Southby Learnings, Part 1

My colleagues and I are connected via group.me for the duration of SXSW – there’s about ten of us going this year and most of them are visual designers. As we talk about what sessions we plan to attend, I’ve noticed that mine skew much more towards design thinking and theory rather than practical applications. I did want to take the time to summarize some of the best sessions I’ve been to, and how they influence the way I design.

Experience vs Ownership: The Rise of the Experience Economy

By far, my favorite session at Southby so far. Jennifer Hyman, CEO & Co-founder of renttherunway, spoke about the paradigm shift from wanting to own things (i.e. land) to wanting to experience things (i.e. dinner at a new restaurant) and then  broadcast it with our social networks. The important take-away was that as we create access to things we never thought possible, emotional resonance becomes a huge commodity and the service providing this experience must take care to brand themselves appropriately. The example Hyman gave was her own company, where it could have been perceived as gauche and disgusting to borrow previously worn clothing, but instead, the company was able to make it an emotionally valuable and special event.

Something I found interesting was that this talk was titled “Experience vs Ownership” – is it a true dichotomy? At some point, does the eCommerce space encompass both? Do you have the option to buy and become an owner? I hope someone is starting to track data for when someone becomes a experience consumer to a product consumer.

Hacking Cities for a Better, Sustainable Tomorrow

This panel was moderated by Bryan Walsh (Time Magazine Sr. Editor) and the panel consisted of Erika Diamond (Recyclebank, VP Community Solutions), Abhi Nemani, (Code for America, Dir of Strategy), and Rachel Haot (City of New York, Chief Digital Officer). The core topic of this panel was how digital media could help effect change for citizens, and how we could be a part of that movement. At the fundamental level, though, what all these panelists were saying is that data is king. Without data, there is no API, there is no visual representation of what we know. My concern with topics like this is that it always seems to be top-down change; I actually asked the panelists during the Q/A section in what ways are these datasets sustained and consumed within these communities long after hackers get the data they need for study. What I interpreted to be the answer was that those datasets are (hopefully) embedded into a government’s infrastructure (no promises). When I think about the type of design I can practice one day, it’s often in the context of social good or commons – how do we use it to facilitate multi-use spaces, create opportunity for people to engage with each other and access information? And I hope that when I work on these types of issues, design facilitates communities with sustainable resources and knowledge.

Comedy Tech: How Funny Stuff Shapes Our Future

This was a surprisingly great panel consisting of Heather Knight (Marilyn Monrobot, CEO), Joel Warner (The Humor Code, Journalist), Peter McGraw (The Humor Code, Associate Professor of Marketing & Psychology at UC Boulder), and moderated by Alf LaMont (Adler Integrated Marketing, Chief Content Officer). One of the best insights from the session came from Heather Knight, who codes robot comedians (! Her robot can gauge how funny the audience finds it!!). She was talking about her experience in speaking with other comics and trying to see how she could make her robot even more funny and the theme they came back to was that the robot had to be relatable, and in this case, it meant that the robot has to acknowledge it’s a robot. Once that character has been established, we can “relate” to it insofar as we can put ourselves in the character’s shoes. This relates pretty directly to another short session I saw on how likeability gains trust: in essence, the more honest organizations are at revealing themselves, the more trust is accumulated, and the more likeable it is. In terms of designing a system, it means there’s space to be fun and to play with, but also that it can reflect the sensibility of a company. It was a nice reminder that an audience’s perception of your organization effects just how they’ll respond to your attempts at engaging them.

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