Artefact on Tech Tarot, Kara Swisher, and Culpability in Silicon Valley
March 20, 2019
When we asked Sheryl Cababa, an Executive Creative Director at Artefact Group, why her design consultancy decided to sponsor our Journalism Series event with Kara Swisher, she answered, “Kara is like the tech industry’s gadfly—she’s one of the few journalists that doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to ethics and responsibility for big tech in particular.”
Seattle Arts & Lectures is delighted to have Artefact as our Opus Sponsor! To learn more about this design consultancy, their recent projects, and their connections to Kara, we interviewed Sheryl, who has 20 years of experience in product design and consultancy. Sheryl helps other designers spark their creativity by leading workshops in sketching, interaction design, and design research methods—read more on that below!
1) Tell us about Artefact Group! What do you do?
Artefact is a design consultancy based here in Seattle. We make technology products, services and experiences that are as useful and accessible as they are captivating. Our projects span everything from a stress relief app for young patients at Seattle Children’s Hospital, to the operating systems of augmented and virtual reality headsets, to the hardware design of the NFL’s football helmet.
As an Executive Creative Director, I lead our talented design teams in strategy and vision. I also have the opportunity to push our practice toward a more inclusive and responsible design approach, which is a particular passion of mine.
2) What drew you to Kara Swisher’s event? What are you most looking forward to?
Kara is like the tech industry’s gadfly—she’s one of the few journalists that doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to ethics and responsibility for big tech in particular. Kara is always going to say something amazing, controversial and smart. That trifecta of her personality is why I’m so excited to see her talk about tech in person.
A lot of people give leaders in the tech industry license to view themselves as masters of the universe. Kara is not intimidated and doesn’t back down, which is why I think she’s such an important voice in tech. Kara and I have actually crossed (digital) paths on Twitter when Artefact launched our Tarot Cards of Tech creative tool last year.
3) The Tarot Cards of Tech tool is fascinating! Can you tell us more about that?
We created the Tarot Cards of Tech as a creative tool to help designers and technologists think through the potential impact of their products—good and bad. The cards have prompts like “What happens when 100 million people use your product?” and “Who or what disappears if your product is successful?” The tarot concept is a fun way to get creators thinking about the future beyond just how one person interacts with a product in a single moment. People are recognizing that tech is not neutral. From digital addiction to data breaches to fake news, the tech industry has to account for the consequences of its products and services.
That’s why I tweeted the cards to Kara ahead of a meeting she was having with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and CTO Mike Schroepfer and asked her to pass them on. She actually replied, “Why? Do they need them?” I don’t know if the cards ever made it to Sheryl & Co., but having our work acknowledged by Kara was an exciting moment itself.
4) What questions do you want to ask Kara?
I’d like to ask Kara about SoftBank and the Saudi government money that has been funding so many tech companies. Saudi Arabia is the largest investor in SoftBank’s Vision Fund, which focuses on investment in tech companies like Uber, DoorDash, Wag, and many more. After the highly publicized disappearance of Saudi Arabian dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, people are beginning to question the relationship between the tech industry and Saudi money. I want to know what effect Kara thinks this increased financial scrutiny will have on the tech industry, if any. I’m glad she has been pushing the industry and calling out this hypocritical narrative of tech companies making the world a better place while simultaneously taking money from countries that are violating human rights.
We have to understand that the negative impact of the tech industry can’t be blamed on just one company. For example, there’s a general understanding that Facebook isn’t doing a very responsible job with their services, but the rest of Silicon Valley is just as culpable. So many companies are taking money from SoftBank, and every tech company has impacted their users and society at large in irresponsible ways. I’d love to see Kara come to the heart of Amazon country and talk about its impact on communities.
5) What are you reading right now? What’s inspiring you in art and culture?
I’m reading Winner Takes All by Anand Giridharadas. It explores how large corporations are engaging in record levels of philanthropy and paying lip service to social justice, all the while dodging taxes wherever they can and neglecting to pay the people they employ a fair wage (take Amazon warehouses, for example). It touches on this interesting moment we are in where economics is intersecting with big tech. In short, giving money away doesn’t absolve you of the way you made it to begin with—and the consequences of that process.
I’ve also been fascinated by – stay with me here – the Fyre Festival documentaries. I really think they’re a parable for our time. I was riveted because the fundraising that they did for these non-existent events is completely emblematic of the venture capital funding that happens across the tech industry. This festival just happened to be easy to understand and entertaining, but oftentimes the same scenario is happening on Sand Hill Road and people don’t see it. It’s not so public (or easy to ridicule).
Thank you, Sheryl and Artefact! Tickets to our Journalism Series event with Kara Swisher on Tuesday, May 7, are still available. Head to lectures.org to learn more.