Better WorldxDesign embraces tech, art

Three-day conference brings together students, professionals from across country

Contributing Writer
Tuesday, October 1, 2019

This year’s Better WorldxDesign three-day conference was themed “NOISE,” and included speakers who had made noise for change.

Collaboration came to College Hill this weekend when designers, educators and entrepreneurs gathered for Better WorldxDesign’s three-day conference.

“I discovered that my interest in design was an interest in art, and my interest in art was an interest in culture,” said Brendan Ciecko, founder and CEO of Cuseum, a start-up that incorporates technology like virtual reality into museums. Ciecko,in a white shirt with letters of code printed all around it, stood in front of a crowd of students, PowerPoint at the ready.

The weekend-long event marks BWxD’s 12th year running, and the ninth year of each conference having its own theme. The group chose “NOISE” as this year’s theme, inspired by disturbance and the positive creativity that can come from it, according to Co-Chair of BWxD Tristan Harris ’20.

“We wanted something that was a verb,” Harris said, “and while noise isn’t necessarily a verb it can be used as one and it can be put into action. For example, you can literally make ‘noise.’”

In accordance with the theme, Harris and the two other chairs — Erica Silver RISD ’20 and Tina Yang ’20 — as well as an entire committee of 22 other Brown and RISD students, chose speakers who they saw as unafraid to make noise for positive change. In total, the group brought in 25 speakers from locations ranging from the Boston area to Mexico.

Among those speakers were Becca Ricks and Zoe Bachman, members of a collective called tendernet, which facilitates workshops and other activities to explore gender dynamics in design, surveillance and privacy, among other topics.

Bachman and Ricks led a workshop titled “Imagining Feminist Interfaces” on Saturday morning, where they compelled attendees to think critically about the intersection between voice technology, software and the pillars of feminism.

“If my attendees were to have one takeaway from our workshop,” Ricks said, “it would be for them to know that things don’t have to be the way they are. You can, and should, change them.”

Bachman agreed: “I was really impressed with the students at this university because they were already so well positioned to think critically in critical spaces. Many, of course, with an activist lens as well.”

Students in attendance, with lanyards hanging around their necks and tote bags with “NOISE” in colorful letters on their arms, showed up for a weekend of activities for a wide variety of academic and professional interests.

Jessy Ma ‘21, a computer science concentrator, felt drawn to the event because she is “interested in applying human-centered design for technology to solving social problems.”

“It’s interesting to see the flipside of what I focus on at school since my work in CS is super math heavy and abstract. I think it’s important to get the full picture,”said Jessica Dai ‘21, a CS concentrator.

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