2015 SXSW Interactive: A Retrospect

By Guy Borgford, Director of Business Development

For any bona fide geek or nerd wanna-be, SXSW Interactive is the epicenter of wired and weird. The brains of our fine blue planet take over Austin, Texas as part of the iconic SXSW Festival – 12 days of digital innovation, film, and music that effectively embraces all that is rad in human culture.

Being neither coder nor engineer myself I’m severely awestruck by the brilliance of my fellow carbon units who make the annual pilgrimage to SXSW Interactive to network, learn, listen, watch, explore, partner up, strike deals, and yes, party.

Thousands of sessions and panels dot the Austin landscape throughout the conference, with themes running the gamut of design, drawing, ideas, out-of-the-box thinking, photography, pure art, writing, biomechanics, future of aging, neurology, next generation space discovery, physics, pure science, blogs, content strategy, ebooks, journalism, monetization, streaming and online content, interaction design, open source, software and app development, user experience, web design, second screen, general convergence and immersive experiences, smart clothing, personal health monitoring, augmented reality, responsive computing, future of dining, precision agriculture, food communities and events, casual gaming, console gaming, educational gaming, gaming culture, gamification, hardcore gaming, non-profit and activism, diversity and emerging markets, policy and civic engagement medical systems and technology development, online health services, self-hacking, self-monitoring, connected cars, urban planning, autonomous vehicles, intelligent infrastructure, What The Future, nanotechnology, paranormal, pervasive computing, quantum computer, spirituality, time travel, zero point theory, the next big thing, social networks, social media, personal and professional online relationships, surveillance, encryption tools, racking, big data, monitoring, sports and in-stadium experiences, fan engagement, sports analytics, sport psychology, filmmaking and storytelling, youth sports, sports media and broadcasting, bootstrapping, business strategy, future of money, startups, VC funding, branding, marketing, advertising, and everything to do with work and your career. Whew!

SXSW really has something for everyone. And throughout the festival parties erupt with live music, open bars, great food, and a silicon-valley skewed schmoozefest that brings tech giants and incubators together in one incredible world of what’s next.

Working for a digital engagement agency myself, I was most interested in the UX side of things and where human/machine interaction and user-centric design is headed. Aside from attending Al Gore’s riveting presentation on climate change, that’s how I focused my time and energy, looking for specific themes and trends throughout the 5 days of interactive.

So where is this all going? Well despite smartphones getting bigger, themes across hardware design and human interactions are moving in the opposite direction. Designers are looking at ways to get people un-buried from their phones and tablets and using these devices as conduits to augmenting and enhancing our physical world.

Aside from the miniaturization of hardware and the trend towards interactive end-user ‘micro-moments’, engineers are looking at ways to create engagements and interactions that are as invisible to people as possible. With the ever-increasing trend to The Internet of Things [IoT] and seamless transmission systems such as beacons, the goal is to find the balance where developers and designers are able to connect with people and enhance/improve their experiences and their lives without being intrusive or even creepy.

Along with the cutting edge and new, there were also clear trends across companies and brands large and small. First off, companies are getting serious about design. Based on the monumental success of a little company called Apple who grew itself into the largest and most successful company in corporate history, Fortune 100 CEOs, startups, and innovators alike realize that great design goes a long way with today’s consumer. Simplicity is king in today’s digital economy. In a world where complexity seems to compound daily, the need to distill end-user experiences down to minimum viable products, minimum user ‘interruptions’, and clean minimalist design are trends pointing to market success.

Despite the volume of noise at SXSW – the bands, the crowds, the struggle of brands to stand out in a sea of look-at-me’s, there’s a trend emerging to connect with consumers with a subtle whisper and simplify this increasingly crazy world we live in. And so it was, in the paradox of SXSW Interactive.

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