In October 2023, South by Southwest (SXSW) the Texan cultural behemoth, ventured outside of Austin for the very first time and unfurled itself through Sydney’s inner city.
SXSW Sydney 2023 was a vast program of music, film, gaming and conference events that was both daunting and inspiring in scope. There were teething problems to be sure: the schedule was nearly impossible to process and queueing for sessions became an event in itself. That said, the word around SXSW Sydney was that this was the first effort in what is (at least) a 5-year commitment. It will be interesting to see what unfolds for 2024.
I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the speakers as part of the inaugural SXSW Sydney program, where I presented on a panel alongside Julia Scott-Stevenson (UTS) and Michela Ledwidge of Mod Productions. We had a wide-ranging discussion around the session theme of ‘The Myth of the Single User‘, exploring the biases and assumptions implicit throughout much of the technology and media experiences we encounter today.
Amidst a program that included huge headline acts like Chance The Rapper, Charlie Brooker and Brickman, we didn’t expect to pull much of a crowd. But true to form, we had our own SXSW Sydney queue and a full house of thoughtful attendees with interesting questions and chatter after the session.
It really was a thrill to be part of such an iconic cultural event as SXSW Sydney. I had the opportunity to meet some wonderful people and catch up with a few design colleagues throughout the week, outside of a (strictly) work setting, which sadly doesn’t happen as much as it did pre-Covid. Being given the opportunity to share my thoughts on inclusive design and how we can make space for diverse bodies and minds was the icing on the cake.
The Fourteenth International Conference on Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction (TEI 2020) is being held in Sydney, hosted by UTS. The theme for the conference this year is Future Bodies, Future Technologies, and will explore how we define bodies and how that leads us to design for them.
I have a double role at TEI 2020: I am Local Chair and Registration Chair, which is going to keep me very busy, but learning plenty about conference organisation. Fortunately, we have a great team and plenty of excellent research and practice to look forward to.
Having just returned from participating in my first international conference yesterday, I thought I would post a few thoughts on SIGGRAPH Asia 2014 and my short trip to Shenzhen, China…
My paper was accepted as part of the workshop titled, Designing Tools For Crafting Interactive Artifacts, and headed by Kening Zhu from the City University of Hong Kong. In my paper, I speak about the research I am doing and how Design can be used to structure an observational study, looking at issues of communication and agency in children with autism.
Such is the long lead-in time of conference submissions, by the time I presented my work at SIGGRAPH Asia, I was a lot further along in my research than my paper would indicate. I discussed the implications of my design decisions on the results of the first human study (more on this shortly) and how the experience of the first study might inform the next iteration.
I had some great feedback on both my paper and presentation, and the experience of participating in such a prestigious conference was hugely motivating. To have genuine interest from respected career academics and be able to engage with them in an open and even platform gave me confidence that I’m heading in the right direction with my research. It’s something that most research candidates struggle with on occasion and an experience I wish I’d had earlier in my candidature.
All presentations as part of the workshop sparked interesting discussion. Personally, I found the keynote of Thecla Schiphorst (Simon Fraser University) inspiring; her amazing body of work and sensitivity to aesthetics in HCI was incredible. Also, the work of Justyna Ausareny was fantastic; her Dorkbot-style approach and enthusiasm for electronics and sharing was infectious. Despite the long history of computer science being dominated by men, many women were here kicking goals in the space where HCI and Art/Design collide.
Also inspiring was the Emerging Technologies (ET) area as part of the main SIGGRAPH Asia exhibition. My expectation of ET was that there would technologies ready for market and presented by large corporations (as is the case with most of the exhibition, where you can see plenty of 3D software packages on show). Instead, most of the work was speculative or at a prototype stage and being shown by researchers from international Universities. After seeing some of the work there, I would feel comfortable in also presenting my own prototypes in this space.
There were a couple of standout ideas for me in ET. The first was a haptic feedback device for the sight impaired, by researchers from several Japanese institutes. Using an off-the-shelf DIY approach, the technology itself was very simple, but the feedback experience was mapped incredibly well; using a proximity sensor, a motorised arm would push against the users finger when within a certain range of an object.
Also interesting for its relevance to my own work was the A-Blocks exhibit. Embedded with wireless sensors, these toy blocks for children were designed to measure the quality of play. Most compelling was their attempt to track the blocks’ relationship to one another (stacking, etc), which is something that is quite difficult without the use of camera tracking or similar, and the reason that I steered away from internal sensors in my own work.
Overall, the scale of SIGGRAPH Asia was much smaller than I expected. This is the younger, smaller cousin of SIGGRAPH in the United States (generally attended by 3D behemoths, like Pixar and other animated movie companies), but despite this knowledge, I found the size and content of the general exhibition underwhelming. The lineage of SIGGRAPH is computer graphics (particularly 3D), with Interactivity and other HCI work being a more recent addition, but the exhibition was focused almost entirely on 3D software, with little to keep me there beyond an hour or so.
SIGGRAPH Asia was certainly worth the long flight, if only to reaffirm my focus in my own research. I’ve got the bug now, and will be looking to get to at least one more international conference before my studies finish in just over 12 months – it’s something that I would recommend any new researcher to experience as soon as possible.