Lessons From Semi Permanent Sydney 2017

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Semi Permanent Sydney 2017

3 days, 100+ artists and speakers, over 6,000 attendees and infinite ideas: Semi Permanent Sydney 2017 was another milestone in our 15-year journey to design a future we can be proud of. Here's what we learnt. 

A.I will define our community in ways never thought possible.  

Artificial intelligence was a big theme this week; not just from our Future State: A.I panel with leading academic Toby Walsh and IBM Watson's Ian Wong, but from speakers of all disciplines: from graphic and industrial design to architects, artists, teachers, and data scientists. From curing cancer to facilitating cities and furthering creative endeavours, we are on the cusp of (what Walsh believes to be) the next industrial revolution, one that will dictate societal changes on the scale of universal healthcare and education. 

"We don't have any instrument to measure consciousness because we don't know what it is"

Toby Walsh, leading A.I academic

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Stage design by Autumn Co. Photo: Toby Peet
Our conversations bent towards the positive, with the caveat that A.I is only as good as we allow it to be. Conditional learning experiments (like Microsofts ill-fated TAY A.I bot) failed because they reflected our imperfect society. Debate wagered on how to avoid the inherent bias in our digital identities while allowing the technology to find idiosyncrasies where creative genius strikes. Can A.I be truly creative? Will it take all our jobs and render our lives meaningless? Or will it give us the time and freedom to pursue our hopes and dreams with full momentum? 
Too early to say, but if the best of the best can be excited about it, we should be too.*
*That, or life is already a simulation and we have no control over our destiny ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

VR is the next frontier for visual communication...

We've hedged our bets on VR as the future of not just visual entertainment, but immersion in multiple mediums. From better facilitating empathy with real-world experiences to designing physical spaces – even helping sufferers of pain – VR in its earliest stages hints at a new form of communication with far-reaching consequences. To give a hint of its creative possibilities, we partnered with Google Tilt Brush and four distinct collaborators – James Jean, Sharni Spencer, Luke Lucas and Kelvin Ho – to build new worlds in VR and push the limits of creative technology.

I believe we're one step closer to uploading our consciousness into the cloud.

James Jean, Artist

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Left: Sharni Spencer, Dancer.
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Right: James Jean, Artist. Images: Toby Peet

It's beyond being inspired. Its design in context, how it fits in the world.

Gemma O'Brien, Typographer

The results were impressive. Kelvin Ho's birdcage structure, complete with jaw-dropping botanicals by Luke Lucas, spoke for itself as did James Jean's interpretations of (Australian National Ballet soloist) Sharni Spencer. But when we opened the rigs up to you (the public), what we saw was even more interesting. We saw children creating worlds in minutes, adults exploring typography and graffiti forms, and fellow speakers like David Caon try their hand at it to interpret their craft in new ways.  

...But film is as powerful as it's ever been.

In an undoubted highlight for any fan of cinema or cultural history, Oscar-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone  gave us over an hour of knowledge from his life as a child (writing comic books for his dad), to a young adult (attending Yale with a young George Bush, joining the Vietnam war at 19), to his illustrious film career (getting his actors' career-defining performances in films like Platoon and Any Given Sunday), to his powerful work today covering Edward Snowden and Vladimir Putin (both of which he's spent considerable time with). Stone understands film as a medium for awareness, for response and for change, but also recognises the action thereafter is up to us.

War is a 24/7 experience, to be human was the hardest thing of all.

Oliver Stone, Filmmaker

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Oliver Stone, Murray Bell
Stone had little to say about Donald Trump, arguing his perceived incompetence is a blip where resources for resistance should be applied elsewhere. This was a theme that resonated throughout the week, with perceived suppression a boon for creative innovation and political engagement. Could Trump's failures be a catalyst to making design great? (don't @ us).

Optimism is everything. 

Designing for change requires an attitude that rejects limitations and overcomes adversity. Glenn Cole, founder of 72andSunny, broke down how important it is to be optimistic when life is throwing its worst your way. He stressed that optimism doesn't necessarily mean being happy, just that you can acknowledge the bad, focus on the good, look for partial solutions and take time out to be happy to overcome the debilitating obstacles that our community faces on a daily basis. It's something any designer facing multiple feedback rounds would find valuable. 

Optimism makes you dangerously good.

Glenn Cole, 72andSunny

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Glenn Cole, 72andSunny. Photo: Toby Peet

Design has the resolute power to create change. 

This year's theme of Designing for Change could not have come at a more pivotal time. From political turbulence and economic uncertainty to an increasingly connected globe placing fresh demand on technology, our role as designers is continually defining itself as one that will create the future that excites us. 

If you want to find a younger audience, hire younger people.

Katherine Keating, Publisher, VICE Impact

According to its publisher Katherine Keating, VICE Impact was created due to the growing political engagement amongst younger people grappling with the question of 'what now?' She stressed the need to build platforms that respond to the needs of young people, as the way we engage and fight will differ from that of the generation before us. 
Note: Our world first 'live brief' collaboration between Sea Shepherd, 72andSunny, AFTRs, Dropbox and Semi Permanent is now live. Head over to to get involved. 
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Left: Katherine Keating.
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Right: Kill the Fin Trade Live Brief
In our Future State: Cities panel, James Pearce, Jess Miller and Stuart O'Brien taught us how innovations in architecture can redefine neighbourhoods and why non-commercial objectives are just as vital as returns on investment. MCA Director Liz Ann Macgregor and Carriageworks Director Lisa Havilah stressed the importance of cultural centres for cities as the 'town halls of the future'. And Jonathan Briggs of Hyper Island reaffirmed education as a perpetual machine that should be constantly innovating and changing to the needs of modern students. 

Embrace change, stay true to your values, be willing to adapt, always be learning, and keep moving forward.

Ron Dumas, Senior Director of Brand Packaging, NIKE

Naturally, commercial work pays the bills but there is no reason we can't innovate in this space too. With a talk spanning 40 years amongst the Swoosh, Nike's Kevin Coatman and Ron Dumas showed us how to embrace change while sticking true to your core values (their 'Air Max Day' campaign was a masterclass in capitalising on pre-existing brand audiences to launch a new product). Speaking across all three days of SP, DesignStudio's Paul Stafford and Ben Wright took us behind their rebrands for some of the world's biggest companies, with their immersive process across businesses and their audiences pivotal to redefining travel, hospitality and sports media. 
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Kevin Coatman, Ron Dumas, Nike
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Kevin Coatman, Ron Dumas, Nike
Internationally acclaimed architects/designers Henry Wilson, Kelvin Ho and David Caon dismissed the idea that you can't work locally and be successful internationally (when you have the diligence and network to facilitate it). Getty Images' Jacqueline Bourke once again showed us how using data can inform our creative decision making, while artists like Pete + Toby and Dion Horstman put this into play as part of our Lexus 'Hidden Artistry' installation. If by the end of the week you didn't think your craft had a place in the design world, you weren't listening hard enough. 
We have the power as a community to design a future we can be excited by and proud of. It's on us to make it happen.
Thanks to all our speakers, artists, and you for coming down and getting involved. We'll see you soon. 
- Team SP
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Photos: Toby Peet
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Photos: Toby Peet
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Lexus 'Hidden Artistry'. Photo: Kyle Ford
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Award installation. Photo: Toby Peet
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Left: Signage from Autumn Co.
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Right: Lexus 'Hidden Artistry' installation by Pete + Toby

I believe the most triumphant moves in society have happened under duress.

Aaron Rose, Artist

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Ron Dumas and Kevin Coatman, Nike

Data and A.I are not new asset classes. Consumer trust is.

Saruabh Datta, Frog Design

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Hand painted signage by Aaron Rose at La Rosa Bar.

I have nothing to do with Skynet.

Amazon Alexa

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Henry Wilson
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Left: Interior design by WeAreTriibe,
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Left: Google Tilt Brush installation. Photos: Toby Peet
Keynote Talks