My first SXSW

26 Mar

So I am back from my first SXSW. Yeehaw. Little UX consultant from Germany entered the world of startups, internet icons and southern hospitality. And yes, I survived. Feeling inspired, tired, motivated, exhausted, all in one package. How is this possible? How did I get to this point? I think if you have been to SXSW, you know what I am talking about. And if you haven’t been, shame on you. No, just kidding. Keep on reading, I will try to share a little of my SXSW experience.

General Impression

How could I have missed this the last years? I wanna go back next time. These are my first thoughts coming to my mind. If you are working in the digital/interactive business, this is where you should go. You’ll get inspiration from great talks. You’ll feel amongst like-minded people and you can get lots of free drinks.
You need more?
Well, as there is so much going on at the same time, chances are, while you are enjoying one great talk, you will miss 2 others, which might have been even better. While you are networking or getting informed about new startups, you might miss a couple other events.
So, I think as long as you are a little informed about all that is going on, you will find enough stuff that fits exactly your interests and needs. But keep a little room to sometimes just go with the flow, you might stumble upon even more interesting stuff, you haven’t thought of before.


“Oh my god” was my first thought seeing the schedule and upon planning I just knew, I will always have to sacrifice some talk I would like to see for another, that I would like to see as well. I won’t go too much into detail of every panel right here, so if you want to know more, just add a comment or get in touch.

Here are some of my personal highlights:

A brief history of the complete redesign of Google

This was one of my favourite talks. The design team of Google talked about the redesign and even gave a quick peek on a design project from 2007, which never went live. It was called “Kanna” (icelandic term for “to explore, examine, investigate”).
The team seemed to have great chemistry which showed in their way of interacting with each other while presenting.

Here is a great summary of the talk written by Jonathan Jeter.

UX Smackdown! User Testing Techniques in the Ring

Yeah. Bring it on. Talks don’t always have to be the same way. This panel distributed noise makers before the talk and presented User Testing Techniques in a battle, even with a Michael Buffer audio as introduction.
It was Round 1 “Focus Groups vs. Field research”, which had a clear winner “field research”.
Round 2 “Eye tracking vs. unmoderated remote usability testing” which resulted in a tie.
And Round 3 “High fidelity prototypes vs. rapid iterative testing”

View more presentations from rsherrill

The Complexity Curve: How to Design for Simplicity

David Hogue gave a great talk. I especially liked his approach, giving different perspectives on simplicity/complexity:

  • Enough negative space
  • Avoid noise
  • Hierarchy

UX Designers

  • Functionality
  • Context (Goal, Motivation)
  • Flow

People (Users)

  • Relevance (if I find what I need when I need it, it is simple)
  • Difficulty
  • Confusion


  • Chaos theory

There are a lot of summaries on this talk.

Why Ad Agencies Should Act More Like Tech Startups

I really liked this talk bei Rei Inamoto (Chief Creative Officer at AKQA). It was a well prepared talk on an interesting question. And aside from the title, there is not really a yes or no answer, even though there is a strong opinion towards the “yes”.
Rei had interviewed six very interesting people on this question: Kevin Systrom (Instagram), Cindy Gallop (Consultant, Entrepreneur), Hashem Bajwa (De-De), Sharon Feder (Mashable), Crystal English (Art Director), Chris Sacca (Investor). He strucured the talk along three important aspects:

  • Structure
  • Process
  • Compensation

For each aspect he showed excerpts from his interviews and then gave his personal opinion.
One thing I remember really well was, what makes a product successfull:
Insight. Is the product built on real consumer needs > know your customers.
Desire. Can you generate an appetite for the product?
Utility. Does the product meet the consumer needs, is it useful?
These three aspects can be transferred into strategy, story-telling and software.

What struck me most at this talk, besides from the subject of the talk, was the humble, sympathetic way in which Rei Inamoto presented this. It felt more like “I wanna talk with you about a subject” instead of “I know – I will tell you, you should listen to me”. And he got my attention – I wouldn’t even tweet during the talk, because I was captivated.

Finally he closed with “one more thing”, giving a story about his father, who wanted to become a writer. He became a writer eventually, even though his uncle discouraged him. The lesson learned was: If you are passionate about something and love what you are doing, do it.

Here is the teaser video to this talk:

And here you find more videos from this talk.

Great sketchnotes of this talk.

And finally a summary of this talk.

Some more talks I have attended:


What parties? If you can remember, it wasn’t good ;)
What can I say – there are so many parties with so many free drinks. So, even partying needs some preparation. Go register “RSVP” for the parties you would like to attend, that makes it easier. Don’t worry if you didn’t, there are still enough parties to go to. But chances are, for the really good ones, there are long lines. And check Foursquare and Twitter to find out, where the best parties are happening. This really works. We found out about the Foursquare party (a little bit too late), because over 480 people were checked in.


Geeks, Nerds, Hipsters, whatever you want to call most of the interactive people, there were lots of them – including me. And guess what, thereby you have directly one thing in common – the passion for digital, interactive stuff. So that is a good start. And there are so many places like meet-ups, lines, parties, workshops, talks where you can get in touch.
One episode I would like to share, that involves people from Austin – no geeks, nerds or hipsters. One evening, Stephan I waited like an hour for the shuttle to drive us Downtown. Then this young woman comes home to her condo with her mother. She gives us the number of cabs, in case we need a ride. But shortly after that, they came back and said, they will give us a ride downtown. Wow. They just came home from IKEA, you know how exhausting this can be, and then they have nothing better to do than takes us downtown which was approximately 45 minutes total for them (back and forth)? So that is southern hospitality. Thank you, Meredith, in case you are reading this.

Short Summary

Very short, like already said: I wanna go again. It is a great mixture of inspiration, getting valuable input, networking, fun.

What could be done (better) next time?

  • Find a hotel that is downtown, so booking early.
  • Get the badge the evening before the opening, because the lines at the registration were terribly long. My favourite tweet was:”The line at SXSW is so long, it can be seen from outer space.”
  • Eat more steak – I just had one and that was sooooo good (Ruth’s).
  • Maybe skip a few panels and get to know more people.

And here are some images of SXSW:

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