People and technology in touch: what SXSW 2017 means for designers

Fjord Family

Part 1.

SXSW 2017 closed its doors on Sunday. Tim Irvine and Katrine Rau from design and innovation consultancy FJORD, who were on the ground in Austin, are sharing which trends will influence a designer’s work and what needs to become part of every designer’s toolkit.

“One thing that became clear at SXSW 2017 is that people and technology are now closer than ever. It’s a time of bliss for designers which brings forth new challenges too.”


An example are chatbots which were the subject of workshops, presentations and meet-ups in Austin. Messaging app chatbots started to become mainstream in 2016 but are still a far cry from providing human-like conversations. They lack emotional intelligence and character – which is exactly what they will need in order to become a success in the future.

As designers, we should be focusing on turning these “chatbots things” into companions that people can like and tell apart because they have a distinctive tone of voice and peculiarities. Bringing a chatbot’s functions to perfection is something we can happily leave to developers and programmers.

A lot of conversations in Austin were about the use of artificial intelligence (A.I.). Increasingly, A.I. supports people in gathering information and making decisions.

As designers, we’re facing the question what it will mean if an A.I. takes on more and more tasks? Above all, we need to strike the right balance between control and trust when designing interactions between people and A.I.s. Most people will only willingly leave decision-making to an A.I. in situations in which they can rely on the accuracy and value of the choice it will make.

Another area where people and technology are moving closer to each other is mixed reality. In Austin, several scenarios were presented for different types of reality, for example, the use of Virtual Reality (VR) to give people a more impressive understanding of our planet.

For us designers, Augmented Reality (AR) and VR offers many possibilities to create distinct experiences. But only if we can communicate and orient ourselves with our basic human skills (gestures, facial expression, hearing, haptics) in these new realities.

Soon, AR, VR and ‘Real Reality’ will create multiple blurred realities. Eventually, these may even become our primary reality – when every part of our environment is enriched with additional layers of information and content.”

Part 2.

Tim Irvine and Katrine Rau from the design and innovation consultancy FJORD describe their impressions of the SXSW – and explain which trends will influence the work of designers.

In Austin, Texas, SXSW 2017 came to an end on Sunday . Tim Irvine and Katrine Rau from FJORD were there. Here, they describe the trends that will influence the work of designers in the future – and what things then belong to a designer’s armor.

The discussion of chatbots, artificial intelligence and mixed reality at this year’s SXSW shows how close man and technology have come ( see part 1 ). Each of these trends has an impact on our role as a designer.

What’s more, SXSW 2017 has made it clear: the future skills of designers include the skilful handling of time, sound and data – to make ever more immersive technology more human-intuitive.


The more digitalisation accelerates our world and becomes ever-more ephemeral experiences, the more important are designers as designers of moments and ” ephemeral stories ” (one of the fjord trends in 2017 ). The most famous protagonist of this development is Snapchat . However, design can also slow down experiences. In an SXSW session, an augmented reality helmet was presented, which slows the perception of its wearer.


The effective handling of noise is just as indispensable for designers today. The importance of voice recognition, voice control and voice output is growing, see Amazon Echo / Alexa and Google Home. Brands and their products, services and experiences need their own sound identity today .

Austin also highlighted the importance of sound in VR experiences. In the virtual world as in the real world, sounds stimulate our instinctive reactions. The sound design therefore makes a decisive contribution to the quality and acceptance of the VR experience and whether it fulfils or misses its purpose.


The growing importance of data for the design of products, services and experiences was beyond doubt in Austin. One of the most unusual examples of design with data was provided by the Rainforest Connection : with the aim of preventing illegal deforestation, it used old smartphones to locate the noise of power saws in the rainforest of Sumatra and to alert teams on the ground.


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