Xlab, SEGD’s technology and innovation conference for the experiential graphic design community, was held two weeks ago on October 27 and 28.
After a day of successful tours on October 27, Xlab 2016 returned to the SVA Theatre in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood for a full day of talks on digital innovation in design. An audience of nearly 300 designers, creatives, vendors, fabricators, and end-users gathered for five sessions consisting of talks from 12 speakers, and five moderated groups, which represented all segments of the digital and experiential design profession. The five session subjects were Smart Cities, Experiential Content, Material Innovation, Virtual Reality and Next Gen Interaction.
The first session of the day, Smart Cities, examined progress made in the development of smart cities. George Burciaga of Civiq Smartscapes provided attendees with background about what infrastructure would be needed in the future for a smart city to become more intelligent, more useful and more citizen-centric. Right now New York’s LinkNYC project is deploying super-fast WiFi as a free service throughout the city and point-by-point access to city-based services such as 311, 911, and phone charging at the Intersection designed pylons.
The next generation of services will be much more advanced and even responsive. George Burciaga posited that in the future the pylons, equipped with dozens of sensors, could, for example, detect gunshots and alert authorities, or signal for city infrastructure such as buses and subways to divert, and alert citizens within the affected area.
City ID’s Mike Rawlinson presented his outlook on how the "connected city" is much more than excellent maps and wayfinding. City ID’s work for the New York City MTA includes the extension of the WalkNYC street furniture, to the new language for navigation of the subway system. The new subway station upgrade program presents a streamlined entry to the underground infrastructure as well as a series of new information interfaces. Where ticketing kiosks and service windows once existed, there will be both static and dynamic screens, providing seamless real-time information on the transportation network, synched with their website. City ID is documenting these new system standards in a major update of the MTA manual in what Rawlinson calls “Vignelli on steroids.”
The connected city isn’t the only space where a steady digital evolution is occurring. Experiential Content continues to become more meaningful and provides owners and developers with powerful platforms for generating a sense of place in public spaces.
Inspired by the media-centric architectural installations that have emerged in recent years at LAX and the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas, the team at Leviathan showcased their Riverside, Chicago-based public media project. It included real-time data abstractions and a roster of emerging artists generating a day-long cycle of media landscapes.
Another show-stopping project was Refik Anadol’s Visual Depiction project in San Francisco—a dynamic data landscape that illuminates a massive LED wall in the 350 Mission building. It won a 2016 SEGD Global Design Awardand inspired many designers; one young creative described it as “the visual of my dreams” during the session’s closing dialogue.
New highly experimental surfaces are making their way into the physical environment. During the Material Innovation session, Nik Hafermaas of Ueberall International shared two projects that represent the notion of material oneness. The first project at San Diego International Airport utilizes E Ink technology powered by solar cells and wirelessly connected in a network stuck in a mosaic formation to the side of a 1000 foot parking structure providing a bespoke camouflageto an otherwise generic concrete façade by creating randomized generative patterns. Jeremy Duimstra and MJD Interactive showed how the integration of physical and digital across a spectrum of media platforms could create the ultimate experience, giving users a deeply rooted sense of emotion, empathy, and connection to each other during the small moments that we experience in our day-to-day lives.
A highly talked-about technology in both commercial and consumer spaces this year there were many different perspectives on Virtual Reality at Xlab. The dialogue ranged from what a VR cinema would need to look like, to spatial audio landscapes.
Kyle Bañuelos and his studio dotdotdash are working at the forefront of what they call “parallel realities” creating innovative experiences that mesh gaming, entertainment, and brand experience. Yasmin Elayat and Alexander Porters, both co-founders of the media studio Scatter, spoke about the next generation of filmmaking and storytelling that VR has afforded. In contrast to the design of the physical space envisioned to experience VR in Ueberall’s SoReal cinema, Scatter’s VR work defines the realm of digital experiences as its “reality” authored by the designers and empowered by the audience as story creators. The future of virtual reality is still very much unknown, but the investment of both entire studios and clients in the platform leaves us wondering ultimately what form VR will take. For many Xlab attendees, the prospect of using Virtual Reality is intriguing, if not downright intimidating. However, most Xlab attendees would agree—seeing the technology used in typical practice environments is inspiring.
In the last session of the day, which was a panel dialogue, our speakers discussed the future of interaction design. The discussion addressed data, automation, artificial intelligence, and how they will impact not only the role of the designer, but also how these parameters will influence space, and the way users participate and experience environments. Nils Wiberg of Gagarin and Cory Clarke of VSA Partners agreed there is an enormous responsibility for designers to be conscious of the mechanisms they employ and the impact they will have on users.
The goal every year with Xlab is to give the members of the experiential graphic design community a better understanding of where digital technology is going, and what is possible. While we can't completely predict the future of the profession, there is no doubt that within the next several years, how we shape user experiences will continue to change. The platforms we examine and explore at Xlab likely will continue to provide a source of inspiration and provocation for those who create next gen experiences in the years to come.