Conferences Design methods Neurodiversity News

SXSW Sydney 2023

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.

A queue of people lining up for a conference session in the International Convention Centre in Sydney.
Our own SXSW Sydney queue!

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.

Three people speaking to an audience in a conference session. They are seated on stools and the person on the left is holding a microphone. The screen behind them shows the title: 'The myth of the single user: How XR can help us embrace diverse minds and diverse bodies'.
Julia Scott-Stevenson, myself and Michela Ledwidge introducing the session.
Three people speaking to an audience in a conference session. Two are seated on stools and one is presenting behind a lectern.
Michela Ledwidge discussing Mod Productions’ work.

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.

All images: Peter Wildman

Events Health News Projects

ADA x Health 2023

Beginning October 16 and continuing until November 17, The Bank at UNSW Kensington campus will host ADA x Health. The Bank (formerly the Commonwealth Bank building on campus) is a brand new initiative developed by UNSW Health Precincts, as a stepping stone toward the UNSW Health Translation Hub currently under construction as part of the Randwick Health & Innovation Precinct. The space will house Health Precincts staff, as well as showcasing health research from across the university.

We’re fortunate that Arts, Design & Architecture (ADA) will be the very first residents calling the space home for this 5 week program of health and wellbeing research from across our diverse faculty. This event has come about as a result of ADA identifying our strengths in health research, which includes the addition of myself as the first Director of Sector Engagement (Health) for the faculty.

Along with public talks, workshops, exhibitions and info sessions, we are installing the impressive Storybox outside of The Bank throughout the ADA x Health program. Storybox will display an evolving visual program of ADA research impact stories, individual research projects and interactive experiences to capture feedback and public sentiment around health and wellbeing research.

ADA x Health is open to the public, as well as all UNSW staff and students. Find out more about the extensive program of events here.

Disability Neurodiversity News

Funding awarded to create a welcoming and inclusive campus

In collaboration with Autism Spectrum Australia’s Autism Friendly team, we have been awarded a small grant from UNSW’s Division of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion to work on a project titled: Creating Welcoming and Inclusive Campuses.

This project will be the first of its kind in Australia; an environmental assessment of the UNSW Art & Design campus (Paddington) that will help us reflect on how we can make our university and resources more welcoming and inclusive for neurodivergent people. We hope that this pilot study will identify tools, processes and resources that can be used across all UNSW campuses, making the University a place that neurodivergent student, staff and visitors are able to engage with and feel supported throughout their time here.

In the coming months, we will develop a report and recommendations to be shared inside UNSW and beyond.

Music News

Pocket operator sync app

It’s been a while since I posted anything non-work-related… Keeping me sane during these Unprecedented Times has been a couple of Teenage Engineering’s pocket operators. They’re a good balance of fun and productivity (lots of the former; less of the latter), although I’ve been looking for a way to extend their capability without having to buy the complete (and expensive) set of these things.

Inspired by this Processing sketch by u/neel_on_reddit, I’ve made a similar app in Max that generates a sync ‘click’ to control the tempo of a connected pocket operator. If an audio input of a pocket operator is connected to the output of your computer (and sync mode is set to SY4), the incoming click will start, stop and change tempo. As another small extension, this app will also pass an audio file to the connected pocket operator, which will be played through the onboard speaker.

The pocket operator sync app (v001), built in Max.

As far as I can tell, it’s not possible to compile a standalone app from Max for multiple platforms. So at this stage, the app will only work on macOS. But it should be a simple case of compiling on Windows from Max for it to also work there. So I’ve made the Max patcher available here as well. Any feedback is welcome…

News Social robots

News article on our robot pet future

This week I spoke to Ben Knight at the UNSW Newsroom, to share my thoughts on whether we might be able to expect robotic pets to become more widespread in the near future. This discussion seems particularly pertinent now, given that for many of us, we are not able to experience the social interactions and relationships that we were pre-Covid. The question is, could a robotic pet fulfil some of these relationships in the meantime?

Dr Belinda Dunstan was also quoted in the piece, and went on to speak further with John Stanley about the topic on 2GB radio. Belinda and I did our PhDs alongside one another in the Creative Robotics Lab, where Belinda focused on social robot morphologies before moving to the School of Built Environment.

News Teaching

Nature Conservation Council partnership with Master of Design course

In response to student feedback in the Master of Design program, I have been looking for ways to increase industry engagement and experience in the Interaction Design specialisation. Many Masters students are studying with one eye on employment, and so it’s particularly important to make sure the skills and knowledge they are developing is going to be relevant for current industry practice.

Similar to the partnership I have developed with Studio Messa for Integrated Project in the Bachelor of Design program, I have established a partnership with the Nature Conservation Council (NCC) for students in the final Interaction Design specialisation course for Masters students: Tangible Interfaces and Interactive Displays.

We were fortunate enough to have NCC Chief Executive, Chris Gambian and Organising Director, Jacqui Mumford deliver a real world brief for the class: to propose an interactive experience for visitors to the NCC 65th anniversary dinner to be held later in 2020. Students were tasked with not only pitching an experience that would be interesting and engaging for the attendees of the event, but also communicated and celebrated some of the key events in the history of the NCC.

Each work also had to reference the central themes of NCC campaigns: nature, climate and people power. The scope and subsequent feedback provided by Chris and Jacqui of the NCC was fantastic in giving students a taste of working for a real client, with real constraints. Students worked in interdisciplinary teams to develop lighting sculptures, table-top tangible interfaces, interactive lighting projections and educational games.

News Teaching

Studio Messa partnership in Integrated Project course

For the second time this year, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with Studio Messa to develop a project brief for Bachelor of Design students in the Integrated Project course. Previously run in the Summer Term 2-week intensive format, students in Term 2 approached this interdisciplinary brief over 11 weeks.

As an experiential design agency, Studio Messa is a great fit for Design students who have developed individual praxis and specialisation over the past 2 years or so in their degrees. The Integrated Project course is often the first chance they have to come together in teams, where a range of skills and interests is leveraged to create ambitious and interdisciplinary work.

Studio Messa Director, Peter Pengly and Creative Director, Kate Blank have been truly generous with their time and offered students some amazing insights into the realities of the industry. Peter and Kate gave students the following brief, with the timely challenge of also responding to Covid-19 limitations:

Establish a social or cultural issue that you would like to explore and create an immersive experience to convey key messages on that issue to at least 50 people. The experience should be brought to life through the lens of Studio Messa’s ‘A Curious Mind’ ethos, and enliven curiosity and discovery on your chosen theme with those who interact with it.

Studio Messa design brief ‘thematic’.

Students certainly ran wild with this brief. We saw educational installations to engage homeless populations with local communities; pop-up spaces to communicate the realities of coffee sustainability and farmer exploitation; guerrilla artworks to bring awareness to the impact of climate change; and large-scale celebrations of the history of Vietnamese diaspora in Australia.

Ageing Autism News

Autism ASSIST seed funding awarded

The Autism ASSIST Project (Aiding and SuStaining Independence through Smart-home Technology) has been awarded $49,292 in funding as a result of the UNSW Ageing Futures 2020 seed funding grant program. This project will look at existing smart technology use by autistic adults living independently and through a co-design process, develop and evaluate a smart platform for increasing independence in daily life.

The project is led by Dr Lidan Zheng (Science), with Dr Jane Hwang (Medicine) and Dr Scott Brown (Art & Design).

Conferences News

TEI 2020 conference

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.

Design methods News

LEGO Serious Play certification

I was recently fortunate enough to be invited by the UNSW Founders to participate in LEGO Serious Play (LSP) certification training. I’m now a certified LEGO Serious Play facilitator! The workshop was coached by the excellent Michael Fearne, who introduced us to the history and theoretical underpinnings of the method, as well as giving us the opportunity to plan and ‘play out’ our own LSP sessions.

A certification document for LEGO Serious Play facilitation.
LSP certification from Pivotal Play.

It was interesting to see the parallels in the LSP method and my own approach to teaching and research, which use constructionist and play-based principles to engage students or study participants. This has sparked many new ideas for running design workshops in the future, and given me a great excuse to start buying LEGO for myself…