SxSWi 2013: The Most Interesting Things, People, and Innovations

South by Southwest Interactive is a five-day mashup of learning, networking, partying, and chatting. Information overload is unavoidable. So, to share with you the best stuff we came across, we've broken down our takeaways into three sections: The Most Interesting Things We Heard, The Most Interesting People We Met, and The Most Interesting Innovations We Saw.

The Most Interesting People We Met

7. The Ehrlichs, CEOs of Pirate's Brand Products and

On Day 1 of the Trade Show, we stumbled upon Shadoobie, a startup that aggregates what you spend your money on and creates a data visualization, which you can then compare to your social networking community's purchasing behaviors. What was fascinating about these folks is that the CEO of Shadoobie is the seventeen-year-old son of the CEO of those tasty Pirate's Booty snacks. Father and son were working the Trade Show together, and both were quite charming.


6. Rdio Guys

We met two folks from Rdio, a music streaming service much like Spotify and Pandora, but with a few perks (which, admittedly, you pay for) like creating radio stations that play only one artist and making mix tapes with friends.


5. Powerhouse Animation Guys

2-D animators based in Austin, these guys recently worked on a PlayStation 3 game called Darksiders 2.


4. Metaphwoar Folks

Metaphwoar, "the sexiest metaphor event in London," came to SxSW this year, and we had a chance to hear them share their favorite metaphors and chat with them a bit. Essentially a forum for talking about metaphors (and analogies and similes), Metaphwoar introduced us to some really funny and really engaging folks, and their take on the world was pretty wacky too.


3. Just Kusko, Social I.D.

Just Kusko, founder and president of Social I.D., showcased a new app she's created called Askie. It's kind of like a crowdsourced Magic Eight Ball. You can ask any question - like "Should I apologize to my mom for yelling at her, or yell at her again?" - and the Askie community will answer.


2. Adam Lee

This guy is one of the creative forces behind Bohemian Guitars, oil can guitars inspired by South African music traditions. Very cool and very humble, he took some time to demo his guitar for us and pose for a few photos.


1. Corey Simmons, Club Create

Club Create, which made it to our list of The Most Interesting Innovations We Saw, was co-founded by Corey Simmons, whom we had the opportunity to chat with at the Trade Show. Not only is Corey a super intelligent, super creative innovator, but he's also a really nice guy who made a really amazing music tool.

The Most Interesting Things We Heard

6. Do Great Things: Your Role in the Human Project

Justin Rosenstein, founder of Asana, delivered quite an impassioned monologue about how technology can facilitate the shift from "me to we." Framing his discussion around the idea that spirituality is simply "a series of technologies we've created over time to figure out what's going on," Rosenstein stressed the importance of leveraging our technology consciousness to do great things for the world. Among other areas, Rosenstein identified practical ways we can use technology to improve our relationships with ecology, business, and other countries.


5. Crowdfunding

Related to this idea of leveraging technology for good is crowdfunding, a major undercurrent of many projects in the pipeline these days. With sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, entrepreneurs can raise money for their innovations and get them built. But crowdfunding has expanded beyond the tech space and into local government. Sites like Citizinvestor and Spacehive are allowing citizens to propose projects for their municipality and then campaign and raise funding for them. It's a great way to bypass red tape and really get right to the core of what the citizens want.


4. Arrogance and Confidence in Design

UX designer Jonty Sharples delivered an engaging presentation about the risks of arrogance, the importance of confidence, and the fine line between the two. Confidence, says Sharples, facilitates risk taking in design, which is something all designers should be willing to do. Arrogance, on the other hand, comes when designers take risks and begin to forget that they're designing for other people, and instead create "beautiful disposability" - something that looks nice but doesn't do anything: the age-old form over function discussion.

Sharples’ central point is that designers do poor work when they don’t listen to stakeholders, respect their needs, and prioritize function over form. Humility and constantly referencing the core purpose of a product or interface can drive great design or, at the very least, eliminate designer-centric, poorly functioning products.

Don’t give your users shit work.
— Jonty Sharples

3. Leap Motion and the Disappearing User Interface

Michael Buckwald and David Holtz, inventors of Leap Motion, an input sensor, discussed their design process and desire to solve a problem that would “make everyone’s life better.” The product of their efforts is a hardware platform that allows desktop users to access their computers using only their hands as hardware - no mouse, no keyboard. Development is focusing on UI solutions that don’t involve traditional gestures (swipe, rotate, etc) but allow for intuitive motions by the user. There are currently 12,000 developers working to create software that supports leap motion.

This could be a huge paradigm shift for UX design. We could be designing task flows that read as 3-d object meant to be pushed and pulled, rotated and sculpted in the near future.


2. Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal) Keynote

I’m not a cartoonist. I’m a stand-up comedian whose stage is the Web.
— Matthew Inman, The Oatmeal

True to form, rather than delivering a focused speech about a particular aspect of his drawing process or his engagement with fans, Matthew Inman did something of a stand-up routine. His topics ranged from his personal identity vs. his Web identity to being nice to cats to his philanthropic crowdfunding projects.

While cats are always interesting, they didn't steal the show this time.

A couple years ago, The Oatmeal was involved in kind of a ridiculous lawsuit. A website, (now defunct), started throwing his comics up on their site without attributing them to him. So The Oatmeal retaliated by calling them out on their unethicalness...resulting ultimately in a lawsuit brought by claiming that The Oatmeal "defamed" them.


So, The Oatmeal got kind of annoyed - understandably so - and decided to try to raise the money for the lawsuit using Indiegogo, a crowdfunding site. The money, though, would not go to paying off the jerks at, but rather would be split between two of The Oatmeal's pet charities - one for bears, and one for cancer.

Well...his plan worked, and tenfold. He planned to raise $20,000 and instead raised more than $200,000.

Way to go, Internet Ethics and Responsibility!

(And way to go, cats!)

So...crowdfunding. It's amazing to think about what good things crowdfunding has the potential to foster.


1. The Best Interface Is No Interface

One of the best presentations we attended was given by UX designer Golden Krishna. He championed experience design over interface design, and challenged us to move away from screen-based thinking. The real-world example he used was the design of an app that unlocks a car versus the design of a key fob that unlocks a car when you get close enough.

The app takes 12 steps, from walking up to your car to physically opening the door. The key fob - the one that senses when you're close to your car and unlocks the door for you - takes only two steps: walking up to your car and physically opening the door. The juxtaposition of these design solutions starkly highlighted the value of Krishna's suggestion that "we are not solving problems practically. We are solving them with screens. It's not always the answer."

Good experience design isn’t good screens. It’s good experiences.
— Golden Krishna

The Most Interesting Innovations We Saw

8. Nest

Nest is a thermostat that learns your preferences for temperatures throughout the day. You start out programming it just like a normal thermostat, and the system quickly learns to turn itself down when you head to work and to turn itself up when you're getting ready for bed.

7. TempoAI

Another notch on Semantic Web's belt, Tempo is a "smart" calendar that aggregates everything you need to know about your schedule, so you don't need to look in four different places to get directions to a meeting, get a client's phone number, get the GoToMeeting ID, etc etc. It's all in one place. It's a one-stop calendar.


Created by gaming industry veteran Julie Uhrman, OUYA is a video game console for your TV that runs a unique version of Android OS. What's interesting about OUYA is that it will allow gamers to actually create and share their own games if they're so inclined.

OUYA is about letting people create the games they want for the screens they want.
— Julie Uhrman

5. Data the Joking Robot

In a panel addressing why humans find things funny, Heather Knight showed us Data, her joking robot.

Data's back end has a database of jokes that he can access when he's "performing" in front of an audience. He can actually gauge the audience's reactions to jokes based on laughter and applause to determine what kind of sense of humor they have, and then tailor his stand-up to those needs. Pretty cool stuff.

4. Makerbot Digitizer

Bre Pettis, creator of the impressive and controversial Makerbot 3D printer, introduced us to his latest work of genius: the Makerbot Digitizer.

Essentially a 3D scanner, it utilizes lasers and a webcam to create a 3D digital model...which is, of course, optimized for the Makerbot Replicator, so you can print your scanned model as many times as you'd like.

This is Pettis's latest addition to the "3D ecosystem."

If you want to do something, figure out a way to do it!
— Bre Pettis

3. Google Glass

Of course Google Glass was a huge hit, and with good reason. It's lens-free "glasses" that you can talk to and get information from, much like Apple's Siri, but completely hands-free. The "screen" appears in the upper-right part of your field of vision. It's intended to blend in to the background of your experiences rather than obstruct or interrupt them. Check out a demo here.


2. Club Create

Club Create offers a web-based suite of tools that allows users to mix music from tracks by existing artists, publish, and share their work online. Everything is legal and the interface is intuitive. Kids, music teachers, hobbyists, and fans who can’t afford professional tools can now have access to cloud-based music editing tools.


1. Leap Motion

Leap Motion is a hardware platform that allows desktop users to access their computers using only their hands as hardware - no mouse, no keyboard. Development is focusing on UI solutions that don’t involve traditional gestures (swipe, rotate, etc) but allow for intuitive motions by the user. There are currently 12,000 developers working to create software that supports leap motion. This could be a huge paradigm shift for UX design. We could be designing task flows that read as 3-D objects meant to be pushed and pulled, rotated and sculpted, in the near future.

Published by Design For Use.