I’m a week overdue, but I finally got some time to give a summary of SXSW. This was my fifth year attending the interactive portion, and every year it seems like I’m attending a new conference. It’s hard to find an event with such diverse talents. There’s social media strategists, designers/UX, developers, marketers, entrepreneurs, gamers, students, content strategists, venture capitalists, and I can go on and on. And the attendance rate is ridiculous (up 40% from last year). Sessions filled up quick. For popular session, If you didn’t arrive early, you’d have to stand outside and wait until someone leaves and then you can go in (one in – one out). Also, there were so many sessions that the organizers had to be spread the conference out into 4 different hotels and the convention center. It’s become so popular that it has outgrown itself.
But with all that said, it was an enjoyable experience overall. I met a bunch of great people, listened to thought provoking & inspiring talks, and attended some of the weirdest and craziest evening events. There are a couple of main things that I got out of the conference that I thought I’d share.
The Breakout App: You
It’s a trend now that every year, there’s a breakout app. A few years back it was Twitter, then it was Foursquare, and then Gowalla. This year, I didn’t really feel like there was one particular app that people were really talking about. GroupMe got some attention, but not to where people were buzzing about. The conference felt too saturated for start-ups to run successful apps. Also, with the release of the iPad 2 and huge sponsors driving advertising in your face, it’s difficult to get people’s attention. For me, the breakout are the people of SXSW. Guy Kawasaki said it best in an interview when asked why he liked SXSW so much “SXSW is my favorite event because there’s no billionaires”. During my whole time at SXSW, I didn’t meet a single rude or arrogant person. Everybody was generally nice and really just wanted to learn and have a good time.
Mobile is Growing … Fast
Basically, if you didn’t have a smartphone or an iPad, you didn’t fit in. Everywhere I went, people were pulling out their phones and are either tweeting, texting, or checking other people’s tweets. I even saw a guy in his 60’s taking notes by tweeting on his iPhone. No notepad, no pencils. Granting he wasn’t fast, but the idea that someone his age can adopt to new technology says a lot of this medium. There were a lot of great talks on mobile. The one that I really enjoyed was Josh Clark’s iPad Design Headache. He basically describes 5 things to avoid when designing for the iPad.
- #1: Greedy Pixel Syndrome
Greedy pixel syndrome is the irresistible desire to use every available pixel. Complexity is okay as long as it’s not complicated. To avoid greedy pixel syndrome, we need to consider the following:
- Use big chunky elements
- Provide a generous amount of space
- Clarity trumps density
- Tap quality trumps tap quantity
- #2: Media Hypertrophy
Fancy interfaces are amazing at first but get boring in everyday use. Avoid designing something bright & shiny just because of the fact that it’s bright and shiny. A good example is the ABC News Globe app. It’s cool looking, but it’s very busy and not very usable. To avoid media hypertrophy, we need to consider the following:
- Feature content, no interface
- Honor overall brand identity
- Old and tested methods are not also old fashioned
- Ask yourself: Is different actually better?
- #3: The Frankeninterface
The frankeninterface is an app whose visual design uses one interface metaphor, but its interaction actually uses another. An example is the calendar app. Although it looks like a notebook calendar, it doesn’t allow for page flips. Try to avoid mixed metaphors. Users will tend to interact with objects in your app as if they do in the real world. So, if you’re going to use visual cue of an object (ex:Guitar), make sure it works like one.
- #4: Popover Pox
Avoid overusing the popover box. Popovers should be quick overviews and used to act on content. Avoid popovers for exploring and navigation.
- #5: iPad Elbow
iPad elbow is the pain caused by repeatly dragging your meat pointer to a tiny button on the top corner. Buttons are a hack. Instead, we should explore the touch capability to make users feel more personal and intimate. Twitter app is a great example that doesn’t use a lot of buttons. So, try to see alternatives to buttons and embrace big gestures.
Josh has a great book call Tapworthy: Designing Great iPhone Apps. I would definitely recommend getting that if you are planning on designing or developing apps for mobile. There was also a lot of talk around mobile retail, RFID, NFC. So, basically, a lot of great things to come from mobile.
The great thing about SXSW is that although you may specialize in one particular area, you can learn about other areas of specialization that you hardly know anything about. For me, I’m always interested in talks about design and technology. But this year, I wanted to stretch outside my comfort zone and attend talks I generally wouldn’t attend. I got to say that my top three favorites and memorable talks are the ones not even related to either design or technology.
Guy Kawasaki’s talk about his new book Enchantment was a breath of fresh air. I’ve heard of his name once or twice before, but I’ve never heard of any of his books or talks. But Guy has an amazing way to pulling you in with his stories and basically enchanting me in the process. I couldn’t find his talk online, but there’s another talk on youtube that’s similar to the talk at SXSW. I also definitely recommend reading his book as well.
Another talk that really made an impact was Blake Mycoskie’s talk about TOMS Shoes. If you’ve never heard of TOMS Shoes (I haven’t before this talk), the basic idea is that for every shoe they sell, they will donate one to a person or family in need (1 for 1). So, during the whole talk, he was telling his story of how he started his company and how it has became successful. After it was over, I was filled with emotions and full of inspiration. The idea that you can make a difference in people’s lives while still operating a business really hit home for me. I think people’s ultimate goal in life is to love what you do while making a difference doing it. As of today, I’ve bought a TOMS Shoe, and I have his sticker on my car and on my laptop. And it’s not because I love their shoes (I mean it’s decent but not really my style), it’s because it makes me feel good doing it. And I think a lot of businesses can really learn from that.
So in closing, SXSW 2011 has been a great experience. Sure, it’s way overcrowded and sure it sucks to wait in line to attend an anticipated talk. But the positives definitely outweighed the negatives. I’ve gained newfound relationships with several people, and gain a lot of knowledge along the way. But the biggest thing is that I’m engaged and inspired again. I have a new found energy that I haven’t felt in a while. I have ideas floating all around me, and I can’t wait to start on them. I’m exiting about mobile. I’m exiting about what ahead of us. And most importantly, I’m exiting about making a difference.