It has been a little over a month since I experienced the wonder of SXSW and to be honest, I am still taken aback by the sheer size of the SXSW.
To some people SXSW is like a religious experience, but I stumbled upon it completely unaware of the global hype, just by looking for a conference that has everything in one place, from user experience design, new and emerging technologies all the way to futurism, seasoned with quality entertainment and a great crowd. That means well over 60.000 registered attendees.
Conference, if I dare call it that, is divided by several themes and covers all things interactive, music, film/video plus a trade show featuring number of up and coming startups as well as established brands. It is an overkill of content and networking opportunities – rarely you are able to see people like Elon Musk, Al Gore, Tim Berners Lee or your Internet heroes and memes (like “grumpy cat” featured over at Mashable’s) hanging out together.
People are friendly and open, so even if I did not plan or RSVP to anything, I got into some swanky invite-only VIP dinners and cocktail parties. It must be the climate that makes people so warm and inviting.
Unfortunately, everything did not go so smoothly, as I learned trying to plan and see every session under the sun. On Day 1 I missed two keynotes and one session. It was just too much. My attempts at effective keynote hopping were failing miserably and I was getting really stressed out… until I just let myself go with the flow.
Instead of chasing hotshots and big names I discovered underdogs, sessions that were not overhyped but gave plenty of food for thought to attentive listeners. Like Brad Frost‘s talk about responsive design – informative, funny, and insightful.
Expanding on a regular design presentation, he connected ideas of multi-device and multi-format experiences and how they fit together over the whole spectrum of user experiences, digital and otherwise. His “Beyond Squishy: The Principles of Adaptive Design” presentation was a blast.
By far the most unusual, interesting and unconventional session I was able to see at SXSW 2013 was Ryan McMinn’s presentation “My Punk Rock Guide to Working”. Ryan works at Microsoft (aka The Corporation) and as I started my career with Microsoft too, I wanted to see how well can “punk rock” and “corporation” work together. Punk rock, as you probably know, isn’t really a kind of thing that you can have a “guide to” – it is loud and aggressive, it comes with a political mindset and a DIY approach.
With Fugazi playing in the background and “more casual than your typical SXSW attendee casual” crowd, Ryan found a way to interpret corporate guidelines exactly as GUIDElines, not rules. His talk was not about the user experience design, information architecture and style guides, it was one of those life changing, mind-boggling, provocative SXSW moments people tend to talk about – enjoy it, I certainly have!
So, in retrospect, if you were to ask what is SXSW, I would have to tell you that it is one of the most interdisciplinary conferences combining design, development and technology together with music, movies, ecology and education. I don’t even think we should call it a conference.
In case you are planning to attend next year, learn from my mistakes. It is huge, so don’t get all wrapped up about missing the hottest keynotes, get inspired by unexpected turns of fate instead.
Like Mayor of Austin himself trying to convince me that moving to Austin might be a great idea, especially if you are into game design and game development. Maybe next year.