Below is a summary of each session I attended on Sunday, March 11th, 2018 at SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. I'm mostly following the design track with a focus on UX. The summaries below are my personal interpretations of each presentation and it's possible that my summary may not be entirely accurate to the intentions of the speaker(s), as these summaries have been transcribed from my messy notes in my sketchbook, and I'm just a human. I've notated direct quotes as such and did my best to be explicit about my original thoughts or inquiries.
POWER WOMEN BREAKFAST //
Katie Couric was the headliner guest speaker for the breakfast. She spoke about her career, her new series with National Geographic that will premiere on April 11th titled America Inside Out, and Stand Up to Cancer.
Her National Geographic premiere will be a six-part documentary. She spoke about how our news cycle, more than ever, is so quick and surface level. It's rare to get deeper dives into issues and many important issues and stories aren't being covered in the mainstream. This series sees Katie traveling the US and sitting down with people to do deeper dives into some of the most contentious topics in American culture today, such as; feminism, the working class, muslims in America, white anxiety, & technology addiction.
The next two women who took the stage were Christine Lubrano of IFC (she is senior VP of original programming and oversees such shows as Portlandia) and Camila Jimenez, who is the CEO of FMG Studio at Fusion Media Group. The host for these two superrad women was a strategic futurist named Nancy Giordano, who is the CEO/Founder of her company, Play Big.
This talk was animated and inspiring. These women spoke about the evolution of their careers and especially how they've gained confidence and become unapologetic over time in regards to holding their space as women in male-dominated environments. They spoke about these things (or, at least, these are the things I jotted down in my sketchbook):
- 50/50 gender balance by 2020 movement
- how TV is a place that's leading the way in gender parity
- in television, we need to create wolds that are reflective of what's around us
- confidence; we're all making it up (men/women/etc)
- be less risk averse
- Carol Gilligan's work as a social scientist and how she defined how man and women internalize success vs. failure differently. When men succeed, the attribute the success to themselves while women give credit to external forces such as their team or luck. When men experience failure, they tend to pass the blame onto external forces or people while women tend to take responsibility for the failure.
LEARNING UX FROM BOARD GAMES // Stephen Anderson, Capital One
This was my first taste of failure at SXSW. I arrived about 15 minutes early, took my place in the line, made it within 10 places from the door and was informed that the venue was full and we wouldn't be let in. I tried to listen from the street, but it was futile. Bummed to miss this one. A similar thing happened when we tried to get into the Melinda Gates keynote speech.
Key take aways : Confrontation is necessary for growth and we should seek to design back into our products space for meaningful confrontation as a way to facilitate growth.
Steve expressed his concern for how our digital products are (intentionally or unintentionally) seeking to remove friction from our lives. His problem statement is this:
"When we remove all friction, we remove opportunities for serendipity, confrontation, and personal growth."
And then proceeded to look at what each of these points mean.
GROWTH : as people and as a society, we value personal growth. We'd also love a shortcut, but what if it's not that easy? And shouldn't be? He touched on the passtime of mindlessly scrolling through a feed (IE Instagram) and asked where the opportunity for meaningful engagement is. He referenced the CDC report about teen depression and suicide links to smart phone use (referenced in this article). He also said these things about social media platforms:
- they create echo chambers that highlight our differences rather than our shared values
- they pull us apart rather than bring us together (AGC summary: they remove empathy in favor of oversimplifying individuals values and viewpoints, which drives us further away from shared values/common ground and/or creates a perception that we no longer have any shared values.)
So, what can we do? Design confrontation back in. Develop a mindset that confrontation is good, that we can confront difficult topics and situations and work through them. We can systemically design space for confrontation back into our digital products and, through this process, encourage growth.
SIDENOTE: listening to Steve's session reminded me of this stencil/drawing I made for a color design class a few years ago. It's a critique of an ad for a smart phone, the main copy read: No Boundaries. I didn't work in digital at the time I made this poster assignment for my class, but my sentiments about mindless consumption at the expense of authentic human interaction remains the same today.
"A persons success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have." - Timothy Ferriss
There are three places where Steve suggests we design confrontation into our lives;
"Every time we withhold, we're robbing ourselves and our colleagues of opportunities to learn." - Steve
Steve thinks we should confront our colleagues. He referenced this Tedx Talk with Amy Edmondson. She studied teams in medical fields and initially saw that better teams (better as in, better numbers/reviews/other quantifiable measures) were making more mistakes. After she dug deeper into this finding, she realized that they weren't necessarily making more mistakes, but they were reporting and confronting their mistakes so they could learn from them. So, on paper, they made more mistakes then other, less successful, teams.
Steve has implemented something he calls Real Talk on his team. He said any team can do it, you just need to create a reoccurring calendar event :) This is a time and space that he has set aside to listen to what his team has to say and encourage respectful confrontation. His pro tip here is to drink less coffee since it heightens anxiety in an already emotionally charged situation. I'm not quite there (I love my coffee too much), but he has a point.
2. Customers: The examples of companies currently confronting their customers;
Wii sports - they've programmed into their product a 'why don't you take a break?' inquiry at specific time intervals. There's an image of an open window with a blue sky and wispy drapes, clearly suggestive of taking a break from digital life for some RL
Netflix - 'Are you still watching?' feature after x amount of episodes
AirBnB - the CEO believes that companies have a responsibility to improve society. They implemented a tolerance clause before you're allowed to make an account. In super-abbreviated summary, their nondiscrimination policy requires users to agree to treat all people with respect.
Dicks Sporting Goods - they raised their minimum age for buying all guns and are discontinuing the sale of assault rifles. I read this article the day it came out, positive steps.
The Paradox of Tolerance is a philosophical concept defined by Karl Popper in the WWII era. It was presented in the context of customers having push back for a change in policy, such as with AirBnB's tolerance clause. As with all change, there was negative feedback from some users. So, it makes sense to to adopt this sentiment:
- A tolerant society must be tolerant
- For tolerant societies to exist, we must be intolerant of intolerance.
"The most creative opportunity you have as a designer is to confront yourself and decide how to live your life" - Steve Selzer
Steve did a few bold things to confront and challenge himself:
- He deleted his social media apps from his phone (Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat)
- He started boxing 4-5 times per week. He has to confront the morning (not a morning person), confront his opponents. He's also built a community around the new sport and the members of his boxing community are confronting him often. Steve acknowledged that athletes are very familiar with confrontation of self (which is very true).
- He started making pottery in a ceramics studio. He enjoys how necessarily imperfect so many of the pieces are and he is fully engaged in the process and committed to learning from the failures.
Steve suggests reading Mark Manson's book; The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
In conclusion, Steve Selzer would like to know "Does my hypothesis hold true?"
He challenges everyone to confront something and share it with him @steveselzer on Twitter.
DECRYPTING THE UNIVERSE: SCIENCE & ART AT CERN // Laura Couto Rosado (artist/designer), James Beacham (particle physicist), Cécile Vulliemin (Project Leader for Art/Science Programs)
AGC's words: this summary might seem a little disjointed as this basically felt like a supershort crash course in particle physics.
Background: CERN is a French acronym for "Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire", or European Council for Nuclear Research. You can read ALL ABOUT what they do on their website.
James, the filmmaker-turned-particle-physicist, did a brilliant job of giving us a super high level summary of what CERN does with cool mini-slivers of slightly deeper dives into things (in which he spoke remarkably fast) and then came back to normal-people speak to explain, in simpler terms, what he meant by the tiny-sliver-slightly-deeper dive he just showed us. Realistically, it was still all just surface level, but was new to me.
Here are a few bullet points for easy/fun reading or casual fact-drops with your pals:
- CERN has the worlds largest particle accelerator. They call it the Large Haldron Collider (LHC for short
- LHC is 27km long and has two beams that make particles travel nearly at the speed of light
- They need these particles to travel fast so they can collide at speeds that attempt to replicate what happened when our galaxy was created
- The particles are accelerated using very large and very cold magnets (colder than outer space) and vacuums
- The LHC takes 3D images at the speed of 40 million times per second
- terminology: 1 collision = 1 event, 1 snapshot = 1 record.
A summary of things that I'm pretty sure James told us (hopefully I didn't f*ck this up too much):
- the particles in the LHC are protons
- Protons are made up of other things, such as quarks and gluons
- the quarks and gluons are able to interact in the very particular environment of the LHC
- the interaction of those things is what the physicists really want to see
- so they collide 2 point blank particles at incredible speeds
The non-intuitive nature of quantum physics (as explained by James Beacham, in story format, loosely summarized here): The particles smack together, and what happens is like this; say you have two cars and they collide. When they hit each other, they disappear, and what's left in their place is one bicycle. And then the bicycle disappears and two skateboards are left. The moment when the bicycle exists is the part in the middle, and that seems to be what these physicists are most interested in.
James also talked about dark matter. Astro physicists know that most things in the universe are missing. All the galaxies seem to be off somehow. Our calculations are always wrong, based on our current laws of physics. So, one of two things must be true; 1. gravity is wrong (highly unlikely), or 2. there must be more stuff that we can't see, as in, this stuff is not illuminated because it doesn't react to light and therefore it's imperceptible.
CERN offers a three month arts residency each year, since 2012. Naturally, it's called COLLIDE. The artist for 2017 was a woman named Laura Couto Rosado. She explained what her experience at CERN was like and how she developed a process. She had a brilliant energy and was clearly very grateful for her experience at CERN and also for the potential of what is happening there. By potential, I mean that on many scales; the potential for humanity, science, curiosity, Laura's personal artistic exploration. There were a few things she said that stuck with me and are quite poetic. She also made some beautiful animations, such as this:
Laura talked about the sculptural nature of so many of the physical pieces that make up the LHC and other parts of machines at CERN. There are so many cables. She said 'The colliders stimulate our imaginary'. She calls the project she's currently working on Quantum Nuggets and describes it as Form Follows Phenomena, which is a call to a common design concept of Form Follows Function. She also acknowledged how powerful the artist residency program is; 3 months of residency gives her 30 YEARS of material to digest and use to drive designs and art in her career. It pushed her to be analytical, establish a structure and constraints, and challenged her to consider how to shape the intangible to a form that is closer to everyday life, closer to everyday people in a way that's pleasing and visually consumable.
The artist residency program also has benefits for the scientists at CERN. James candidly acknowledges that, while the work being done at CERN is incomparably exceptional (it's the largest scientific organization whose work and research is NOT weaponizable), one still gets wrapped up in the monotony of the day-to-day at work. Having artists come in with a totally new perspective and curiosity is refreshing and allows him to remember to look at his work in new ways. It sounds like it's invigorating for the physicists as well.
This concludes my summary of my sessions for day 1. The last session of the day (Decrypting the Universe) was definitely the most mind-blowing and took me the longest to start to actually understand. I love the thing that happens when you hear of something for the VERY FIRST TIME and you're all like "what the hell is going on again". Sort of like the first time someone told you about Bitcoin. That's how I felt in this session when the artist started talking. And then the particle physicist chimed in, and then the back and forth and I was like WHAT JUST HAPPENED. So I couldn't stop thinking about it and I talked to Barb and Abby about it and then I digested my messy sketchbook notes and paired them with some google searches and more reading on the CERN website and now I understand what they told us in the session yesterday, And, as always, science is cool.