How a Speculative Neuroscientist Uses Her Marketing Savvy to Create Immersive Experiences

Ashley Baccus-Clark highlights social issues with new technologies

Ashley Baccus-Clark originally trained as a molecular biologist.
Ben Morris and Ab[Screenwear]

“Art used to be science, and science used to be art,” explained Ashley Baccus-Clark. For the past seven months, Baccus-Clark has worked at the intersection of those subjects as a speculative neuroscientist for Hyphen-Labs, a 3-year-old collective of women of color that uses both science and art to create experiences with an eye on social issues.

Baccus-Clark originally trained as a molecular biologist with a focus on stem cell research; eventually, she shifted her focus toward retail marketing solutions, joining Warby Parker. Last summer, while working at the company’s headquarters in New York, Baccus-Clark described how, within a short time of one another, “two unarmed black men were shot and murdered.” At the time, she was living with her friend and Hyphen-Labs co-founder Carmen Aguilar y Wedge. Lacking a space to talk about the need for increased awareness in their community, the two women started a tradition of self-care weekends that involved spending time outdoors. Baccus-Clark soon noticed that the sunscreen she used on those occasions was discoloring her skin, likely because it had been formulated with only lighter complexions in mind.

Baccus-Clark’s experiences of inequality within the marketing landscape combined with the climate of social injustice inspired her to join Hyphen-Labs full time with the aim of creating art and data that would help educate people and brands about those issues. “There are many landscapes that have a lack of representation,” she said. “We wanted to find ways to thoughtfully address that through the lens of product designers, developers, scientists and artists.”

With the help of emerging technologies, plus research and insights into communities, Baccus-Clark creates fact-based, immersive experiences. One recent project, a VR experience titled NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism, debuted at Sundance in January before being shown at SXSW. It shows users a futuristic salon designed for women of color.

“We want to tell stories of social impact in VR and through new product design and research,” explained Baccus-Clark. “Through this immersive experience, users can experience new media in different ways and connect with those issues differently.”

Curriculum Vitae

Hyphen-Labs
2016 – present
Speculative Neuroscientist

Warby Parker
2012 – 2016
Showroom coordinator; store leader; associate brand manager, retail brand marketing

UC San Francisco
2008 – 2010
Graduate student researcher in cell and molecular biology

Job Profile
By using VR and other emerging technologies, combined with research and insights into communities, Baccus-Clark helps create fact-based, immersive experiences to help consumers and marketers understand and tackle big issues.

How She Got the Position
Baccus-Clark’s backgrounds in science and marketing helped her bring a new perspective to Hyphen-Labs. As for the “speculative neuroscientist” title, she chose it “not only for my current career, but for where I saw my career in the future.”

Words of Wisdom
“We’re supposed to create art projects and other work that questions you or makes you feel uncomfortable. That’s not necessarily the goal of our experiences, but that’s the nature of talking about issues like this,” she said.

This story first appeared in the March 27, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.