Looking back at this years SxSW

It is now some two days ago I landed back from Austin, back from my second visit to SxSW Interactive (my maiden one was 2011). I did post daily on my experiences on labs.info.nl, but it is also good to look back with some distance and ask yourself what the main learnings were.

The conference grows bigger and bigger each year, now almost 25.000 people attending the interactive conference, with more than 1000 talks and panels to chose from. No surprise it is hard to boil it down to one overall theme. You could have a complete different experience from another by choosing your talks. In five days of conference I attended 23 talks, see the overview at the bottom.

In general I found it remarkable that there was clearly less loud promotion of new apps all over the convention area. We had Leap Motion and the talking shoes of Google, but on average I found the focus less on products than on stories. Sign of the times. Of course there were enough startups promoting stuff, and there were start up sessions, and I saw some in the talks (Trap!t, Ditto, Desti). One of the few that were heavily promoting was Levelup, a new payment system. I made an account and paid different food at the convention center.

Looking back I am thinking on a couple of themes, connected to eachother:

  • Startups becoming the artists. The role of startups seems a bit in flux. The lean startup approach is hard with the complexity in big data and artificial intelligence. Startups becoming more serious in business. On the other hand startup-culture is still valued for their disruptive thinking, but then more distinct from real world developments. More like artists doing research by doing.
  • Embodied interfaces. We see it also on the introduction of the new Samsung s4 telephone just after SxSW, we will experience a move to embodied interactions. With real products, enhanced (enchanted) with digital and sensor. With gesture interfaces like the Leap, with digital-physical connections like the Makerbot Digitizer ultimo. But also new interfaces with a digital ubiquitous layer as Glass.
  • Big data and tiny services. Good to see how my mantra is also recognizable in the talks on big data and artificial intelligence. Making services based on human values using big data is the way to go. Using bots and drones for human focused services.
  • Quantified self is ubiquitous. Not only at the conference, but also in the daily life of the American judging all devices already available in the shops. Self-tracking as mean for self-healing is not far away for the self made culture of the US.
  • eHealth is becoming big. A lot of startups in this field, a lot of talks on healthier life by better behaviour. Connected to the quantified self.
  • Behaviour design is the big resolution to cope with big data and eHealth, the combining factor of it all. You could fill a whole program with behavior design talks on this SxSW.

Looking to these overall trends, I think you can easily connect those together to a bigger theme; the way we are going to let our life be ruled by data and use the data to create a healthier life. This could be something we are ruled by, or that we rule ourself.

In this context of big and personal data is behavior design the medicine for a creating a better life. I think we will see this profession flourish even more with the growing number of personal devices.

screens 2008 2013
Source: Business Insider

Our world has changed dramatically the last years, as this photo of the announcement of the pope proves. We all have become cyberpunks now, as Bruce Sterling noted. The next level is really the way all these touch-points of (sensor) data will integrate in our life. The post digital world we have moved in – as I discussed on a lot the last year – has became fully integrated, so much is proven by this years SxSW.

An overview. All the talks I followed:

I try to make keep up with live reporting via Twitter, here you can find all tweets here.

And as I said, I made 5 day reports:
Day 1: copying the real world
Day 2: tiny habits and big dreams
Day 3: designing behaviour and serendipity
Day 4: making sense of robotics
Day 5: closing the betterama future

See you next year!

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I am a design director at Structural. I curate and organize ThingsCon Netherlands and I am chairman of the Cities of Things Foundation. Before I was innovation and strategy director at tech and innovation agency INFO, visiting researcher and lab director at the Delft University of Technology coordinating Cities of Things Delft Design Lab.

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