The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

South by Southwest (SXSW) 2021’s Virtual Conference

SXSW

Screenshots from South by Southwest (SXSW) 2021’s virtual conference!

SXSW

Screenshots from South by Southwest (SXSW) 2021’s virtual conference!

SXSW

Screenshots from South by Southwest (SXSW) 2021’s virtual conference!

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Written by Cindy Yuan '22

Over spring break, I attended South by Southwest (SXSW) 2021’s virtual conference from March 16-20. SXSW is known as a music, film, and tech festival all in one, and is the premier event to learn and interact with emerging technologies. This year’s themes included topics such as A New Urgency, Challenging Tech’s Path Forward, so as an Anthropology modified with Human-Centered Design major interested in the tech industry, I was drawn to the event. 

While I enjoyed a variety of unique events, from learning about the design of hyperloop space passenger experiences to listening to modular synthesizer artists, I focused especially on attending speaker events centered around design.The most notable events I attended included “Disability-Led Innovation in Future Workspaces”, “2021 CX Report: Safety Eats the World”, and “Envision A World of Design Without White Supremacy”. In the “2021 CX Report: Safety Eats the World”, designer and industry leader John Maeda uses a critical events framework of negative “black swan” world changes as a push for proactive measures in the design and development of technology in order to consider who can be harmed by your technology, and how to prevent that. In “Disability-Led Innovation in Future Workplaces”, several designers and entrepreneurs specializing in accessible tech emphasized the role that people with disabilities must have in the co-design of emerging technologies, in order to achieve a more equitable future that benefits everyone. In “Envision A World of Design Without White Supremacy,” a panel of designers in various sub-disciplines composed entirely of women of color discussed the Eurocentricity of the current design thinking process. This included how to challenge and change the ideas of who we are serving as well as strategies for bringing in equity-centered practices as designers in various organizations in order to eradicate bias and supremacy in the design process over time. Additionally, SXSW’s headline guest was keynote speaker Stacey Abrams. In a conversation with science fiction author N.K. Jemisin, Abrams discussed the power of storytelling in her work, particularly using storytelling to empower and inspire voters in the fight for representing marginalized voices and against voter suppression. 

The recurring themes in the talks I attended underscored the importance of thinking about biases, positionality, and voices that are being involved. Currently, the design process widely in place in the tech industry often does not allow different perspectives -- the voices most listened to and respected are able-bodied and neurotypical, perhaps they possess higher education degrees from established, predominantly-white institutions -- which limits our own possibilities of how to tackle problems and of what can be designed. They encouraged me to think about storytelling and positionality tools in my own work, and how I could apply these tools to advocate for more equity-centered design in various parts of Dartmouth’s design community.

Written by Cindy Yuan '22

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