SxSW 2012 recap & notes

This year I was fortunate to be selected as a speaker presenting at the SxSW Interactive Festival on behalf of the Citrix Product Design team. An awesome honor, I took the opportunity to its fullest to experience SxSW This was actually my second visit, having previously attended about 5+ years ago when it was a much smaller event–I recall the halls being half empty!

Given the current “bubbly” hi-tech economic climate, the Interactive Festival this year was truly a massive, overwhelming phenomenal event featuring literally hundreds of activities, sessions, panels, keynotes, and all-day exhibits by sponsors, both inside and outside the main convention center hall. The Festival also encompassed over 15 different “campuses” (hotels) with shuttles transporting folks among sessions. And did I mention the all-night parties with lines out the door?? Yep, a high-octane spectacle!

Also, my festival photos are now online.

And my talk slides (Multitouch Delight for Enterprise Apps) are posted on Dropbox as a PDF.

Below are my highlights…


Maximum Overload: At last count, there were 2600 SPEAKERS just for the Interactive Festival alone! So you can imagine the total number of attendees, guests, visitors, etc. Just mind-blowing, with constant activities from AM til PM. Very much a carnival-esque vibe outside the convention center too, with so many hawkers of free stuff, giveaway demos, etc. Just endless lines and lines and lines… And SO much “business networking” going on too. If I had a quarter every time I heard “so my product’s value prop is…”

Trucks and BBQ:
Yep, it’s all about Food Trucks when you have 10,000 folks descend upon downtown Austin. Beating the lines, I was able to sample a few including bacon-waffle chicken tenders (made with Cap’n Crunch cereal), kimchee tacos, and chipotle tacos (no, not that one…real chipotle ;-) And the BBQ joints, truly delish! Stubbs’, Ironworks, and Franklin’s where Anthony Bourdain was filming a tv show. I sampled rabbit, wild boar, and good ol’ smoked brisket. Nice beers too, Shiner Pale Ale was good.

Celeb Spotting:
Being a cross-cultural spectacle, expect lots of celebrities for geeks too. The founders of Instagram, Foursquare, Twitter, etc. Al Gore spoke. Shawn Parker of Spotify. TechCrunch reporters on the scene. Fast Company and CNN rented out foodie grill stations. Nokia had a “party lab” with super loud “booth babes”. You name it! Reminiscent of CES…Also Robert Brunner was on my flight to Austin, sitting just behind me! :-) woo.

…Oh yes, I did attend a few good talks too! :-) It’s really quite hit or miss just given the mass assortment of talks/panels geo-distributed around Austin downtown, covering a wide range of “UX” topics. Here’s my faves  and major points/notes I got out of each one. Enjoy!

The Connected Company
– Modern companies are like cities: complex systems with control mechanisms
– Spectrum of problem complexity: simple > complex > complicated > chaos
– Borrowing concepts from Arch/Urban planning and Service Design: pods, platforms, layers, stages
– A dysfunctional company is like “having a conversation with a fractured mind”
– “[social] Networks are representations of our interactions”, varying orders of complexity & scale / impact
– Key challenge is how technology enables autonomy, communication, collaboration networks but keeping the company together with ever-growing connections (complexity like fractals? Hmm.)
– Community managers might help; they are not “project managers” but facilitators, enablers, doers, with employees as “citizens” and content creators fostering knowledge

Mother Goose Got Punk’d: Next Gen Visual Storytelling
– We are all essentially trying to find ourselves in the stories we hear/see (“empathize with our inner self”)
– In crafting stories, consider GOAL: Genuine, Outgoing, Articulate, Lively characters we resonate with
– Every story is really 3 stories: the story we want to tell, the story we capture and sketch, and the story we edit/publish for consumption by others (possibly a 4th story: the story the viewer interprets for themselves)

Don’t Build a Power Glove
– Remember the Nintendo Power Glove device with tons of buttons and “coolness”? Yeah, don’t do that. Total flop for Nintendo focused on trendy 80’s technology buzz but not really playable by kids
– Speaker did a fun “reverse design” case study: what if we could redesign Power Glove using modern UCD methods, applying what we know now
– Raised issues of gorilla arm, gestural fatigue, body-scale interaction for micro-tasks : none of which is “natural” although we think it is (and movies make them seem “cool”)
– Don’t be a fool and just do what’s cool, do what makes sense by understanding real situations and people

Busting the Myth of NUI
– By lead UX’ers of MS Surface and Win 8 Touch, discussed Touch design principles, early prototypes, research studies, and how they iterated and referenced older touch models (Palm Graffii, Newton, etc.)
– Concepts of “Just-in-time” visual tips, shadow guides following your gestures, constraining gestures for “whole objects” versus “content inside object”, progressive reveal using “touch thresholds” and motion physics
– Win8 Touch Principles: SImple & consistent, No modes, Limited gesture set, Direct manipulation, Reversible interactions, Limited use of “timed gestures” (like touch and hold for 5 sec)
– Win 8 Touch Considerations: Precision, Finger/hand movements, reach/size of finger, occlusion of finger/hand over screen objects, total Arm/Hand/Finger relationship
– Win 8 Lessons: Coaching marks/animations must hint at touch outcome, Secondary actions shouldn’t interfere with primary action, It’s OK to be slow when learning something (shallow learn curve)

UX in the Could: Amazing Enterprise Apps
-Done by Salesforce UX leads, story of Chatter and Do, for social productivity in enterprise
– Theme: “Satisfy choosers, delight users” (buyers vs users)
– CEO Challenge: “Why isn’t Salesforce software like Facebook?” > Facebook has trained users but need to verify how/why use in the enterprise
– Conversations / feedback loops with user via iterative testing (RITE usability method)
– Embracing disruption: need the time and space, need a channel for validation with real users, and need to disrupt from within (Ex: Do, a start-up from within SalesForce)
– Ultimately about facilitating communication, enabling people and work productivity, reducing friction, and keeping it simple all the way with limited feature set
– Emphasized “Future friendly” posture, we can’t predict the future but we can prepare for it

Keynote by Amber Case, “Cyborg Anthropologist”
– Rather provocative talk filled with fascinating phrases worthy of deeper meditation
– Claims we are all currently cyborgs with our iDevices
– Spoke of “Liquid screens”, “infinite purpose devices”, raised the idea of a “post-liquid UI”
– Ambient intimacy, Hyperlinked memories, persistent paleontology (always looking for our files and emails), Information Jet-lag (where diff devices aren’t updating), Panic architecture (when you’ve been hacked)
– “Cellphones are the new cigarettes” for excusing ourselves, taking digital bio-breaks to keep online connectedness Hmm!
– Described Flipboard as the Superhuman UI :-) She absolutely hates “skeuomorphism”, visceral angry reaction to iBooks, faux textures, etc.
– Also discussed emergence of “Calm technologies” (via Marc Weiser of PARC) and “Annotated Realities” where the phone becomes our mediator of life