Report from SXSW

South by Southwest InteractiveSo I really blew it with the live blogging from the epicenter of the 2006 South by Southwest Interactive Festival thing, meaning I barely did it at all. I blame it on preparatory frenzy, post-panel appearance exhaustion, and general laziness — I couldn’t bring myself to pick up a pen almost the entire time I was there. In practice, I’ve never really understood those who show up at conferences and find within them the fortitude to record nearly every single point made by speakers and lecturers on paper; I much prefer to just absorb the onslaught of knowledge. In that spirit, I mostly just kept my ass in my seat, listened, and hung out, and had a great time. But, for the record, here is a spotty list of the conference as it went for me.

  • My outbound flight, from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Austin, TX, was practically a Gen-X school bus, loaded with twenty-five to thirty-five year old media professionals wearing hipster glasses and expensive jeans. The woman seated next to me swore we had been seated in order of the model of iPod we carried.
  • My “Traditional Design & New Technology” co-panelists and I spent Friday night bouncing around town, getting to know each other better, eating café food and feeling generally nervous about our session for the next morning. I tried to get at least six hours of sleep that night, but the beds provided in the my very overrated hotel were sorely lacking in back support, and I tossed and turned in an insomnia haze. I never stopped feeling tired from that moment on through the rest of the conference.
  • On Saturday, as the conference got underway in earnest, people started coming up to me and introducing themselves like crazy — often with exceedingly generous compliments about my new job, my past work or my Web site. It was really flattering; my mom would’ve cried if she were there.
  • The feedback to our panel discussion that I received in person ranged from positive to qualified or non-committal, with one guy telling me that “It really wasn’t as bad as everyone made it seem.” Ha! Personally, I thought it went really well. You can judge for yourself, kind of, on the podcast. Beware: no one properly wired us, so the sound quality might be very bad.
  • I ran into lots of people I hadn’t seen since last year’s show, which, thanks to the time-compressing effects of growing older and older, seemed like it went by in a blink. It gave me this strange feeling that last year’s conference and this year’s conference were just one long, continuous event, interrupted only by a single, interim day in which a whole year’s worth of large-buttoned, Ajax-y, social networking-y Web sites had flown by like road signs on a motorway. Weird.
  • My favorite panel by a longshot was James Surowiecki’s “The Wisdom of Crowds,” which, like the author’s book of the same name, was a very compelling look at using collective knowledge to reach more accurate conclusions than any person can on her own. I got the feeling that the session was under-marketed by the organizers, because it should have been a standing room-only kind of event given how good it was.
  • I got an incredibly unexpected compliment in a session I was too oblivious to attend: “Design Eye for the List Guy,” which took on the fairly ballsy act of unveiling an unsolicited redesign of Craig’s List — and with founder Craig Newmark in the audience even. They did an awesome job. Anyway, Ryan Sims was nice enough to give me a shout-out on slide 76 of this presentation deck for being an influence on his redesign.
  • In a town flooded with talent from all over the world, the rock star I was most impressed with was Jim Coudal. Over the many drinks and many hours I shared with him, John Gruber, Michael Lopp and Jason Fried, I was most impressed by Jim’s easy, unforced graciousness, general good humor, and worldly knowledge about many, many things not having to do with the Information Super-Interweb. A good role model for a designer, and a great role model for a person.
  • I spent more time just sitting around on the floor in the conference center this year, just talking to people — I won’t even try and list all of them here, because I’ll just leave people out inadvertently. But this was really my favorite part of the whole conference, because it just allowed me to catch up with folks that I only ever get to talk to online.
  • Well, actually, my favorite part was closing out the hotel bar with Mr. Rands, Mr. Fireball, Ms. Alert but not Alarmed, Ms. Bobulate, Ms. Unbeige, and Mr. Graphpaper. Among other reasons, I liked it because everyone at the table had their own blog, allowing me to write that incredibly geeky sentence.

So, see you next year there?

  1. I had the same feeling when I first met Jim Coudal, and it was backed up this year. “Unforced graciousness” is a good description. He just strikes me as a very solid guy, as well as a sharp thinker and a talented designer.

    For the record, your panel was one of the highlights. My favorites were the ones that felt like real discussions, and not just prepared speeches. Between you guys up there and the audience questions, it really came off well.

    Good meeting you – now go get some sleep!

  2. Khoi, I thought your panel was a great start to what I felt was an amazing conference. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was one of the few that got even close to having any conflict among opinions.

    I come from a print media and photography background and enjoyed hearing people talk of traditional design principles in today’s wizbangy world. So much attention can get focused on web gizmos and gadgets (guilty myself, here) that often the design – how the content is supposed to be reach the audience in the best way – gets lost or ignored.

    It was also fun to sit in the audience with someone who is something of a big fan of yours. She was too shy to walk up and talk to you, though, despite our encouragement.

    Ditto what was said about Jim Coudal. That guy seems to “get it.”

  3. Thanks for the kind comments on my panel. It was a lot of fun, and I only wish we could have gone longer. I’ll be posting the slides within a few days (as soon as I’m rested up), and I’ll also be adding some notes on points we didn’t get to cover in that hour. Keep an eye out.

  4. Khoi, it was great to meet you. I agree completely about Surowiecki’s panel—it was the greatest among so many great ones. Really, I thought that the more abstract and theoretical panels, like Daniel Gilbert’s “How to Do Precisely the Right Thing at All Possible Times,” were more compelling and fulfilling than those that were more nuts-and-bolts.

    Your traditional design panel set a great pace for a fun and exciting week. Hope to meet you again next time!

  5. Khoi, just wanted to say that it was great meeting you (and everyone else), and echo the comments about your panel. it was definitely one of my favorites. Keep up the great work, stay in touch, and I’ll see you next year. 🙂

  6. Khoi, I already posted this over at Mark’s, but if you guys all felt like you could have continued the conversation, why not continue it next year? We’ll even have another year of maturation of web design to consider at the time.

  7. It was awesome to finally have a chance to chat in person, if only for a bit. Once again, the first panel I saw at SXSW was the one that raised the most questions (yours this year, and Curt Cloninger’s from last year) provoked the most questions for me and got me really thinking…

    I think I need to do a panel next year on education and design, and how we as an industry need to make more of an effort to stay connected with what’s happening in colleges and schools. Good design habits start early, as the clichж goes.

  8. Blast, I knew there was someone I forgot to say hello to. Missed your panel, barely saw you in the hallways, but, hey, there’s always next year.

    To SXSWi 2007…

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