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Alibaba promotes design offerings at SXSW

By MAY ZHOU in Austin, Texas | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-03-11 22:57
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The line started forming about an hour before Leung Shanying, design director of Alibaba's Alipay, was to talk about designing a cashless city and borderless world, on the first day of SXSW.

SXSW (South by Southwest Conference & Festivals) celebrates "the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries". The 10-day event opened on Friday and will conclude on March 17.

"I want to learn what's going on around the world and hope to learn something and be inspired," said Joachim Lovf, a digital consultant from Oslo.

Zachary Simon of Minnesota works in financial services technology; he said he was attending to find out more about artificial intelligence (AI) in cashless cities.

Michael O'Shea of Illinois, who works for an online kitchen-parts company, said he wanted "to learn something about payment design and consumer behaviors. I am curious to see if it's different in China."

Leung cited Alibaba's numerous projects to illustrate its all inclusive design concepts.

The "Five Blessings" red envelope project was successful in bringing back Chinese cultural traditions; an AI-assisted poster design app enables small-business owners from family grocery stores to noodle stands enjoy well designed posters, from logo to content.

Leung emphasized Alibaba's design core value of equal opportunity for people from all walks of lives: a 67-year old Chongqing street vendor acquired a personal QR code for 50 cents to conduct business.

Leung also showed how an Alibaba-designed app helps reduce carbon foot prints. The Ant Forest app has more than 400 million users, and the program helped to plant more than 55 million trees in China as of May 2018. Its Ant Farm app helped to deliver 680,000 textbooks and reached 1.1 million children.

"We cannot pay attention to the latest technology only. There are always people left behind. It's up to us designers to include them," Leung said.

"I realized that there is a lot for us to learn here from people around the world," said Leung, who was attending SXSW for the second time. "We have done a lot, and we think the world can also learn from us. Our last year's talk had generated great feedback and inspired a lot of people from around the world.

"A lot of designers showed interest in our design technology and concepts, and we would like to continue to share that with the world," he said.

Paul Fu, senior director at Alibaba's natural human computer interaction lab, discussed how to leverage those interaction capabilities and AI technology to digitize five senses-realized intuitive interactions.

Fu said that Alibaba's AI design is relatively advanced and helps to reduce the labor-intensive parts. Such an achievement is in part due to China's market size.

"There are only 11 US cities with population of 1 million or more; there are 167 such cities in China. This provides various scenarios for the Alibaba designers to test and move forward," Fu said.

He said that Alibaba's presence at SXSW also has helped the world get to know Alibaba better. "A lot of them were surprised to find out Alibaba has such a large-scale design scope with AI technology," he said.

Alibaba got inspired by SXSW, too, Leung said.

"I attended a few design sessions last year and learned something about offline user experience evaluation from one of them," he said. "After I got back, I appointed a team to focus on that aspect, and some of the results were included in my talk this year. SXSW is a great platform to let us be known and get inspired. Alibaba will definitely come back to SXSW next year," Leung said.

Alibaba presented four talks about its design, the topic ranges from AI, design concepts, user experiences, cloud, design for logistics. The team brought more than 10 people to SXSW.

Hugh Forrest, chief programming officer at SXSW, said he was happy to see that China has created a pipeline at SXSW, and that it has grown in the past three years.

"So much innovation is happening in China. If SXSW celebrates innovation, it makes more sense to have these Chinese innovators, entrepreneurs and creators at the event," Forrest said. "What Alibaba and some other Chinese companies are doing in terms of cashless and mobile payment system is light years ahead of what we are doing in the US."

Vivian Forrest, founder and CEO of China Gathering at SXSW, said that the Chinese delegation doubled from last year, with more than 100 participants. She said her goal is to create a China House for SXSW 2020 to have the country represented like many other nations from around the world.

"With a China House, we can have our own venue 24 hours a day. We can put all sorts of Chinese elements in it. In a way, SXSW has become a mini world expo for other countries," she said.

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