Creative tension, the future and design

Semi Permanent Conference Sydney 2018 - Carriageworks

Earlier this year, Lauren Swioklo and Jenna Tomkins attended Semi Permanent, a yearly conference that brings together designers, artists and creatives for a series of live events, presentations and workshops. Here they outline the key takeaways and their unique perspectives on them.

For Semi Permanent 2018, the theme was ‘creative tension’ which came to life throughout the presentations in a number of ways with a distinct focus on the future.

Three key takeaways stuck with us. They are:

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is powerful, present and changing design

AI is a topic on everyone’s lips and while the first thought many of us have when it’s mentioned is machine learning or robots (think Terminator), often we forget mediums such as Chatbots, Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant. At Semi Permanent, there was much discussion about the role of AI in our lives and whether it is going to help, hinder or take over our jobs completely.

Lauren: This was an inevitable topic when discussion turned to the future, but it was refreshing to be reminded that AI and machine learning are already entwined in so many existing products, programs and devices. Now, as designers, we’re facing a question of ethics. When imitating natural intelligence, have you gone too far if you can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not? We’re in a world where people are already concerned Facebook is listening to our conversations and people can’t tell if they’re talking to a real person or a robot on the phone. For the first time, as a designer, I’ve started to question the fine line between making things too lifelike and the negative reaction it can potentially have.

Jenna: AI is already being used to make our lives and work easier – it’s in the software we use daily and it’s only going to make processes faster and more efficient over time. Even Adobe Photoshop is working with AI to learn and detect the subject in shots and automatically separate it from the background. While it isn’t going to make retouching instantaneous, it’s going to save a lot of time, particularly for concepting. Can we also train the AI to read my mind and make the composition instantaneous, please?

Rapha Vasconcellos from Facebook’s Creative Shop.

Design for trust not fear

Alex Schleifer, VP of design at Airbnb, delivered a great in-depth talk about the importance of trust in modern design and how trust is an exchange the between brand and consumer. While it used to be a one-way street now, it goes both ways. Consumers want authenticity and transparency from brands and to gain that trust, brands are having to trust consumers in return.

Alex also touched on the importance of implementing brand trust all the way down into UX and UI design and cited the example of analysing Airbnb’s entire user process with the aim of eliminating fear factors every step of the way. The company has even come up with its own formula for creating trust in the brand: Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy = Trust

Rapha Vasconcellos, Head of Creative Shop, APAC for Facebook also spoke about the role of trust in relation to social media. He talked about brands needing to be transparent with their community and shared the IKEA social experiment where a woman memorised the entire Ikea catalogue and answered questions via Facebook Live to prove it.

Lauren: For a really effective digital experience that focuses on making your audience feel trusting of your brand, it’s crucial to look at all the different entry points and directions a user might take. You also need to ensure any questions or fears that arise along the way are pacified. This could be in the form of strategically placed FAQs, tooltip rollovers and small commentary from the brand when users are presented with “pressure points” e.g. forms asking for personal information.

Jenna: Design is hugely influential when it comes to trust, particularly from a brand point of view. Good designs instils trust. Visual design and branding play an important role in creating trust for a brand. Well-designed logos, consistent style, marketing and websites all imply a genuine brand. Acclaimed graphic designer Paula Scher spoke about how design and branding are more about your own visual language; to be consistent and distinct so that people can recognise you without seeing your logo. It’s probably pretentious of me, but I know I judge brands and products on their designs. Bad design hints at scams or dodgy websites that will steal all your credit card information. If you don’t have clear and strong branding, you could be screaming SCAM. Bad design is a red flag.

Designers and creatives enjoyed 3 days of talks and workshops at Carriageworks, Sydney.

Even as technology progresses, people still crave empathetic and authentic human experiences

With the speed that technology and design are progressing, the speakers at Semi Permanent discussed a future that involved bringing technology and human relevance closer together.

Danielle Krettek from Google Empathy Lab talked about using emotion as a design language. According to Danielle, Google is bringing the brains, but designers need to bring the heart and soul. She talked about Spotify already being able to suggest new music that it thinks we will like based on our listening history, but she noted how cool it would be if the technology could go one step further and predict the music we want to listen to based on how we’re feeling. She joked that even though Spotify algorithms can guess she might like listening to The Smiths, it doesn’t predict that she won’t like listening to it early in the morning.

Speakers at the Future of Music panel also discussed how music creation is being influenced by technology and that while a computer can put together a new soundtrack by following the rules it’s programmed with, it can’t be taught when to pause or amplify based on how a live audience reacts to it. Technology is great at making our lives easier in terms of production but it can’t replace creativity completely because it lacks the human element.

Jenna: Danielle Krettek summed this up really well for me. She said that when you design for people, you’re designing for moods. You can make something calm and relaxing or loud and exciting just by the colours or the fonts or the layout. Design helps to communicate emotion. I don’t think you would see a heavy metal logo typeset in Baskerville. If we look at recent design trends, you can see the human factor sneaking its way in. Hello, hand lettering. Crafts and hand-drawn elements are still relevant in the tech-heavy world for that sense of connection and nostalgia. A rebellion against the vector.

In summary, technology continually disrupts how society interacts and how we work in the creative industry. These disruptions make us more creative, efficient and the restrictions can force us to think outside the box. But if there was anything to take away from Semi Permanent, it is that the need for human relevance and authentic experience isn’t going anywhere.

Jenna Tomkins is a Senior Designer and Lauren Swioklo is a Digital Designer at Spinach.

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