SXSW 2016 Perspectives

Written by
Poke Studio

Nick Farnhill, on PolTech

Last month saw the first London Mayoral digital hustings hosted at the Here East creative campus. A captive audience of almost 1000 delegates, representing commercial and public sector interests, sat ready to hear what Sadiq, Zac & co had to say about our city’s digital future. What followed was a disappointing although, on reflection, recognisable response - disappointing as the candidates could not have faced a more open minded and progressive audience; recognisable as we have all witnessed how even a city as “connected” as London, struggles to keep pace with the opportunities tech presents.

As we set off for SXSW 2016, I feel the usual fizz of excitement and optimism that this trip always delivers. The digital hustings elicited the opposite response. Whether it be notspots in Wapping, infrastructure investment in Westminster or attracting and keeping exceptional tech talent - these challenges are real and important and require a Mayor who has the vision and confidence to tackle them.

Public issues and policy have never been far from the stage at SXSW. One of the most inspiring keynotes I've seen at the festival was with Jennifer Pahlka. As co-founder of Code for America she described how matchmaking software geniuses with US cities could reboot local services. But what gems does this year have in store…?

Using technology as a powerful force of good is a recurrent theme. This is especially true at the intersection of technology and open data and how this combination can empower citizens. America’s Chief Technology Officer, Megan Smith, will explore how the Obama administration is aiming to transform government services. Previously as joint Head of Moonshoots at Google[x], Megan is well practiced in 10x innovation and it will be exhilarating to hear how she is applying her experience to the most powerful country on the planet. 



Tom Hostler, on Smarter Cities

We’re told the world’s population is set to double in the next 30 years, which poses all sorts of problems and challenges for the planet. Not least, the obvious question of where will we all live and work?

Many are expected to embrace some form of urban living and working. Cities are the hubs of the global economy, and are the focal points for a domestic transformation, the like of which we’ve never seen before. Experts predict that by the middle of this century, it is anticipated that some 6.5 billion people will call a city home - a staggering rise of over 60% compared to today.

We can’t build entirely new cities to meet this demand, though there are plenty of genuinely new cities popping up in Asia & the Middle East, which will absorb some of this growth. It's clear that in tandem with genuine new development, we've got to rebuild and evolve our current cities to help meet this demand. Only when combined, can these two tactics will help us better utilise the one commodity we can't manufacture any more of - land. 

This societal challenge has long been predicted, which led to the rise of “Smart City” thinking over the last couple of decades - a broad concept that has two central areas of focus. 

The first is one of how architecture and the built environment can leverage technological advances to improve design and construction techniques in building, boost the performance and utilisation of dwellings, and better manage consumption of precious energy resources over their lifespan. 

The second is how a population communicates constantly with the city infrastructure via networks of active and passive sensors, informing each other on their intent and progress towards goals. It's man & machine working in perfect harmony, leading to optimisation of the environment they share.

Investment into Smart City solutions has never been higher, with much of it coming from the worlds construction giants. Experts predict a global market for smart city technologies and services to grow to over a staggering $1 Trillion by 2020.



Nicolas Roope, on Experience Design

A child laying down the rules of a new playground game to his peers, a restaurateur planning the theatrics of plate delivery in a new high class restaurant and a parent planning the annual holiday all have something in common. They’re all experience designers. 

They all have to carefully manage structural and operational consideration being careful to pre-empt cause and effect relationships to make sure outcomes are as positive as possible. The child wants a good game experience so players will return. The restaurateur wants that shining review that takes note of nuanced innovation in presentation and favourable, charged word of mouth. The parent creating the ideal holiday wants collective happiness and contentment but with the looming reality that weaknesses exist at every juncture of their plans, should reviews, contracts, deposits etc. break down at any point.

A “good” game, restaurant and holiday are all dependent on layer upon layer of consideration and design. Put too much emphasis on the operational side and it all gets too predictable, not enough and the tiny cracks that appear turn into disasters. Being too creative and progressive may equally lead to problems. Will these innovations add icing to the cake or provide focal points for criticism and ridicule? We know these scenarios all too well and we know when done well, they lead to memories that will last our lifetime and when done badly, ideally as-soon-as-they’re-forgotten-the-better. 

You see we’re all experience designers. We’re always engaged in processes that are trying to reconcile all the realities of a situation with the ambition to make things work the best they can for those involved, to inspire them and in turn to raise our own reputations, whether that’s as individuals or as brands.

So if “experience design” is everywhere, then why does it feel like such a new phenomenon? The answer comes from the legacy of what has preceded this moment in the communications industry. The dominance of linear, closed experiences such as printed images and films has stopped brands from understanding and planning brand experience, other than in ‘brand activations’ with their necessary limit on reach and access.