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Focus on the 2016 digital festival EYEO

Focus on the 2016 digital festival EYEO

Paul Bouisset tells us about his experience participating in the 2016 EYEO exhibition.

Every year in June, a community of designers, artists, developers and an eclectic mix of digital enthusiasts come together in Minneapolis (USA). In 2016, I had the opportunity to attend the EYEO festival as a volunteer worker and enjoyed a week packed full of discovery and inspiration.

This event is an occasion for the community to seek inspiration and reflect on themes related to data visualization and digital technology in general. The festival takes place over one week with a series of conferences during the day and more in the evening in some of the hotspots of Minneapolis (Guthrie Theater, Nicollet Island Pavillon, etc.) The festival has made a reputation for itself over the past few years thanks to its speakers, who are ever more inspiring and passionate about their work. Each participant presents their project, insights and viewpoint in their field of digital expertise. What struck me most is the diversity of profiles. Digital artists, designers, committed journalists, lecturers, developers, scientists, activists, and the list goes on. All these people from different fields belong to this community which shares the same passion.

We shouldn’t think of EYEO as a gathering of geeks mad about technology but rather as a community that works and reflects on much more varied and meaningful themes. This year, amongst other things, we had the chance to hear about the work of Josh Begley, a data artist/developer who has been a long-term protester against American drones or racism towards the black community in the US. His talk focused on his work, but also looked at the more general question of the human aspect of the data we collect and the impact it can have thanks to certain projects.

In the same vein, we also listened to Caroline Sinders who is currently fighting against online harassment of women. It’s always exciting and gratifying to see people using their design practice to fight for something they believe in.

An inspiring conference about our relationship with machines

Alexis Lloyd, creative director of the NewYorkTimes research laboratory gave a fascinating talk on our relationship with machines today. Should machines look like us? Should they become companions? Who out of CP3O, R2D2 or Iron Man is the example of the perfect robot? The multitasking servant, the machine with a personality, or simply the one which makes us more powerful? Designers play a key role in these choices as they are the ones who determine our relationship with technology on a daily basis.

"Machine Learning" and "Humane Technology"

Certain speakers are pioneers in their field and presented their latest projects. They open doors to many other people thanks to their experimentation. Gene Kogan and Kyle Mcdonald, two artists and programmers, use machine learning in their artistic projects. Machine learning is a rapidly expanding field in the world of digital technology. It’s a kind of computer program designed to “train” computers to learn and think for themselves. At EYEO, it’s interesting to see technologies which, up to now, were reserved for the world of IT engineers being used in artistic and design projects; the festival raises new questions about the future of these tools.

Other conferences talk about technology in general. Jesse Kriss (former employee at NASA JPL) gave a talk entitled “Humane Technology” or how to make technology more human-centered in the age of big data and ubiquitous digital culture. As an interaction designer, this is a subject which I personally find fascinating. All these issues and questions are essential for a designer. Knowing how to challenge ideas and think critically about this kind of problem is a vital skill in a profession which can easily be influenced by the latest fads.

A conference by Sarah Hendren, impresario, or the definition of design

I would like to end this article by talking about Sarah Hendren as she made a big impression on me and will continue to have an important influence on my design practice in the future. Sarah Hendren is an artist/design researcher and lecturer at Olin College (located in the vicinity of Boston) where she teaches design to engineering students. It was generally agreed that her 2015 conference was the best the festival had ever known, so it was no surprise when she was invited to give her talk at the 2016 closing evening. To understand Sarah Hendren’s work you have to understand her tireless commitment to designing for people with disabilities who are often overlooked, and her back to basics approach to design. Most of her projects do not require revolutionary technologies or exceptional conditions, but they are all meaningful and respond to a precise problem for a specific group of users. It is not always easy as a designer to advocate for simplicity and a humbler approach to design, even though that is often the best solution.

In her talk, Sarah explained that she is neither an engineer nor a scientist by trade but that she thinks of herself rather as an impresario. Connecting people with the skills you need and knowing how to design projects using analysis. In my opinion it is perhaps one of the best definitions of design and Sarah Hendren is an excellent example of it.

I would need three articles to talk about every conference and all the highlights of the festival (a live Skype chat with the astronaut Chris Hadfield is definitely one of them). But the important thing to remember is that EYEO is the perfect event to get your fill of inspiration, take a critical look at your design practice and discover a whole world of opportunities and perspectives for the future of digital technology.

Paul Bouisset, 2016 Alumni

UX Design at Feld Studio in Berlin

All the conferences from the 2016 EYEO festival are available to view here – they come highly recommended: