SEGD at SXSW: Three Views

Read Time: 6 minutes
One big reason people join SEGD is for the many networking opportunities it provides — including roundtables, seminars and conferences — where SEGD members can share what they’ve learned at major events across the country and the world. One such event is Austin’s annual SXSW experience. In this article, three SEGD members — Leslie Wolke (Mapwell Studio), Genell Hoechstetter (Meow Wolf) and Jemma Radick (IA Interior Architects) — share their take-aways from the 2022 SXSW conference held this past March 11-20. 

(And, of course, what would SXSW be without its celebrity appearances and sightings—and the occasional kiss-and-tell moments these brushes with fame might provide? Right, Leslie Wolke? Oh my! Read on to learn more!)

Leslie Wolke
Founder + Principal
MapWell Studio (Austin, TX)
Former SEGD Board Member (2011-2014)

I’ve been involved in SXSW in one way or another since 1995, a year after my husband and I moved to Austin. I’ve hosted sessions about museums & technology, digital wayfinding, playfinding—and even gave a short talk on the practicality (and impracticality) of pursuing a degree in Art History. For the last few years, I’ve served on the SXSW Advisory Board which means that I assess more than a hundred session proposals in the design and startup tracks and am only able to greenlight a small percentage for inclusion in the festival.

The whole world comes to Austin for SXSW; I’ve shared a revolving door with Fred Armisted, met R2D2 and Seth Meyers in the Green Room, and swooned when Henry Winkler kissed me on the cheek!

Two years ago, Phillip Tiongson (2022 SEGD Design Award juror) of Potion and I were on a video conference preparing our talk “My Museum Beats Your Internet: Playable Exhibits” a week before SXSW when we got the startling cancellation notice. The repercussions in Austin were immediate and severe and many of us wondered if SXSW could reclaim the magic of the nine-day event.

After a modest 2021 online event, SXSW made a resounding comeback this year. The city buzzed with the usual excitement and chaos. Perhaps the most repeated word in all the Interactive sessions—”the Metaverse”—presents huge implications and opportunities for the SEGD community. The convergence of digital and physical worlds requires experts from the physical realm to set the stage for humanistic, ambient, safe, and inclusive interplay between XR (augmented and virtual reality) and RR (real reality—did you ever think we’d need such a term?) Our disciplines excel at orienting people in a space and giving them the context so that they can get the most out of their journey through it. Those skills are even more meaningful as “space” takes on other dimensions. It is a critical time for collaboration among experiential designers of all kinds as we craft these new worlds.

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Genell Hoechstetter
Senior Creative Director
Meow Wolf (Santa Fe, NM)

I attended and presented at SXSW during the Interactives and Music week. It was wonderful to reconnect with so many talented and creative individuals. Here are my top three takeaways.

Decentralization and Co-Creation of the Metaverse

No surprise that some of the main buzzwords this year were Metaverse, Blockchain (decentralized public ledger), NFT (non-fungible token), DeFi (decentralized finance) and Web 3.0. All this technology combined touts a future where we can all have a virtual life that allows for autonomy, ownership, profitability, and privacy while creating and engaging with others. This would cut out the middle-man (Google, Facebook, etc.) and shift the data economy from a monopolized version to one where each user controls their node within the Web. While Web 3.0 is still an abstract concept, and we are still testing the waters with crypto, NFTs, and the Metaverse, folks seem to be hesitant and optimistic about this new layer of lived experience we can create. There was a general sense of urgency around making sure the Metaverse starts with truly decentralized and multiple paths. How do we make an accessible, equitable, and innovative metaverse?

Environmental Awareness and Action

It was promising to see so many people presenting creative actions they've taken to combat climate change. The climate change track focused on agricultural sovereignty, food, fashion, equitable energy, decarbonizing crypto, and generally how to pivot our future in the right direction while still following our passions. It once seemed like individual carbon offsets were solely tied to electric cars and becoming vegan. We are using all the tools we have, and it's empowering for everyone.

 Re-centralization of Community, Storytelling and Shared Immersive Experiences

Many discussions focused on the foundation of reconnecting with others and creating community right where you are—coming out of the pandemic, re-engaging with the real world and exploring the Metaverse. What do we all want from social experiences, and how has the definition of community been transformed? How have we all changed? What is the new IRL vs. Virtual community ratio, and which demographic groups have a balance between the two? It was intriguing to hear about the various forms of collaborative storytelling and immersive experience creation. Many hybrid immersive experiences (AR, VR, IRL, etc.) of varying lengths (15min-2hrs) and genres (arts, escape rooms, food, etc.) and experiences created by diverse voices that center the guest as part of the narrative lead the way in empathy-building and remind people to stay curious.

What was so beautiful about this year's conference was that I could tell everyone was working towards innovations for a better future at the community level. It was about collaboration across cultures, disciplines, and all levels of intersectionality.

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Jemma Radick
Experiential Design Director  |  Associate
IA Interior Architects (Seattle, WA)

Here are my top three take-aways from this year’s SXSW:

 The Brilliance of Immersive Audio

Spatial’s holodeck experienceshowcased their object-driven sound design platform, which creates realistic soundscapes in real-time. This makes a pretty impressive three-dimensional sound that has a depth and richness to it that I’d never heard before. Thinking about the potential for this use in immersive and branded environments was inspiring, and Spatialis one vendor I intend to follow up with to learn more. (Short video of my ownhere—not visually impressive, but audio is cool.)

 Concept of “Attention Wealth” and the Information Economy

The idea here is that audiences are getting really tired of those who rely on spectacles to get our attention, and instead are looking for more carefully curated communication styles that are less sensationalized. We’ve heard a lot in the past about Gen Z, and that we need to capture their attention in the first 8 seconds—but Rohit Bhargava’stalk really made me think about the skepticism that is a natural response to that type of shock culture in advertising and brand communication. We’re now seeing a hunger for human connection, for authenticity and simpler times. Featured Session: “10 Non-ObviousShaping 2022 and Beyond”

Realism in Design for the Digital Space

How real does a car designed exclusively for use in a video game need to be? Porsche designed their Vision Gran Turismo exactly how they would any production car—consulting engineering about aerodynamics, material weight, functionality—you name it. Hearing designer Ingo Bauer-Scheinhutte talk about the design process in creating this little masterpiece was very cool. The value of this kind of realism in the digital world is a thread that showed up in so many SXSW talks this year, and as experiential designers, I think we need to really take that under consideration in our projects. Session:Vision Gran Turismo: Designing a Sports Car for the Virtual World”

 

Another big part of the SXSW includes the meet-ups with design and innovation peers from a variety of industries and from all over the world. I got to spend some quality time with conference buddies that I hadn’t seen in ages—and we had lots of late night philosophical talks over cocktails. That’s where the real innovation happens!

 

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