LIVE BLOG: The Big Idea at Semi Permanent

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Editor James Littlewood and Designer Chrissy Irvine bring you the best of Semi Permanent. Join us, and use TBI's code: SP18xTBI.


Friday! Although this live blog is now wrapped, you can still follow the action over TBI's twitter.

5.08 Apologies for the radio silence. I walked up to Sky City to check out the gamification folks. I missed the beginning,  but was still hoping they'd get round to the bit about gamification in education and health. I don't think they ever got to it. It was very dark. And, being in a different building to all previous, there was no wifi, and updating the CMS in my phone browser is just nope. 

You can check out my Twitter thread on it, here. Most of the conversation revolved around a sort of ethical dilemma between monetisation, engagement, freeplay and the mechanics of addiction. Heady stuff. I didn't really follow it, but it inspired me to delete this little game on my phone and spend more time reading books.

It was very dark, like a bar, which in fact is what it was. It felt strange to talk about gaming in the midst of a casino. 

And that's me, folks. I'll be back at Semi tomorrow. I won't be live blogging it, but will get it back up on Twitter @jimilittlewood. I'm interviewing someone interesting in the SP programme tomorrow afternoon, which should go up next week.

Thanks for tuning in to another weirdly, wonderfully, discursively fabulous day at Semi Permanent!

3.55 Tom's closing statement: automate recruitment. Get rid of HR. Laffs. He goes on. "That previous panel this morning with Facebook and Google, and those guys, I found that incredibly scary. I mean, if someone sitting in their bedroom can become a fashion designer, God help us."

From the chair: if you hire people, you've got the chance to do something good for humanity.

OK, going to regroup now. Not sure where I'll be in next five minutes. Maybe join the gamification peeps. Stay tuned.

3.53 Image swap out! I loved that Inside Out Theatre presentation a couple of years ago. But the image is a bit low res. Hope this works better.

3.48 Chair asks: how to get around the machismo culture? The panel goes silent. Karen says: be vulnerable. Have courage.

3.44 Short excerpt from TWIYW. Bloody brilliant. "To conclude, if you're ever stuck creatively, hit the road and buy a bottle of rum." That, she says, is what she does. 

3.40 The World in your Window. "Immersed myself fully in a derelict caravan park for way too many weeks." Also, a doco: King of Caravans. Lost characters, which she based TWIYW on as a fiction. "I wanted textured, lived in characters. Not clean cut actors off casting books. I cast total non actors." She cast some of them direct from the doco. "Non actors like them are diamonds in the rough. Provide them security, trust and coaching, it's worth it."

3.38 Karen the director's up. She made Dark Tourist. At the age 7 she was kind of different: she discovered hitch-hiking, and got addicted, quick. Random strangers would tell crazy stories, much more gripping than bedtime faire at home. Started deliberately missing her school bus to pick up narratively rich rides home.

3.35 Mode Black is the company he's founded to develop innovative health solutions in first nation communities. "We've got these t shirts on. Come and talk to us, we want to talk with you."

3.30 He works in 4 areas: building knowledge in health needs in Aboriginal communities: quant and qual research. Translating research insights into direct applications. Building capacity in health researchers. And growing collaborations between everyone involved in researching health services for Aboriginals and Torres Straight Islanders. Word.

Ensure the end users of health systems get involved in the research.

3.30 Dr Dave introduces himself in his own aboriginal language. And then, "G'day." Nice.

3.28 In engineering, it's even worse. For a recent recruit, 2 women applied against over 50 blokes. "Creatable" is a programme encouraging more girls to take up sciences in schools.

3.26 Generally, she says, women constitute about 10% of the directors in advertising. Solution? CPC Mentoring Program. "I didn't want one of my directors to be on the pitch list because she had a vagina." 

3.24 Such a powerful ad. Everyone's stunned. Finishes without a word or a sound, let alone applause. "So, anyway, here's a short film." It's funny. Chuckles.

3.23 Wrong. Same category, road safety. Cars at intersection, with time ramping effect. Drivers get out and talk as cars inch closer towards inevitble destuction. 

3.20 Karen, executive producer at Finch. "A company I find increasingly hard to define." Film makers, artists, engineers. On advertising, entertainment and technology. One thing in common: craft = talent + passion. She's going to show us an ad she produced which went viral. Any guesses? I'm guessing Ghost Chips.

3.17 Tom: "I'm a delicate balance between considered and camp." From agency Maud. Previoysly, Fabrica, in Venice.

3.13 Tom: Australian designer, form and function stuff. Karen: ad person, recently received an academy nomination. Wait, Dr McAullay is in the house. Works a lot with Aboriginal communities. Zoe named Young Director of the Year. Her short film The World in Your Window got an Oscar nomination. Here comes Tom.

3.08 Panel: This Is Not A Diveristy Panel, with Tom Feathers, Karen Bryson, Zoe McIntosh, and Dr Daniel McAullay. No, Daniel's got a fill in. Missed her name. "In an ideal world, this discussion wouldn't exist."

3.06 Champion diversity, not tokenism. Companies that hire diversity do better. Much better. Closing now: creative courage. "That's a whole other presentation." Defo this is the best thing all day. Bravo for Beth O'Brien!

3.05 Protest signs. Women left their signs behind. Beth started collecting them. Suddenly, Beth whips out a Stop the Tour sign, hand stencilled back in 1981, by her friend's dad. "Use Your Words" is a project that curates protest signs. "It's a bit rude, you know, asking someone in the middle of a protest, to ask someone for their sign."

3.00 Women's march. "I went down really angry. Like, screw you, man! But turned out to be very different." Much more about connection, bonding. Photo of a kid with a placard with scribble all over it: Beth's favourite. You don't really get much more specific than that. Say what you feel.

2.59 On election, journalists were crying. "It really freaked me out to know journalists were crying. It wasn't just sadness. You could feel fear."

2.56 So they went and made video recordings of a vulnerable group: kids, watching Trump on TV. What did they look like? Sort of muted, sort of numb, just soaking up Trump. Video shows just this, kids absorbing Trump in all his blyeagh. "Only experience in my life where I've just watched the numbers rack up. A hundred, a thousand. A million. A hundred million. Everywhere."

2.54 Suddenly, it wasn't just ok to be political. It was a necessity. "I felt like it affected me. I felt like being different was under attack. I wasn't going to stand for it." Meanwhile, Droga 5 had worked with Obama, and was now called up by Clinton. Kiwis are different: we're not loud. We sit back and say as little as possible. America is the opposite: a wall of noise. We needed a way to cut through.

2.59 Droga 5 came calling. Time for New York. And then: Trump. Ugh, Trump video. Trump announcing his candidacy. "ooo k."

2.49 Someone at Colenso dug what she did. Job. Felt like a company full of story tellers. "You didn't have to wait for a brief to do good work." Pivotal conversation with creative chairman, hard word: wanted people who didn't think conventionally. He told me I better start being myself. That was the first time in my life I realised there was monetry value to just being myself." 

Just started making sutff. Exmaple: a radio station for dogs. Leave your dog at home with radio for company. Classical music for dogs. Discussions about meat. Existential discussions: where is the ball, really? One a coveted Black Pencil award. Significant: created by diverse individuals.

2.47 How to make money? Signed up for ad school. "I was a big picture person doing work I wasn't good at, and I knew I wasn't good at." On Jan 1 every year she and her creative partner send goals to each other, sometimes publish them, and puts her phone number at the bottom of the list, so folks know what she's up to and can get in touch. Example: screen Jaws on the open open to a hundred people.

2.45 Beth's art school teacher advised her to ignore the national curriculum, waste of time. Her parents signed that they understood she'd flunk out. So she just learned stuff instead, went to art school, came out, "learned to bend the world around my brain."

2.42 Beth is awesome, and so was her high school art teacher, who gave a lecture on the architecture of an orange, concluding with "and that's how hippies smuggled LSD into music festivals."

2.40 Beth O'Brien takes the stage. "I've realised that the more I share about how I'm different, the better things get." At Christmas all the boys in her family got bows and arrows. All the girls got makeup. She got ten bucks: her mum knew and recognised she wasn't fully in either gender group, and had to not be left out.

"Like many creative people, I'm also dyslexic. I was in the fourth percentile, which I thought was awesome at first. Until I found it was really bad." Beth laughs, so does audience. "I realise I had superpowers in other areas. Hands on tasks, I was in the 95th percentile. I can be shown something once, and do it perfectly first time." Pictures of perfectly thrown ceramic plates. 

2.32 Rare grants. You need rare talent. You need to be rare. Even if you're a rich white guy. We need to judge people, and I will judge you.

  • Director in the creative sector: MBA based in Berlin. Value 43k euro. 
  • Third year graphic design at AUT: $5k scholarship. You'll have to pay for 2nd year yourself.
  • Internship at an Aussie production company. One time offer: Rare pays for your relocation to Sydney to do the gig.
  • ABnB accommodation support for internships: up to $950

Christchurch artist Flox (mentioned below, and showing up on stage this afternoon) also sponsors.

2.31 Tara: "Everyone needs to contribute something. Even rich white guys. In fact, especially rich white guys. They're diverse too."

2.29 Tara: "Simon asked me to come back from Australia and I said, I'm busy. Don't have time. Eventually I said well I love NZ so sure. Actually, it wasn't like that at all. I pestered Simon until he said yes."

2.24 "Quotas are good, but they only go part of the way. We fond that even with quotas, diverse creatives seldom make it to creative director level. So we started Rare." Which gathered a bunch of resource to promote diversity in creative workplaces.

2.19 Sorry, to clarify. Stef and Tara are the founders of Rare, which - so far as can tell - is about identity: getting to grips with your inner thang. We're about diversity, which may be a good antidote to the lack of diversity discussed this morning. They'll be our hosts for a bunch of stuff all afternoon. "We're not only advocating for diversity for ethical reasons, but also for productivity. The fact these (diversity) stats are so low, means we're missing out on a lot of creativity."

2.18 Ok we're back, with Tara and Stephanie, who I think are like ads and brand stuff.

12.31 Wrapping it up for the morning. From where I'm sitting, I can't tell if Radar's wearing overalls or a onesie.

12.20 Q from the floor. Should we be so into tech that we become passive consumers? Some research indicates link between tech dependency and dementia.

Julie: we're transcending the screen.

Andrew: "yeah. I've worked in tech for a long time, and that's why most of my hobbies are nothing to do with tech. I like getting outdoors, making things with my hands ... I fear for a human in which we do not interact as humans, one to one. I think that's what we long for."

Google guy agrees. "We have a small team." Chrissy guffaws.

12.17 Julie: "FB is really 95% focused on security right now." Wow, you can say that again.

Google guy required by chair to explain the gig economy. I think he's talking it up. "Creates flexibility. The part we're more interested in right now is about matching candidates to job descriptions. Job descriptions are kind of a lie. Like, we saw this ad for someone with 10 years of AI experience. That person doesn't really exist."

Julie interjects. "It's been around since the 1950s". 

But he's resolute. "Sure. You're still not going to find that person."

12.15 Andrew of Netflix pans TV legacy preference for fixed durations. "If a programme maker wants an hour and a half pilot followed by a series of 10 minute episodes, who cares? If that's the best way to tell the story, go ahead." Must say, I fully agree with that. 

12.14 TBI update: Hope to see you here! If you haven’t got tickets yet - don’t forget use The Big Idea’s special promo code. Click here to enable the code. Full program here.

12.09 Any questions for the stage? "Text FUTURE to 332 to join the conversation." 

12.08 Google guy: people should know it's a robot calling. I'm not a fan of trying to hide that. I think we should be transparent about that.

12.00 Julie "If we don't become better people, AI is going to reflect that. So I think we all need to become better people." Plolite laughter from an udience all too aware that Facebook isn't entirely innocent in this regard.

11.58 "I think we're far away from emotions in AI. But I think we can use AI to help people make decisions, and their emotions, and a mix with data."

Julie: "For me it depends on the media. We use AI to know what you're thinking and feeling, with facial recognition. So AI can understand what emotions are, but not why emotions are."

11.52 Apologies, TBI team meeting meant we missed Julia Peter of Facebook. Panel discussion with her, Andrew Law of Netflix and someone else I've missed. Ugh. They're talking about the need for diversity, and the lack of it, within tech. 

11.34 The chair just told the Netflix guy that Netflix is bigger than "both" NZ's national broadcasters. Would love a discussion about local content on that note.

11.32 Offers free mentoring to anyone who wants it. Great applause.

11.26 It's valuable for a designer to understand their biases. You don't do empathy. You have empathy. This is important, and so it this: you're going to fuck it up.

11.25 Immersive experience in India is about small screen, solo time. That's about small houses with multi generations. America is the opposite: big screens, groups, few people in large houses. Crikey. Such a vast idea, such casual simplicity.

11.21 Netflix started as a DVD delivery/rental company. There are no sacred cows. "I disagree with you, but please go test that." That has to applied at every level. He's talking about AB testing. "We test large ideas. We don't test the colour of a button. I lead a team of nine, designing tools for *a hundred and something* million people."

Ask yourself, challenge yourse about what the success of an idea looks like. "Failure is only the beginning. If I had a score sheet, there would be many more tallies in the fail column than the success column."

11.19 Law: "As designers, we tend to love what we do. I encourage you not to do that. I'm a white male from Silicone Valley. Most of our customers really are not like that."

11.17 If you're a Netflix member, you're probably in between about 10 and 20 tests right now.

11.12 And we're back. Andrew Law, doing a 101 on UX dev. Netflix. Cycle = start with what you know. And try and know a lot. Second step: go broad with ideation. Step 3: prototype and learn. Step 4: synthesise "learnings".

10.38 The audience has not furnished any answers to the panel's questions. Frank admission: "It didn't work. Better luck next time."

So, where's it all going?

Sara: Auto ML. If you don't have developers to build machine learning, you can DIY. Democratising AI.

Ethan: Democratising AI, "I really hope it's not replacing humans." Great! "I was a philosophy major ... Heidigger ... techno sceptic. We're optimised to work with people, not machine."

aaand break.

1035 What would you say to your 15 year old teenager?

Ethan: You're fifteen, you've got time. Braoden your experience as much as you can. 

Sara: Don't expect to work in what you're training. Once you get to a certain level of mastery, it's about liberating yourself.

Michael: If you're fifteen, and know what you want to do for the rest of your life, you're wrong.

That's probably better advice to parents, IMO. Do many kids at fifteen pretend or claim to have it all mapped out? Not in my house.

10.32 Over time, organisations like Ideo started talking design thinking, and the business world has picked up on that. But we're at risk of losing just good, design. I think he means, UX is great, but can - if overcooked - it can compromise what we might call beauty: creative design leadership.

10.29 Sara: trad service design is for a researcher go into say a hospital and see how it all works for the patient. That's the classical model. Argues for complimenting that with a more technological approach. "I don't advocate for everyone to learn how to code. But rather, to build a sense of untuition" on tech.

10.26 Sara: One thing that unites all three panelists is that they usually lacked the skills to do the jobs they applied for. "Look for ways to uncomfortable." Her own career is "characterised by challenges, switching careers, sectors, and living outside my comfort zone."

10.25 The conversation has really picked up on employment as the mainstay of "technology making a better world."

Sara: talks of a background in trad. business getting disrupted by the people she's on stage with, Uber and ABnB. "I look for how people face challenges, identify lacked skills, and collaborate with people when they lack those skills."

10.22 Sara: most HR recruiting systems are dreadful. I guess that means HR, watch out. The internet has barely even arrived in your sector, yet.

10.20 What then happens in the face to face? "In the US we're experience very low unemployment. Exactly 6 million open positions, and the same number looking for jobs. But do the people looking for the jobs have the right skills, and live in the right places? I'm interested in how ... we can create a dashboard based on skills and opportunities." Among other priorities: US veterans. 

10.19 Sara Ortloff Khoury on trust: "People trust Google for the accuracy of it" due to its machine learning and transparency. Which, she says, builds trust in a way better than more human processes. "It's people's queries and interactions with the system that make it more trustworthy."

10.18 Apologies for not covering Sara Ortloff Khoury of Google. So far, only one question.

10.15 Ethan Eismann: Your ablity to make money "isn't what we prioritise. Once you start hosting, that's when we focus on helping you understand hospitality.  I read a lot about Disney. Every employee learns a lot about creating great experiences all the time, every day."

10.13 Michael Gough: "I've been an iritant of people with great ideas, my whole career... there are 1500 great ideas in the room right now, and they don't matter." Ha ha all round. What!? "All that matters is education."

10.07 JL: Ethan Eismann, AirBnB says "It's not about growth. It's about changing people's lives... it's probably one of the hardest things to do." I'd be interested to know their customers' perceptions of that.

10.00 JL: Gough announces a break. People start leaving auditorium. House lights still dark. Panel discussion on stage. Wait! They're just putting questions to the audience to consider over the break. I think.

"I would love to hear more about what the audience considers assistive technology." 

"Do you believe that a design can broaden its scope to be a strong push for social, economic and environmental good?"

OK. Break later.

9.58 JL: "It's my job to figure out how to unlock other opportunities" beyond transporting people and stuff. Puts out an open call to anyone to come along - ahem - for the ride.

9.55 JL: Michael Gough from the polarising ride sharer Uber on how design makes his life hard. "There's a reason they didn't think of it before. It's probably not a good idea. If it's whacky, don't trust it." 

"You can't solve just one problem."

"Coherence. Good design preserves the integrity of the patterns that contain it."

8.05 JL:: where is everyone?

Thursday 7.45 am. JL:

The train’s on time. Reason to be cheerful.

Wednesday, 11pm. JL:

One thing I like about Semi Permanent is that they tend to change it up from year to year. The first I attended was well arty. Another one emphasised agency creatives. This year, it's got a two-tone feel, with corporate web folks on one hand, and individual artist practitioners on the other. I guess there's also an in-between spot, with a wide range of creatives making waves in business.

Thursday morning looks to be all about the new titans of digital: Air BnB, Google and Uber get the day rolling, with Netflix and Facebook mopping up the morning tea. Heavy duty. Do they travel in packs? I don't know if I can take that much web 2 or whatever we're up to yet, before lunch. 

Thursday afternoon heads off in a different direction. In fact, two different directions at once. Rare AKL promises to explore how eight creative champs embraced their difference. We're looking forward to the artist Flox's keynote. Partly because she turned up in this article on TBI a couple of weeks ago, and partly because we just like her. Meanwhile in Beyond Fun and Games: three kiwis and a San Franciscan discuss the holistic paradigm of gaming and its contribution to social stuff like education, rehab for elders, technical training and even "the changing nature of our culture and social connections." Bloody hell.

Friday looks like a more blended experience. One blend we're very keen on is in the early arvo sessions. Marc Smith is a New Zealander now donkey deep in MPC, which does everything from VFX for feature films to ads and art installations. And before the break, Hera Lindsay Bird talks abo ... actually I have no idea what she'll talk about. But I'm looking forward to what the iconoclastic poet from Port Chalmers comes up with. 

We notice that lunch on Friday includes "mindfulness." Can't wait to try some of that.

Saturday is given much to designers: graphic, industrial, fashion, you name it. One name which piqued our interest is Nicola Peters. In a sense, she looks like one of the least arty people in the entire conference, unless your idea of art is something more like technological innovation. Just that she seems to be incredibly good at it. And, as Andy Warhol once said, "an artist is someone who's good at something. Like, if you're a good cook." So, bring on the "exploration of consciousness, it's implications for the singularity, and ... the future humans' spiritual connection to technology"!

Written by

James Littlewood

8 Aug 2018

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