South by Southwest Afterthoughts

A few takeaways from the 2006 South by Southwest Interactive conference (other than my head cold):

It’s not about the content

The last time I attended SxSW was in 2002, and I stopped going for a while because I was so upset at how poor the content had gotten. This year, I didn’t let it get to me. So while the content was mostly unengaging, I didn’t care, because the socializing was tops. And any excuse to visit Austin is welcome.

That said, there was some decent content

Adam Greenfield’s Everyware talk (book in stores now!), Prof. Gilbert’s “Make the Right Decision” talk, Jeff’s panel on designing for next generation web applications, and bruces‘ rant-like coda were worth sitting through.

Let’s Put On A Web App!

The prevailing themes for the conference seemed to be a) the ease of creating web products and b) starting businesses to sustain them. It’s interesting to see the independent spirit that, in 1999, was largely around more artistic expression and creativity online has shifted focus towards sustainable pursuits.

Apart from Jeff’s Talk, Design was Served Poorly

I went to two other panels on “design,” and was dismayed. The first, on “Traditional Design and New Technology” was a surreal bitchfest where traditional designers moaned that the web didn’t have the emotional resonance of a Penguin paperback cover. Particularly distressing were Mark Boulton’s reactionary diatribes suggesting that the Web doesn’t have the emotional resonance of a car. (And look at that link to his personal site! He can’t get 6 words in without the phrase “award-winning”! What is it with designers and these meaningless meaningless awards?)

Also, the “Dogma-Free Design” panel should have been renamed “Content-Free Panel.” After an initial poke at design dogma (Flash 99% bad, web apps need ethnography, other stuff I forget), the panel went on a meandering journey that lead nowhere. It was clear they had no criterion for the success of their panel, and so it just became on unfocused discussion around what whomever was speaking thought of design.

DJ Mel ROCKS THE HOUSE

I lead a muthafuckin’ conga line while DJ Mel spun on Sunday night. He definitely got the nerds onto the dance floor, and we had a great time.

Styn on The People’s Video

Halcyon interviews me, and a bunch of other folks at the conference (including luminaries such as danah and Craig) on the subject of video in the hands of the masses. If you wonder what I sound like with a hoarse voice and a head cold, download it. (18 MB)

My favorite photo of me

Seems appropriately confrontational. Thanks Brian!

It was also great…

To get quality time with Tom Coates, Eric Rodenbeck, Heather Hesketh, and many others I don’t see enough of. And there’s little as amusing as Micki with laryngitis. It’s not quite oxymoronic or ironic… just… funny.

And in Austin…

Blackmail, Toy Joy, Spider House: Still got it.
Jo’s — getting a bit too popular for its own good.
Home Slice Pizza: Dear god was that good.
Las Manitas: has the quality gone down? I wasn’t blown away.
Amy’s Mexican Vanilla: there’s no way you can go wrong.

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One thought on “South by Southwest Afterthoughts

  1. Peter. Following meeting you in the hallway after the Traditional Design panel, I’d hoped (after the rather embarrasing situation where you were slagging me off with me there), that perhaps we could have discussed some of the content further.

    No doubt about it, we pissed some people off (you included by the sounds of things). Which I personally think is a good thing. I lost count of the amount of panels I came out of that I wish I didn’t attend because they were, well, dull.

    What we weren’t trying to do was to compare the web to books or cars. I think you missed the point. Maybe that was our fault for perhaps not communicating as effectively as we could. Believe or not, we were trying address a much larger issue of ‘Graphic Design’ on the web.

    For us, on the panel, our web is very much about design. Graphic design. For you, it’s probably different and that’s fine.