My thoughts following Semi Permanent 2019

Saturday, November 23, 2019

So, it's actually been a wee while since Semi Permanent Auckland actually happened (turns out two holidays and having your arm in a cast for a few weeks really takes up a lot of your spare time!), but I still have quite a lot of thoughts about what was discussed. Especially considering the Adobe Max conference ran recently where there were a bit of an overlap with the topics discussed and even some of the speakers themselves.

Luckily I live-tweeted the event (here's a handy little thread for you) and also took a whole lotta notes in my Moleskin so I am easily able to refresh my memory on what happened, so let's dive on it! This year's post I am categorising all my notes into five main topics; inclusivity, accountability, limitations, future thinking, and individuality.


Something that was really enforced at SP was the fact that inclusivity is highly important. From having a diverse range of people working on a project, to involving a wide range of groups from the community your project will effect... every step of the way you need to take into account the people that may be affected by what you produce - from accessibility to culture and ethics.

A project that was shared with us was a cellphone app (I won't name the company) that helped people reconnect with a certain indigenous language. It worked by the user taking a photo of an object and the app telling you what that object was called in the language. Unfortunately, the team behind this app got very far through the project before they even stopped to consult and talk with the community where this language was from, and all they did was talk to a colleague to get feedback on it - that's when the colleague stopped them and asked if they had spoken to anyone from the community, that they realised they did no consultation on it. Major faux pas!

Tara McKenty from Google said that we need to design WITH not FOR - in order to create something for a group (especially one of a minority) you need to include them in the whole process. This can be longer and more costly but it is what makes it authentic and true, and more often than not be more cost and time effective in the long run. We need to think about the concept of inclusivity constantly throughout the whole process and not treat it as a tick-boxing exercise. Bruce Mau from Be Massive said that if you company requires a "department of good" what does that say about the rest of your company - if you're not weaving this sort of thinking through everything, then what does that say about you? Ana Arriola from Microsoft spoke passionately about this and told us that we should not be designing for ourselves, we need to be designing for all - we need to create to ensure inclusion and safety for all, designing unethically just isn't good enough and can cost lives and livelihoods.


A common topic that was spoken about by quite a few of the speakers was about algorithms and data gathering. As I work with a lot of researchers and data analysts at my job I was really intrigued by what the speakers had to say around these topics. 

When you're talking with customers or possible consumers you need to be really careful with what kind of questions you're asking them and later down the track, what you're going to do with this information and how you're going to store it. We have a responsibility to do what is right by the public. There is always a possibility of some kind of datamining-esque hack or other issue coming up down the track - so, what do we do when this comes up and private information is at risk? When we gather and store people's personal information, there is a responsibility to uphold confidentiality and safety for all who are involved.

Ana Arriola from Microsoft spoke about how with innovation comes responsibility which creates accountability, some algorithms can skew the results due to development errors. When sending out a questionnaire to customers or potential consumers there's often a default to add in questions on age, sex/gender, income, location... however, do we really always need to know this? Is it integral to your product or service to find out whether an [x] year old [x] from [x] location with [x] income will use your 'thing', OR do you really need to only know whether someone will use your 'thing', how often and why?

Ralf Groene from Microsoft said that as creatives we are "composing through choices" - it is very easy to manipulate design for inappropriate use and we have a responsibility to ensure that our work has the right kind of impact, from ergonomics to ethics and the environment. We want all people to have the opportunity to use what we create, and sometimes things as simple as changing the colour, size or position of your product can go a long, long way.


Something that a few of the speakers spoke about were that putting limitations on ourselves as we design is actually really helpful for creatives. Setting out a strict set of design principles (things like moodboards and brand guidelines can be really effective for this) can guide you to create something that is cohesive and makes sense, as well as being amazing! Ivy Ross from Google said that they follow three main points when creating; human (approachable, honest, humble), optimistic, and daring (challenging status quo) - I found these guidelines to be rather neat and quite perfectly encapsulates Google to me.

Erik Brant a Professor/Chair of Design at MCAD said one of my favourite things form the whole weekend; if you are a graphic designer you should be able to work with limitations, and one of those limitation is designing whilst using the Papyrus typeface.

Something else that was suggested by many of the speakers was to have a variety of options when presenting to a client. Push yourself to create not what the client has told you, nor what you personally prefer yourself, but what about some other styles or formats? Push yourself and you could really surprise not only yourself but also the client!

Future thinking

To contradict the idea of limitations, Charles Adler from Kickstarter said it is also necessary to think about the future with both an optimistic lens and also a realist lens, it is important to be curious and to not put up your own restrictions that hold you back from your dreams - we so often fit ourselves into little boxes that actually hold us back which our designs are held back with us, therefore often holding our consumers back too. Kyle McDonald a freelance artist/coder also spoke about our creations designing as the world evolves and how just because something was designed for one purpose it doesn't mean it can only ever be used that way, and as creatives we have opportunities to transform and evolve things to work in alternative ways.

Bruce Mau from Be Massive talked about the future and designing for long term rather than short term, he posed the question of why do we design a 20 year plan when you could design something with a 1,000 year plan? We need to think about how the world is going to look years and years into the future and take into consideration how the world is going to look and behave, and to allow your creations to move and evolve themselves as time passes.


One of my favourite speakers over the whole weekend was Shantell Martin, a freelance artist who spoke about individuality and finding out who you are. Shantell began her talk asking us to describe who we are without saying where we are from and what we do - it really put into perspective how we let our jobs define us when really there is so much more to us than what we do 9-5, from our upbringing to our hobbies to the people we surround ourselves with. 

Shantell also talked about confidence in our work and that if you're stopping to think about your work it often leads to overthinking which then leads to hesitation and thus you just completely stop, smetimes you just got to go for it and create and see where that takes you. What happens when you're comfortable is things become stagnant. Sometimes you need to shake things up and go out and do something completely different, which can send a shock to the system, but new experiences help you grow as a creative.


Semi Permanent, as always, gave me so much to think about this year. Some of the things the speakers talked about were "well, durr" things, but a lot of these "well, durr" statement were backed up by incredible stories of mishaps and lessons learnt that made me realise just how important these things can be and how much they can effect everyone!

Did you go to Semi Permanent this year? Have you ever been to a conference similar to this? What are your thoughts about what I shared? Let me know in the comments below!

- Louise x

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