I’m certain too, but I don’t think we’ve totally hit the mark, yet.

Take killer whales away from SeaWorld and out of the public eye, and we risk something very grave: A world where it is difficult to generate empathy for and personal and emotional connections to creatures whose species and habitat desperately warrant our attention and care. Killer whales aren’t just iconic of SeaWorld, they are an icon of the ocean, says Scott. They’re the most broadly distributed mammals in the world – save for ourselves – and have a direct relationship with a dizzying array of species. There’s an argument to be made here that killer whales have become critical, sacrificial ambassadors for the ocean, and that the role they play in a place like SeaWorld and for children like myself is critical not only to the long-term survival of their species, but to the survival of the entire ocean. “If our job is to connect people to the ocean, the quickest and most powerful way we can do that is with killer whales.”

Which brings me to my final point and my challenge to the TEDActive community. Blackfish has created some great discussions about the nature of the relationship between humans and whales. But this need not be a war, nor a crusade against SeaWorld. I don’t think it requires a hard and fast decision about whales or no whales, and taking down SeaWorld is, quite simply, a ridiculous proposition.

Rather, what I see here is one of the greatest design challenges our collective generations, together with SeaWorld and its stakeholders, have the opportunity to solve. Within this challenge, these are some of the questions we might begin to answer:

How might we reimagine the zoological experience with regard to both habitats and public display to be more authentic to the animals’ size, natural behaviors and group interactions?

How might we create an engaging performance experience that increases the educational value but dials down the degree of pure spectacle?

How might we redefine our relationship to killer whales?

Earlier this week, Scott shared some 1979 footage of a pod of killer whales hunting a blue whale. This hunt required patience, calculation, and collaboration. Different skills across different whales were leveraged at different times for different outcomes. And in the end, these whales had taken down the most immense creature on planet, a whale that is five times longer and 40 times heavier than a single orca. Talk about a whale of a challenge.

Instead of divisive measures and hateful language, can we work together to attack this problem in a way that leverages the best of what we all have to offer? Can we take what we’ve learned from the killer whale and practice cooperation, coordination and collaboration? Scott ended his talk on Tuesday with this line, “No matter how big the challenge, while it might be beyond you or I, it is not beyond us.”

So this is my call to TEDActive, SeaWorld, and the collective community of ocean ambassadors: what are we going to do together?

The header image of this post was taken by @heaterholder the day before TEDActive began just down the road in the Squamish Blind Channel, where onlookers witnessed an incredible display of orcas hunting a pod of dolphins.