My Belated SXSW 2010 Recap


If you have anything to do with online, interactive or digital, or you’ve even heard of the internet, you probably know that SXSW Interactive was going on from March 12th – 16th. Erin and I had the opportunity to return to Austin this year to experience it again, and to be completely honest, it started a bit rough for me. It wasn’t until halfway through the second day that I remembered something critical for all SXSW attendees: you put in to SXSW what you want to put in, and you get out of SXSW what you want to get out. To say SXSW is “good” or “bad” says more about yourself than the conference. I changed my attitude, which in turn changed what I got out of SXSW.

So here’s my belated recap. This is by no means a complete review or summary of each panel. Far from it. These are just some of the bits I could put into words… the rest will come out in the work we’re doing at Substance. The overall quick summary, to paraphrase this Time magazine article: Build engagement, not websites.

Friday, March 12th

History of the Button
Buttons online are modeled on our previous experience with real-world buttons, which abstract the “action” from the “result.” With changing interaction methods, the concept of a “button” is rapidly evolving, which is something we, as interaction designers, need to consider, incorporate and imagine the possibilities. (What better way than kicking off SXSW than with fellow Portlander Bill DeRouchey? I can’t possibly sum up all his ideas in this small space.)

Getting Stoked on Web Typography
For me, this was simply a refresher on what Cory has been preaching for years: everyone doesn’t need to have the same browsing experience based on the platform and browser they’re using. Build a best case experience as far as fonts and styles go, and “degrade gracefully” for people who don’t have the fonts or are using older browsers.

Saturday, March 13th

Web Psychology
Correlation (descriptive) ≠ Causation (explanatory)

User Design Deliverables
Be very clear on what each deliverable is for, especially wireframes. Wireframes do not indicate layout, placement, color, fonts or design, but simply a blueprint of the content and functionality. Also be clear on what the wireframes will be used for once they’re approved.

Doing it Wrong
“If you ever have an idea that seems stupid, you should just do it.”
“You make it. It breaks. You cry. You make it again.”
“Knowing how to do something is a major impediment to getting it done.”

Sunday, March 14th

Highlight of Sunday was the SXSW WebAwards. While our work with the Portland Trail Blazers on I Am a Trail Blazers Fan didn’t win the Community award, it was an entertaining event and we’re honored to be recognized by our peers in the interactive community. We’re already thinking about our work for this year and what we’ll be entering in the 2011 SXSW WebAwards.

Monday, March 15th

Interactive Documentaries
Make “more” simple.

Results Only Work Environment
To have a results only work environment, the “results” must be clearly defined as far as what needs to be done and when it needs to be done.

How Does an Advertising Pro Adapt to New Communication Technologies
I left this one early because I found it frustrating. I’m not sure what “advertising pros” are, but at some point they’re going to need to realize it’s not “one big idea” implemented the same way across all mediums. It’s thinking about how an overall strategic concept can be implemented in different and appropriate ways across each medium.

Beyond the Desktop
This panel raised the idea of device-focused apps: it’s not the same application/interface across different devices, but the appropriate application/interface depending on the device. “The input must meet the needs of the output.” Really enjoyed this panel.

Multiplatform Storytelling
While this panel discussed the TV show “Heroes” and how they have used different media to communicate, the main idea carries across any brand/client: create a universe around a concept/idea, and interact with people in appropriate ways in different media and interactive channels. “You can’t take a $4 million show and just shrink it down to a 3 inch screen.” Content and functionality must be appropriate for the platform and audience.

Tuesday, March 16th

Straight Line Thinking Stops Here
“This is the century where we learn, together.” It’s about people, it’s not about technology. TRUST.

Getting Better: The Designer’s Path from Good to Great
To be unique, you need a point of view. “Routine is the enemy of creativity.” Think more, design less.

Other Bits from Austin

Got to hang out with a lot of Portland people in Austin, which at first seemed kinda weird, but then I realized when we’re in Portland, we have things like work and family and other obligations and we never see each other. It takes going to another place in another time to actually have the opportunity to sit down and talk. You people know who you are, so thanks for the conversation, the beers, and the BBQ.

Met lots of interesting people from all over the place, had some friends who couldn’t be there make some connections to people who are now new friends, and got to reconnect with some of the people we met at SXSW last year.

And finally, I had the best traveling partner anyone could hope for. Erin and I had long conversations about tattoos, talismans and placebos over pints at the Ginger Man, discussions on what we do at Substance and why we do it, ways to approach concepts, content, and development, the benefits of being on the VIP list… the topics go on and on. Thanks again Erin for reminding me why we go to things like SXSW, what we can get out of them, and inspiring me to do better. I also found your quoting of Terminator 2 relevant and appropriate.

Looking forward to SXSW 2011. We’ll see you there?

Photos at top, clockwise from top left: a pint of Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA on draft / the tie I wore to the SXSW WebAwards / a poster from the Hatch Show Print exhibit at the Austin Museum of Art / my brother-in-law’s new puppy / glow in the dark hula hooping at the SXSW WebAwards

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