​Designing for better lives - tales from SXSW

Jun 20, 2019, 12:36 PM

South by Southwest is known as the conference for creatives that outgrew into a festival for everyone. And by creatives, I mean all kinds of creative people involved in film, music, business, and – to a greater extend nowadays – digital design. A team of four nitoreans flew across the Atlantic to find out what this event might offer.

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SxSW kicked off with themes that touched the softer side of humanity. Esther Perel reasoned that our work environments are based on human relationships and we should prioritize them. Having our emotions tied to the service society we should start building feedback loops with each other, starting with ourselves.

”If we live in this era of interruptive technology. We need to go towards the opposite. The opposite of that is Calm technology, where your attention is respected as a human being” – Amber Case, Cyborg anthropologist

Following on the same theme, Kristina Bonitz and Pamela Pavliscak noted that screen time had doubled in a couple of years and it was about time to take action and design for calm tech. According to Amber Case calm tech is an extension of people's lives instead of being something that intrudes into our daily chores. This screen addiction is something that screen time strategies haven’t been able to remove.

Another perspective at the conference was the eminent rise of health tech industry. The abundance of technology available really doesn’t have substance if it’s not harnessed to improve people’s lives.

With the European Union’s directive for web and mobile accessibility coming into effect in 2018, inclusivity can no longer be an afterthought in public services. A panel discussion on inclusivity busted some myths.

Accessibility is expensive, but not if you start doing it early in the design process. Accessibility is difficult, but not if you get a little more educated about the subject. Designers should make it part of their demands and advocate an inclusive mindset. The first step to improve inclusivity is being open to direct feedback. This is something that too often is still overlooked. Inclusivity is really something that we need to see as beneficial for us all.

“design is so lost right now and it’s a problem” – John Maeda

The long-awaited annual #designintech report by John Maeda was once again revealed at SXSW. The cloud has now fundamentally changed the way we operate but the ethical worries have not dissolved. We see AI as a very efficient tool but also as something that requires understanding of fundamental ethics.

Maeda pointed out that “design is so lost right now and it’s a problem”. This is something that we have experienced since the beginning of digital design. It encompasses so many areas that the discipline might seem difficult to grasp even though at its core it has remained the same.

Josh Clark saw machine learning as new design material that can’t be fully controlled yet augments our decision making. Clarissa Peterson listed real-life examples about how bad software or policies can cause damage to us. Algorithms can save lives but when not done right they can truly make our lives worse. These notions bring up the responsibility of design to the fore.

As designers we are responsible in making the future happen and at the same time making sure it is one that we would want to live in.

Technological singularity where there are more possibilities than we are producing is at our hands. There is still so much more that we can achieve through technology which should make everyone excited. We just need to keep our minds clear about the higher purpose so we can make great services and products that support people’s lives.

After appearances by Hollywood stars like Elisabeth Moss and music icons like the Beastie Boys, the festival is definitely not limited in any way. But nothing felt better than feeling inspired by the positive impact we are able to convey in our daily craft.

AUTHOR

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Niko Laitinen is a hybrid who is equally comfortable talking about design as well as its digital implementation. For over a decade, Niko has worked on all things digital in roles ranging from a Web Developer to a Start-up CTO and UX Designer to a DesignOps Coach. Recently he's focused on elevating design organizations for an emergent market fit and experimenting with new ways of interaction through machine learning. On his freetime he cherishes every moment he can play the electric guitar