SXSW Top 10

In our world there are lots of tech conferences. But only one worth making a 20 hour pilgrimage to. The biggest and best – South-by-South-West. Our Creative Director James Jefferson shares his experiences of this year’s conference in Austin, Texas.

In our world there are lots of tech conferences. But only one worth making a 20 hour pilgrimage to. The biggest and best – South-by-South-West. Our Creative Director James Jefferson shares his experiences of this year’s conference in Austin, Texas.

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When in Austin...

I've been back for a few days now and the jetlag is thankfully starting to abate.

Now that I'm back at my desk, I thought it'd be great to share my reflections on this giant and massively inspiring event. With literally hundreds of events, panels, discussions and keynotes to choose from, the conference is pretty bewildering. So what better way to boil it down than to create a Top 10?

So here it is, my personal Top 10 from SXSW 2013:

1. The Maker Revolution

Bre Pettis, Makerbot founder, opened the interactive portion of the conference with a talk about the impact Makerbot is having across many industries. Their biggest customer is now NASA! He also premiered the Makerbot Digitiser which means you can now scan a 3D object in 3 minutes and print out copies of it on your Makerbot! And all this is now at a price you can buy for your home.

The amazing thing is that the ease of access to this technology means that brands can make their product development more agile, get products to market faster and less expensively, and gives them the potential even to create personalised products - for example, Makerbot themselves have recently opened a store in New York where you can scan yourself and custom make a Legoman head in your own image.

2. Wearable tech

Jennifer Darmour is the wearable technology expert at Artefact, a product design consultancy from Seattle, and is passionate about making wearable tech, well, wearable. Her experiments are part of the 'Quantified Self' movement but she has successfully applied great user experience understanding to make these products appealing and intuitive.

I see the wearable tech theme as something that is going to grow fast over the next couple of years and represents a real challenge for how brands interact with people. The answer partly lies in the way products like Nike Fuelband sits within their ecosystem. It's a functional product but it actively works as a gateway to other Nike products encouraging you to exercise more, and through its digital interface, creating the opportunity to buy via their dedicated E-com channel. Many businesses might be able to apply this concept of delivering a utility that connects people to their brand ecosystem to enable greater engagement and the potential to share the experience.

3. Reinventing the mouse

Michael Buckwald and David Holtz are the creators of Leapmotion. Leapmotion is a new controller device that reads the natural motion of your hands and allows you to interact with virtual content as if you were really touching it. The level of detail it can pick up, within the 2 square foot scannable area, is accurate enough to recognise your hand- yes, with this technology your hand may become your password. We've ordered ours and are looking forward to experimenting with what is surely going to be a game changer. Out of the box it plays nicely with your operating system, lots of 3d modelling packages and games including fruit ninja. Watch this space.

4. Tackling the world's biggest problems

Elon Musk is a bit of a hero of mine. Despite creating the horrible beast that is Paypal (speaking from a UX perspective) he has not rested on his laurels after selling it for $1.5billion. He was interviewed in front of a packed, enthralled room of 3000 people. He described with deep insight and understanding, the three businesses he has gone "all in" on. Spacex, already the first commercial space exploration business to dock at the international space station; Tesla, the car company that's on the verge of revolutionising transportation; and Solar City, the innovative solar power business. I think everyone in the room felt terribly unproductive in comparison.

5. Machines that adapt to us

Golden Krishna is a senior UX designer at Samsung. He talked about his desire to curtail what he sees as our obsession with screens. Through examples like a BMW iPhone App controlled locking system, he demonstrated that in many cases we're applying a screen when we are able to be a little smarter.

Employing a combination of good user insight and intelligent tech we can create systems that react and adapt to us rather than forcing us to work around them. The best two examples he cited were the Ford Liftgate system and the Nest Home Thermostat. The first enables owners to open the boot without using their hands, because they're likely to be carrying the thing they want to put in it. The second learns how to manage the heat in your house so you don't have to interact with it.

The takeaway here is that through really insightful design we can create products that understand our needs rather than forcing us to navigate through an ever growing array of menus and forms in order to communicate with them.