March 17, 2012


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2012 SXSW Interactive Highlights: Only Giving You the Good Stuff.

sxsw 2012

I’ve been in Austin for years. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit I’ve never attended the SXSW Interactive Conference. Finally I made it out to one. It far exceeded my expectations. Not everything was a home run. I’d say about half the sessions were either not relevant, had poor chemistry or was too rudimentary to be of any use to me. I had to remind myself that I’ve got almost 20 years in my profession and that I’m not going to hear too much about design that will blow my mind. I focused most of my attention to sessions that were outside my realm of expertise. That made all the difference.

Some Highlights:

Rhapsody to Year 0: Music & Publishing Go Digital
This session was run by Rob Reid, who founded the company that created Rhapsody. It was a detailed case study of how the digital revolution transformed both the music and publishing industries. One industry (Music) tried to create a digital embargo through litigation which simply spurred on digital piracy. The other (Publishing)—with the benefit of watching previous mistakes—embraced digital early on by getting the product(digital books and readers) out there and it has made all the difference. The key statement I took from this session: “Media abhors a vacuum.” My own perspective is that the traditional publishing industry is still in serious trouble, but the by-the-numbers comparison of the two was striking. Still, the world is changing fast: Of the Kindle Store 100 best sellers on 3/8/12, 45% were self-published.

the accidental creative

The Accidental Creative
I stumbled upon Todd Henry’s book reading and was hooked pretty quickly. Why? Because he hit upon an important problem that we have as creatives: focus. We have a constant stream of distractions facilitated by our ever growing dependance on technology. And we are guilty as anyone for believing the myth that creativity and creative solutions happen organically and not through dedication and discipline. I’ll be picking up his book soon and probably be back with a writeup here on fangmarks.

iron sky

Iron Sky: Forging the Future of Film
Iron Sky is an action-comedy about Nazis who went to the moon in 1945 and come back to attack earth in 2018. That premise alone was enough to get my attention, but the real reason I was there was to hear about the making of the film. You see, they funded about 15% of the film from individual investors and crowd funding(merchandising). Regardless of how this film does, it’s a sign of things to come. In an era of increasingly mind-numbing films created by the major studios, this could be a way for the independent films of the future to find funding. The hurdles are still there in the U.S. because it runs into S.E.C. issues, but that may be addressed in legislation that is currently in the senate.

Shut Up and Draw: A Non-Artist Way to Think Visually
This was easily the most entertaining session. Run by Sunni Brown, Dan Roam and Jessica Hagy, it tackled the many misperceptions around visual language. They did a very good job of defining Visual Language. Visual Language isn’t emotive, it’s about explaining. It’s about clarity, not ambiguity. It’s that doodle on the napkin that in the most graphically simple way conveys a complex idea. Their websites do a much better job of explaining it than I can. Go check them out. I’m adding them to my book list as well. (Amazon is just loving me lately.)

fueled by coffee

Odds and Ends(Yeah, I just don’t have the patience to write a review of every session so here ya go)
I just happened upon Craighton Berman’s hilarious cartoons, Fueled by Coffee. He did a great job of skewering the attendees, the conference and the silly dialogue. I had the pleasure of watching interviews with Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith. Smith had a great quote that stuck with me: “Stick with what’s personal and it tends to work out well.” I think when it comes to our work and what feels like an infinite number of choices, this is good advice. Ray Kurzweil gave a fascinating keynote presentation about how our human progress is scaling exponentially. A great quote I took away from his presentation in response to the fears about how we may end up being slaves to our own technology: “We are a human machine. We are already enhanced by technology.” It is encouraging to hear intelligent people talk positively about our future because so much of what we hear is the negative.

This is just a sampling of many quality sessions. If I have one complaint, it’s that I didn’t get to go to all the sessions I wanted to. Too many choices. Too little time. What a good problem to have had.

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