SXSW 2023: BZD’s Lead UX Designer Laura Whitby Takes to The Streets of Austin, TX.

Laura Whitby, Lead UX Designer at BZDesign, has just returned home from the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) 2023 conference in Austin, Texas. Laura is an inspired design leader with over 20 years of experience developing and leading collaborative industrial and user  interaction design teams, so to view the conference through her eyes is a particularly advantageous opportunity. This year’s conference featured the hottest topics in technology, including sustainability, accessibility, electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence. Woven throughout these impactful topics was a whole-lotta-wow factor (nothing short of what you’d expect from SXSW) that we’re excited to share with you here.


The early 2000’s are all the rage once again and they certainly took center stage this year with Porsche’s Nebula, a Y2K inspired reimagination of the Porsche 928 by New York-based artist Daniel Arsham. Giving us Pimp My Ride flashbacks, the Nebula offers a pink/purple theme featuring purple leather upholstery and purple ultrasuede trimming to match. Other one-off concepts included this avian thought project also by Porsche that simply won’t stop looking at us: predating Y2K ever so slightly, we think Billy Madison would still be impressed.


Laura was particularly interested in the progressive design thinking discussions. She attended several sessions on the topic, including a talk by Shel Kimen, Co-Director of Design Thinking for Ford Motor Company, and Neil Redding of Auki Labs/Redding Futures, entitled “The Ecosystem Paradigm: Thriving-Future Tools.” As a UX designer, Laura heard best practices in co-creation connectedness, listening, being present, and expanding the field of awareness of teams to improve development. She left the session with a renewed commitment to advocating this type of design thinking for more impactful design practices.


Representing a whole different category of sessions was the Tasty Tech panel: Converting Emissions into Useful Things. Representatives from several companies spoke about technology converting greenhouse gases into protein, as well as ethanol and progress with fermentation research. Panelists included Jason Crusan of Woodside Energy, Dr. Zara Summers of Lanza Tech, Dr. Jay Kim of ReCarbon, and Dr. Ezhil Subbian of String Bio. As a design firm that specializes in technology, health and recreation related products we can’t wait to see these exciting new food-stuffs trickle down into the startup space.


Always on the sustainability docket is affordable housing. This year, two showstoppers caught Laura’s eye. First up, ICON, couldn’t be missed at SXSW 2023. The enormous outdoor exhibit served as a launch for “A Moonshot for Affordable Housing: Initiative 99.” It is a global architecture competition aimed at designing accessible, beautiful, and dignified 3D-printed homes that can be built for under $99,000. A host of architecture luminaries spearheaded the launch including Bjarke Ingels of BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group.


Bridging the gap between sustainable housing and electric vehicle trends; Lightship presented a full scale prototype of its solar-topped battery powered electric L1 RV intended for production in late 2024. With an available 80.0-kWh battery pack the L1 can motor itself about without taxing the towing vehicle. Not to mention, when Lightship takes to the market, there will finally be a worthy competitor to Airstream in aesthetic prowess and user experience. If that doesn’t quite cover your sustainable travel needs, Eve Air Mobility debuted an electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eVTOL) cabin mockup for near future urban air mobility.


It has rocked the design world this year…we all saw it coming that SXSW would capitalize… we’d be upset if they didn’t!  Artificial Intelligence is the big topic for 2023 and the conference has provided an essential jumping off point for the important conversations that need to happen as we embrace (or try to embrace) this newly available technology.  Laura, an ever-evolving professional, took to the show with an eager attitude, ready to explore how AI could be used to improve user experiences.


The topics were broad: talks were provided on how AI is making an impact on the beauty industry (Estee Lauder) voice and robotics technology (ZenBuisness), healthcare (Johnson & Johnson), design (Microsoft), quantum computing (Strangeworks), and so many more. Laura found herself particularly drawn to the AI development that is autonomous driving. Mercedes hosted a panel discussion on “Autonomous Driving: More Time To Do What You Love.” Mercedes-Benz CTO Markus Schafer, spoke of significant progress developing their own custom chips and software for level 3 and even level 4 autonomous driving. Mercedes has initiated long term partnerships with firms like Luminar and Zync to enable safe, secure, best in class driving experiences in the future.


Overall, the SXSW conference provided an excellent opportunity for Laura to explore the latest trends in technology and connect with other designers and innovators in the field. She returned to Rochester to share her discoveries with all of us at BZD and now with you too! It is immersive experiences like these that allow us to remain on the cutting edge and to offer clients innovative solutions for their needs. Thanks for sharing your experience with us Laura and for giving us a fresh perspective to carry with us into the rest of the year!