Highlights from the weekend’s Better World by Design conference

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Saturday Morning: Nick Scappaticci, founder and CEO of Tellart | Unexpected Futures

Tellart is a tech design company like nothing that’s ever existed before, with a goal of giving people new ways to explore and engage with the world. In his keynote address, Tellart CEO Nick Scappaticci talked about the company’s interactive installations all over the world that strive to change how we, in the present, conceive the future. In education, transportation, and public health; through artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and augmented reality; with governments, businesses, and people, Tellart calls attention to a vital question: what is your future going to be? 

Sunday Morning: Ekene Ijeoma | Designing to impact citizens not market to consumers

In Ekene Ijeoma’s talk, he highlighted the need for design to extend beyond commercial interactions between clients and designers, arguing that it must engage with broader global issues. Ijeoma’s own work is data-driven and socially-minded; some of his past projects have focused on specific policy issues like wage and rent inequality in New York City and the world refugee crisis. Other projects, like “Heartfelt” and his app Look-up, seek to engage people with one another and their surroundings. In his talk on Sunday, Ijeoma contemplated how we can think of ourselves as citizens rather than consumers and utilize tech to address our society’s issues. 



Sunday Morning Lecture: John Zelek | Food Follows Function

Is Soylent waging a war on Thanksgiving? The answer is a resounding no, according to John Zelek, the Senior Creative at Soylent. Soylent is a company that sells meal replacement products, and it has garnered significant media attention and controversy for its innovative food engineering. Diving into this controversy, Zelek gave an excellent lecture in which he looked at what we eat, why we eat it, and the future of food. He started off simply, looking at the role of food from three angles: food as fuel, food as joy, and food for profit. He then transitioned to examining food design and food packaging, and specifically, Soylent’s iconic minimalistic packaging. He wrapped up his lecture with a look towards what the future holds for food. Zelek reiterated that he didn’t expect meals to be replaced by pills or Soylent drinks, but said he hoped that someday, “everyone would be able to have their cake and eat a little bit more Soylent, too.”




Sunday Afternoon Lecture: Stephanie Dinkins | AI.Assembly: What does Artificial Intelligence Need from You?

BINA (Breakthrough Intelligence via Neural Architecture) 48 is a ‘social’ robot that functions just as her title suggests—through social interactions. Though BINA48 will insist vehemently that she has feelings of her own, accomplished installation artist Stephanie Dinkins can attest to all the work that went into programming BINA48’s emotional sentience (as well as the difficulty Dinkins had befriending said robot). Dinkins said that although she recognizes the possible problems associated with artificial intelligence (AI), she aims to tackle them through initiatives such as Project al Khwarizmi (PAK), “an artist-led initiative that uses art and art-making to help citizens—especially communities of color—understand how algorithms, the artificially intelligent systems they underpin, and big data impact our lives.” In a pointed example, Dinkins questioned the fairness of a system in which AI innately rates dark-skinned people as less attractive during beauty contests. Dinkins concluded by urging eager listeners to be “brave leaders” and correct systemic injustices in AI before old biases make their way into new systems.

Sunday Afternoon Lecture: Kristen Chin of Urban Edge | Building Equity through Design + Policy

Within community development, Kristen Chin considers her work to be outside of the ordinary. Chin has worked with a broad range of companies, but all her projects have shared a common goal: helping communities. Her methods have huge crossover with activist work, as they prioritize the involvement and agency of people within the communities she aims to support. Through lobbying, rounds of drafts and planning, and countless meetings, Chin facilitates development in communities that need it most but have limited access to the processes required. Her current work with Urban Edge—centered on developing the Jackson Square area of Jamaica Plain, Boston—has been ongoing for over 30 years. This project exemplifies the nature of her work, which functions on a slow timeline and requires both patience and compassion.

Sunday Afternoon Keynote: Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg of Synthetic Aesthetics | Better

Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, an London-based artist and designer, began the final talk of the weekend with just one word: better. Throughout her presentation, she challenged the audience to question the meaning of better, and what it looks like in design today. Honing in on synthetic biology, Ginsberg showed the contradictory and controversial interpretations of “better” within just one field. The most poignant note of Ginsberg’s talk was her self-awareness around creating a universal better; it doesn’t exist, she says, and she is constantly reminding both herself and her audiences of this fact. Better will always be relative, and dependent on a multitude of external factors, according to Ginsberg. Therefore, in her own work, she aims to force synthetic biology to recognize, understand, and react to a restructuring of better, from a universal approach to a situational one.

Images via and by Claire Pang ’19.

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