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What’s Hot @ SXSW 2018

What’s Hot @ SXSW 2018

After four days at SXSW, some interesting themes have emerged. For example, there is a noticeable lack of agency presence this year. The focus seems to have returned to the brands and startups that make up the core experience of the conference.

On the brand side, HBO has generated the most buzz by far with their Westworld activation and accompanying panel discussion featuring Creators & Show Runners, Lisa Joy & Jonathan Nolan, as well as cast members Thandie Newton, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden and Jeffery Wright. While I wasn’t connected enough to attend the activation, word is it was an incredible experience that took the lucky few out into the Texas brush to a Westworld town where participants could interact with actors playing robot hosts. Everyone also received a white or black cowboy hat to commemorate the experience. I was lucky enough to attend the panel discussion, the climax of which, aside from the sneak peek at season 2, was surprise guest Elon Musk! It was a perfect SXSW moment combining the glamour of Hollywood, a conversation about AI and robots, all topped off with tech superstar Musk.

Speaking of Musk, there was a lot of excitement around the topic of space exploration over the first few days. One speaker stated that our grandparents went to the moon and now, it’s this generation’s time to make its mark. The audience at SXSW is the perfect target for this message. Harnessing technology to inspire and lead us to a better tomorrow is a theme that came through at many sessions.

For us marketers at SXSW, the conference is a time to get inspired by people doing amazing things and to find insights that can help make our work better. I try and split my time between these two facets -- inspiration and insight -- to get the most out of the experience.

The designer Bruce Mau’s speech was a great source of inspiration for me. Mau has been designing graphics, books, buildings, systems and even cities for the past few decades and has developed a set of guiding design principles that inspires a generation of designers. He told a story of a recent project that came his way. His firm was hired by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to redesign Mecca to enable better flow through the city for the millions of pilgrims that come every year. When they requested a 20-year plan, he simply didn’t think that was long enough for a city like Mecca and came back with a 1,000-year plan instead. That’s inspiring!

I often find that panels and sessions devoted to my field of user experience fall short on the insight and inspiration department. On the strategy side though, I got great value from a presentation by author and researcher Rohit Bhargava who publishes a yearly report on “Non-Obvious” trends that he defines as, “a unique curated observation of the accelerating present.”Here are a few highlights from his new edition:

  • Human Mode: “As automation increases, people hungry for more personal and authentic experiences begin to put a premium on advice, service and interaction involving actual humans.”We see this in the humanized design of social robots, as well as the combination of automation and human helpers in services such as Magic.
  • Light Speed Learning: ”Learning is increasingly an everyday activity through small digestible chunks of educational content and experiences about everything.” This trend speaks to themassive influence that YouTube has on the learning process. You can learn how to do anything by watching a YouTube video, and brands are beginning to get involved. For example, Fender publishes guitar tutorials to help players get better … and to hopefully keep buying Fender guitars. 

SXSW’s endless stream of insight and inspiration keeps the crowds coming back year after year.

 

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