Design

Major trends from SXSW 2019 (hint: the robots are coming)

4 min read
Kristin Hillery  •  Mar 15, 2019
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As South by Southwest Interactive comes to a close, we’re taking a break from the breakfast tacos and brisket and looking back at some of the most interesting exhibitors we saw at this year’s SXSW Trade Show—a four-day event showcasing promising startups, entrepreneurs, students, and established industry leaders. And robots. And VR. And…sushi?

Downloadable sushi

Picture this: It’s Friday night and you’ve got a reservation for two at the hottest restaurant in town. You’ve been looking forward to this for weeks. But once you arrive, the host has some crushing news. “I’m sorry, but we can’t accommodate you tonight because we never received your stool sample.”

Oh, this? I just downloaded it.

Folks, that’s going to be the deal at Sushi Singularity, a restaurant opening next year in Tokyo. Once you make a reservation, you’ll be sent a health test kit. Return it with saliva, urine, and—yep—stool samples and they’ll figure out which nutrients you’re low on.

With that data, they’ll know to include some B12 and magnesium in your 3D-printed rainbow roll.

Open Meals, the Japanese company behind Sushi Singularity, sees this as the beginning of a food revolution: they believe that we’ll eventually build “a digital platform where we can store a myriad of food data,” which will enable people all over the world to share and download food.

Imagine being able to finally send your best friend in Brazil a loaded baked potato, your great aunt in Orlando a sloppy Joe, and your father a cake that says, “Congratulations on forgetting my birthday again.”

Does this all just sound fishy? Nah. The future of food is on a roll.

Forklifts pick up VR

By 2028, there will be 2.4 million unfilled manufacturing jobs. There will never, ever be a better time to be a forklift operator.

To prepare for this, the Raymond Corporation has launched a virtual reality simulator that’s a supplemental tool in developing and training new and existing forklift operators.

“By 2028, there will be 2.4 million unfilled manufacturing jobs. There will never, ever be a better time to be a forklift operator.”
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The technology plugs into real, actual Raymond forklifts, disabling the machine so employers can train new hires with a series of guided lessons that increase in complexity; pre-screen applicants (for example, sussing out candidates who are afraid of heights); and provide refresher instruction on an ongoing basis.

Hello, it’s me, I’ve been wondering about all of these virtual realities.

A forklift in the middle of the SXSW trade show floor initially looked totally out of place, but after we completed the first guided lesson in VR, we removed the headset to find a crowd of hopeful forklift operators had formed around the booth.

They were curious to see the same thing we were: how a 97-year-old company is completely shifting the way they operate in order to find success in this strange, ever-changing digital world we’re in.

Great news: We passed the lesson with a 100/100. No fear of heights detected.

We’re ready for you, 2028.

Designing for social impact

UK-based Lush Cosmetics is perhaps best known for their handmade, 100% vegetarian line of bath products, but they’re actually a tech company focused on digital ethics, sustainability, and innovation.

Sure, their retail products are responsibly made, but there’s so much more that goes into a business besides what they’re selling. For Lush, one of the biggest concerns is electronic waste, the fastest-growing waste stream in the world—thanks to our “upgrade culture” of tossing old devices as soon as a shiny new version comes out.

Known for their cosmetics, renowned for their e-waste technology

There are e-waste dumps popping up all over the world, one of the largest being Agbogbloshie in Ghana—also known as the most toxic place on earth.

“The devices are being burned, there’s toxic chemicals going up into the air,” explained Alice Dorrington, Lush’s Digital Ethics Coordinator. “The thing about this is that the minerals in the devices getting discarded are the same minerals that are getting mined out of the earth. So at both ends of the cycle, in the birth and the death of devices, there’s a tremendous amount of environmental damage.”

“If you’re doing work for good, that should become a new normal. So you don’t just focus on being good at cosmetics and stop worrying about all this other bad stuff that’s going on behind the scenes.”
Alice Doddington
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To do their part, Lush has a company-wide “bring your own device” policy, as well as an in-house project to produce their own ethical tablet. Since every Lush retail location has multiple tablets, this will significantly reduce the company’s e-waste—along with the e-waste of any other company that’d like to follow suit.

“If you’re doing work for good, that should become a new normal. So you don’t just focus on being good at cosmetics and stop worrying about all this other bad stuff that’s going on behind the scenes,” said Dorrington. “That’s counter-intuitive to us as a company. Instead, we’ve got an amazing team that’s been working on an ethical buying policy, and looking at supply chains all over the company.”

Next up for Lush: A makeup-buying AR experience that will celebrate your individuality, rather than just applying flattering filters.

Kids’ meals get smart

Yum in Little Jimmy’s tum

Little Jimmy won’t eat his organic kale? Let Toshiba save dinner with Sizzleful, an “enhanced sensory experience that allows children to focus on their food.”

“By heightening what kids see and hear while they’re eating, there’s a better likelihood of a cleaned plate (and happy parents).”
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Their research says that kids experience food primarily through sight, smell, and sound—with taste contributing less than 10%. By heightening what kids see and hear while they’re eating, there’s a better likelihood of a cleaned plate (and happy parents).

Breastfeeding for dads

Dentsu’s father’s nursing assistant lets dads take on baby feeding duty. The wearable device looks a lot like—you guessed it—breasts, and it’s equipped with a milk tank and plastic nipple.

According to Dentsu, “much of the parental stress and difficulties surrounding child rearing are related to feeding and sleeping, and generally, the rate of participation by fathers tends to be low. Breastfeeding is also effective at helping the parent sleep—a benefit that is currently skewed toward women. Focusing on breastfeeding, we aim to decrease the amount of burden on mothers and increase the amount of time infants sleep by enabling fathers to breastfeed.”

“Focusing on breastfeeding, we aim to decrease the amount of burden on mothers and increase the amount of time infants sleep by enabling fathers to breastfeed.”
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The device also tracks data about the baby’s eating and sleeping habits that can be viewed in the app. Will we eventually see this gamified to where dads compete for who has the most milk points? Chances are skim.

More of what’s coming up in 2019…

  • 5 UX career trends for 2019
  • Video: UI animation trends for 2019
  • The past and future of motion design