We’re winding down our time here in Austin, and the nerd masses are readying to vacate town to be replaced by the much hipper and edgier music crowd. Looking back on our talks and sessions over the past few days, we’ve been able to find some takeaways that will help our work practices going forward as we continue to develop our respected disciplines within Organic:
- Don’t Just Design – Make: The introduction of commercially available 3D-printers was seen across several different talks and subject matter. Just as we’re seeing interactive companies hack together perspectives on society and data through the use of connected technology, this will become more and more prevalent in the three dimensional space. Within the UX track, we saw a strong emphasis in using software simulations and interactive prototypes for the purpose of both usability and engineering, to replace what was traditionally the static information architecture process.
- Mobile First: OK, you knew this one already – but it was never more evident than in the halls and lobbies of this conference. In comparison to the vast majority of tablets and phones that were being used, I didn’t see nearly as many laptops. Designing for the interactive metaphors of these are a must. A hoverstate is a thing of the past, as there are no more mice nor cursors, only fingers to swipe. However, amongst our group, we’re starting a trend to try and bring the Desktop back. As calls for SXSWi 2013 entries open up in only a few months, we’re scheming to showcase comparison graphs on the levels of productivity that can be found by sitting in a chair, at a desk, and doing work on a stationary computer. It’s a counter-revolutionary approach, but I like our chances of giving the keynote next year.
- Feedback on Every Level: Providing an open forum, whether it be through a company’s social media presence or using internal review forms within departments, re-emphasizes the wisdom of people-centered platforms and a user-centric approach to design. There were as many talks about properly conducting usability across different contexts (mobile, ambient, industrial design) as there were on engineering. This open-minded focus of always learning or listening to the public’s views or utilization of your product or service helps to reinforce the wisdom of the masses, and that the user is never wrong.
Moments of Serendipity
Our quintessential SXSW moment came after we waded across town through a torrential rainstorm, for a talk that turned out to err on the side of mundane. As the third of four speakers were droning through their slides, I jumped online and reserved a car2go for the three of us to try and save some time in getting over to the next venue for the 3:30pm talk. There was an available car-sharing SMART car right outside the Sheraton – one that could take us across town to our next venue at the Omni, located a few blocks away. Here is the sequence of events, as they played out chronologically:
- 2:41pm – @ncawthon picks-up a car outside the Sheraton on 11th, reserved minutes earlier from the lecture hall.
- 2:42pm – passenger @bradmancuso tweets “Conor in the boot of the car2go at SXSW”, attaching the picture (above, right), and smartly mentioning the car2go brand.
- 2:42-2:48pm – Somewhere within this 6-minute span of us in transport, a car2go social media representative sees this tweet/picture on her laptop while monitoring instances of her company’s name across Twitter, all the while being parked on 7th and Trinity in her own SMART car.
- 2:48pm - @ncawthon, @bradmancuso and the yet-to-be implicated @cbrady park immediately behind said car2go employee and unload our clown car, ending the reservation after driving only 5 blocks.
- 2:49pm - The cheery, twenty-something car2go employee hops out of her car and playfully scolds the group about fitting a third person within the boot of the SMART car – stating that she saw the picture of us before we even pulled up.
- 2:50pm - We graciously apologize and head to our next SXSW session.
- 2:52pm – While we’re getting seated for the next talk, the car2go employee scrolls through @bradmancuso’s twitter feed, finding shared/mentioned some SXSW tweets with @cbrady. She correctly identifies him as the cohort in crime and restates to him the official car2go policy, this time publicly through his twitter handle. Conor’s hilarious virtual reply was that he had been stuck in there since last week, and just was now being let out.
The build-up, reveal and response of that short, 10-minute caper encompassed all of the great things about SXSW. Fun interactions happening through connectivity. It shows how empowering the use of technology can solve an initial problem (rented a car to avoid a walk in the rain), share joy with others (tweeted picture of the Belfast-born in boot), to monitor activity (social media coordinator seeing violation as it is occurring), discover people (finding the identity of the offending party), and finally, help influence and correct behavior (car2go informing us of their policies).
SXSWi seems to have become a victim of its own success in the crowds and inaccessibility of the conference. Whether this is a conscious play by SXSW to generate additional income, or purposefully portray a sense of controlled chaos, I’m not sure. It’s hard to feel like you’ve seen anything or even fulfilled that which you wanted to make sure you were going to do/learn. It’s hard to feel like you’ve been a part of an intimate group of industry leaders when throwing elbows and jumping lines. As referenced in yesterday’s post, each morning is slotted with trying to see three different talks, all occurring at the same time. Even if the chosen session turns out beneficial, your lingering thought wonders about the other two that you might have missed. A consistent feeling of regret and missed opportunity are not healthy emotions to keep reinforcing amongst attendees at SXSWi. As the legendary interaction designer Yogi Berra stated, “That place is so crowded that no one goes anymore”. Many we talked to just gave up. They stated that the purpose of their presence was to network informally, as the lines, crowds and the run-around were all too much. What they came away with was more of a holistic view of the industry, rather than furthering specific knowledge on relevant topics.
One certainly feels as if they came back the following year – it would mandate wiping the slate clean and starting fresh, as our contextual use of technology and delivering devices changes so fast. There exists more of a temporal nature surrounding the presentations and nature of the Interactive track as a whole. SXSW Film may feature trending subject matters, or Music with different genres that come and go, but the break-neck pace in which Interactive has technology and their brands live-and-die over the course of a year is much, much faster. Between his harping on “laptop rockstars” and lambasting both pirates as well as the record industry who fights them, Billy Corigan’s session should have recognized that his last relevant album he put out was 10 years ago – absolute eons in interactive time. If a technology company were to sit still for 10 years, (perhaps while cogitating on how to best publish their latest emo angst?), they’d disappear completely. Admittedly, yes, the SXSW Music conference looks so much more fun to attend, but rock stars have a luxury to sit still that technologists do not. Back to work for both Billy and I.
Nick Cawthon is Director of Experience Architecture at Organic