Tue 24 Mar
There are a lot of interesting ideas that I heard at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive festival that I’m still turning over in my head even now, a week after the conference ended. But silly as it may seem, the one thing I really can’t stop thinking about is how bad the conference schedule, map and badges were this year.
I don’t mean to impugn the hard work that went into designing and producing those printed collateral items, or to underestimate the crazy logistics and coordination that must have been necessary to get them written, designed, printed and into conference-goers’ hands on time. Nevertheless, I found them basically unusable. They were awkwardly sized and awkwardly conceived; once you decoded the hard-to-read sessions schedule, for instance, you’d have to refer to a map that failed to carry over any recognizable color-coding — and was printed upside-down. I’m sure my blood pressure went up a bit every time I had to refer to them.
What was so frustrating about this, I think, is that of all the challenges that SXSW faces — ever growing crowds, spatially remote session rooms, panels of uneven quality — the matter of getting its printed materials right seems so doable and within reach. What’s more, having better schedules, maps and badges would help resolve or at least mitigate many of those other challenges. Conference attendees would be able see what’s happening more readily, get to their sessions more quickly, identify people more easily, and generally make better use of the whole event.
After thinking about this fundamental problem for the past week or so, I sat down and sketched out some of the ideas that I had for correcting the flaws that I saw.
The key ideas are: Make the schedule small enough to fit into the pouch in which the conference badges are carried. Divide the session schedule for each day into two halves, and print them on back-to-back and perforated pages, so that as the days pass users can tear them off (or, if they know they’ll only be at the conference for one or two days, they can discard the others). Print a Tiny URL alias on each session in the schedule, so that users can quickly find out more information online. Make the names on the badges much larger and more legible, so that people can more easily identify one another. Color code the session schedule so that the location of each session visually corresponds with the maps. And print the maps as part of the same saddle-stitched schedule book, and so that they fold out in such a way that they appear in the same orientation as users read the schedules.
To be fair, it’s been so long that I’ve been a print designer that I’m surely overlooking many practical details of implementing these design ideas; I’ve conveniently neglected to figure out what goes on the back of the fold-out maps, for instance. And the very real paper, binding and finishing costs associated with these changes are open questions that I’m completely unqualified to answer. But surely there are some ideas here that can be put to good use — next year’s SXSW print collateral really has nowhere to go but up.