Thursday, March 13, 2008
I just got back from Austin, TX where, against better judgement, I decided to attend the South by Southwest Interactive conference. I know, I should have stayed for Music, but all I could afford was the Interactive portion and I thought I should check that out since I did the poster for the (unofficial) afterparty "16 Bit".
I got in Friday night and immediately went to a party down the road to meet up with Rusty and the rest of the SomaFM crew. Thus began a crazy pattern of nightly drinking/socializing followed all too soon by mornings and afternoons of panel discussions. This was my first time to SXSW Interactive and my first time back to Austin since I was a little kid. I actually attended second grade there. Not a lot was familiar but the grass is soft like I remember and everything is gigantic, especially the bars. Walking to and from the Austin Convention Center was surprisingly easy. The city blocks were fairly small and getting around was a breeze. I thought it would be warmer in Texas this time of year, but it stayed pretty chilly the entire time. I was glad I brought a hat.
I was told that Twitter "would be my best friend" during the convention and I tried to keep up with everyone's goings-on via their "tweets". What ended up happening is I got overwhelmed like most unprepared newbies, and eventually gave up trying to keep up. The schedule got tossed, Twitter went ignored, and I decided to wing it at my own pace.
16 Bit ended up being a lot of fun despite most of my friends being stuck in the endless line outside. I signed many posters and made a few new friends. I think my favorite party of the trip was "20x2" at The Parish. The gist is that twenty people of various creative backgrounds got on stage to answer the question of the day. The question for this 20x2 was "What's the Difference?" Some answered abstractly, some had video, some were funny, some were songs, and some were literal.
Rusty decided to ask the audience to pay attention to the difference between the shared experience of radio vs. an "on demand" Celestial Jukebox model like Pandora or iMeem. It kind of brought up the values of community vs. open-templates and really put a finger on a big issue of the entire SXSW Interactive event.
I have to say that I felt out of my element in the convention hall. Not many of the panels seemed to apply to what I do in my career. Many were about the Social Networking phenomenon and marketing. A lot of the other ones seemed to deal with technical issues such as scalability and accessibility. What kind of scared me were topics on the schedule like "Logos, Why They Are Irrelevant and Can Hurt Your Business" and "Does Tomorrow's World Need Designers?". I sat in for most of the "Logos" panel and have to say it was almost just infuriating for infuriation's sake. The panel started out by making a few decent points against spending lots of time and money creating a brand that has barely gotten off the ground. They discussed how RSS readers and text links can only get a name across, and that the name should be more important as a brand-identifier than a particular mark. What discredited the whole thing for me were the panelists confusion over what constitutes a logo. After turning things over to the audience for questions, one attendee pointed out that the panelists were presiding in front of a SXSW banner that featured nine distinct and well designed logos. One panelist tried to make the point that her name placard could be considered a "logo" and another panelist tried to rebuff the audience member by saying that some of the logos on the banner were "logo-types" and some were "logos". Also discrediting were this panelist's constant remark that he's "just fanning the fires here", as though he were only just setting up an argument to be argued. I left disappointed and wandered upstairs to nurse my hangover in the Harlon Ellison panel. While I listened to Harlon talk about the years he's spent defending his writing against other people's vision, I thought about the "Logo" panelists arguments that a brand mark should be unimportant to a company looking to be bought out by a larger corporation. I thought about things like integrity and pride. I thought about community versus modular "made to order" systems. The whole idea of a community of bloggers and creatives coming together in one building seems to represent an importance to following one another's activities and interests. I'm not sure the web would be as fun if everything were this kind of "on demand" experience without authorship. So, I think the "radio versus jukebox" thing at 20x2 was right on the money. I didn't make it to the "Does Tomorrow's World Need Designers?" panel but I hope tomorrow's world needs all kinds of designers, and writers, and musicians, and illustrators, and people who like that kind of thing...