Get to know Interaction20’s keynote speakers (pt III)

Amanda Lim
Jan 15 · 5 min read

A New Dawn presents: Awa Caba and Matt Cottam — keynote speakers of day 3

[also read: part I and part II]

ay 3 of Interaction20 is about Ch-ch-changes. To bring you through just that, we selected subthemes close to our heart for these next keynotes. With Awa Caba and Matt Cottam, we will be examining design non-fiction and the empowerment of women and youths in emerging markets .

What absolutely excites you about design right now?

Awa Caba: keynote speaker at A New Dawn, Interaction Week 2020

Awa Caba: Scarcity and new unexplored creativity are what excite me. Design has the power to give meaning, methodology, shape to a usual thing or something that has never been used.

Matt Cottam: The generation graduating design schools right now. When we were at school in the 90s we aspired to human-centered design for better ergonomics, or biomimicry for more elegant forms. They are going beyond this. They create positive change starting with their own lives, and not just through responsible design for others. Driven by the youngest Tellarters, our shared daily office lunch is now vegetarian. We try to keep air travel to a minimum and ask our clients to pay carbon offsets. As my friend Simona says, this new generation is one of “world-centered designers.” In a current project for EXPO 2020 we were asked to develop a takeaway for visitors that would have resulted in over 5 million physical things being created and distributed… Even with small paper decals, that is a significant environmental impact. Our client happily agreed to us developing intangible takeaways for our pavilion experience: memories, learnings, new relationships and positive messages — instead of stuff.

What’s a little known thing we should know about you?

Awa: I am passionate about discovering new culinary art. I taste everything. This allows me to discover a new culture and tradition. Tastes, colors and smells create unforgettable memories and transmit different sensations, so I can never really resist tasting something new.

Matt Cottam: keynote speaker at A New Dawn, Interaction Week 2020

Matt: When I taught studio courses at RISD for ten years, we would focus half the year on physical computing and the other half on design for extreme environments. We covered areas like Mountain Travel & Rescue with the National Ski Patrol, Disaster Medicine with the Federal Disaster Medical System, Long Duration Space Habitation with NASA. It was through the combination of these two semester topics that I fell in love with experience design — through shaping, and responding to, environments. I’m addicted to continuing education and friends tease me about collecting certifications. I spent years studying to become a Paramedic to inform design work and realized I loved emergency medicine, especially in extreme environments. Now I race across the ocean several times per year on Volvo 60 and 70 sailboats as navigator and medic. Right now I am working on my Forest School certification so I can turn my teaching about outdoor orienteering from graduate design programs to the class of my 7-year old daughter and her friends.

What are you reading right now?

Awa: The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, a spiritual fable about fulfilling your dreams and reaching your destiny. This is an excellent guide book that will connect us to an inexhaustible source of courage, joy, and balance.

Matt: I always have a few threads going at once, for various modes of travel… Right now, on long haul trips, I am reading Let my People Go Surfing by Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard. I’m also listening to the audio version of Beastie Boys Book while commuting on my bike. I love non-fiction about people, often groups of friends, who made up their own map while navigating through life. Friends who decided that a great work/life balance was to make work as fun and fair and creative as possible, so they never had to have a “real job”.

What are you going to talk about at Interaction20?

Awa: Digital economy, youth, and women empowerment. How to design an effective solution that can impact underserved communities. I will also talk about how the younger generations in Africa are impacting rural populations by using the immersion method and technology in agriculture, highlighting how youths are taking the best of the local realities and the past to create a transition to the future.

Matt: How design practice has responded to emerging tools and materials — technologies — since the turn of the century. In our practice we learned that the best designs are often discovered through a hands-on dialogue between tool and material, in the workshops. As designers working with code, sensing, networks, AI and synthetic biology, we continuously have to turn these intangible and invisible design media into things we can directly sketch in. Friends at Tellart and I traveled around the world for a year collecting video interviews with peers that we have collaborated with over the past 20 years. We are now publishing these online for free under the title Design Nonfiction.

Awa Caba is co-founder and CEO of Sooretul, the first digital platform for women in agriculture in Senegal. A computer science engineer, she is also a founding member of the first network of women in science and technology in Senegal, Jjiguene Tech Hub, whose aim is to encourage and inspire more women to integrate the ecosystem of technology and Steam. Awa also coordinates Yeesal Agrihub, an agribusiness tech hub to stimulate youth to create innovative solutions in agriculture.

Get to know Awa better.

Matt Cottam has directed strategy and design projects for clients such as Google, Prime Minister’s Office of the UAE, Expo 2020, Samsung, and Philips. His agency, Tellart, has won awards the likes of Cannes Lions, SXSW Experimental, Webby, D&AD Yellow Pencil, AIGA Case, Core77 and more. An internationally recognised speaker and professor of design, Matt is a member of the Core Faculty at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID, Denmark).

More about Matt here.


The Interaction Design Association (IxDA) is a member-supported organization, focusing on interaction design issues for the practitioner, no matter their level of experience.

Amanda Lim

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Contemplating my big piece. Ideas?



The Interaction Design Association (IxDA) is a member-supported organization, focusing on interaction design issues for the practitioner, no matter their level of experience.

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