Wednesday 28 September 2016

Friday5: 5 Observations From SXSW

Every March, digital thought leaders, agency folks, musicians, film aficionados and directors gather in Austin for South By Southwest (SXSW), a 9-day conference-festival hybrid described as “the premier destination for discovery.” Among the concerts, film premieres, exclusive parties and other events are new ideas and technologies, especially at SXSW Interactive, which focuses on emerging technology, gaming and digital creativity. Brands also have a presence in Austin through event and concert sponsorships and branded booths and displays. We talked to some Edelfolks in Austin during this first week to get their on-the-ground perspectives and observations.

1. Spike Jones, Managing Director, Austin

The conversations around 3D printing have moved this year beyond the “curiosity” factor of the technology. We’ve been talking about 3D printing at SXSW for a few years now, but this year it’s both finally hitting the threshold for widespread consumer use—allowing us to create things that are useful in everyday life. On the other hand, the tech has evolved as well, allowing for intricate, high level use—for example, our clients at Carnegie Mellon University* will be talking on Monday about their use of 3D printing technology for artificial heart valves.

2. Gi-Gi Downs, SVP, Group Planning Director, Digital New York

I’ve noticed two major trends so far: AI/Robots and a new generation of wearable technology. AI and robots have had quite a bit of coverage so far, particularly in the emergence of automated consumer electronics products for the high end market—health care robots, home robots, and so on. There’s even a robot petting zoo. Wearables are on everyone’s minds as well. But it’s less about the clunky “arm party” of watches and bands. Our wrists are being freed thanks to intelligent apparel, GPS-based haptic feedback stitched into panels and piping in clothing, giving the wearer nudges to move more, turn left, or simply sit up straight.

3. Cory Sealey, Account Supervisor, Digital Chicago

All brands know they need to reach their consumers where they’re actively looking, but it’s becoming crowded and almost a joke. At SXSW, people are even proactively reaching out to brands knowing that they’ll get hooked up with free swag. So I’m really interested in seeing how brands here try to become an active part of thoughtful conversations without simply tweeting ads at people and giving away free stuff.

4. Dominic Ybarra, SVP, Digital Austin

SXSW is a convergence of digital, innovation and creativity through film and music. From my perspective, that convergence creates a melting pot of ideas, which are celebrated and shared in true community. The conference has not been dictated by traditional brands but instead is a place where companies and people can bring forward new ways to look at the world.

On the topic of creativity, I see a big emphasis on makers (inventors) this year, which speaks to recent spike in innovation we’re seeing in the tech industry right now. Our National Instruments* client stated it well, “makers change the world but the tools change the maker.” I’m curious to find out what they’ll cover and how it will inspire others to harness their creativity and develop something completely new.

5. Phil Gomes, SVP, Digital Chicago

This year marks my first time at SxSW. Admitting this openly elicits one of three reactions: 1) Macbook-clutching shock at having avoided the annual hajj to this Mecca of glorious nerddom, 2) doubts as to whether I’m really in this business, or 3) pity that I’ve only managed to make it to Austin after the festival has supposedly “jumped the shark”—something that, by my reading, has apparently occurred every year for the past ten.

I care equally about all three opinions, which is to say not much at all. In truth, I’m less interested in what brands are doing at SxSW so much as what can be learned from the shared insights of the makers, creators, and (non-pejoratively) hackers that are shaping new realities by building a more open, hierarchy-averse innovation ecosystem.

G.H. Hardy once wrote that “There is no scorn more profound, or on the whole more justifiable, than that of the men who make for the men who explain.” As someone who has had a twenty-year career in the “explaining business,” more or less, I take Hardy’s criticism as an important wake-up call for our trade. I may never be the one who builds the next world-changing Web standard or API, but I can try my best to infuse that spirit into my own work.

What are you most intrigued by at SXSW so far this year?

*Edelman client

This post was compiled by Josh Lieberthal and Chris Rooney.

Image credit: SXSW

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