SXSW, Part of the Process for Getting Enlightened and Energized

Blair Culbreth, Director of Visual Design

Article Category: #Design & Content

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What I find lovely, both times I've been to SXSW Interactive, about a conference so large and diverse is seeing the connections between wildly different sessions. This year one of the overwhelming themes was process. What I first heard in a panel about web typography was repeated in a panel that covered the early days of NASA. The same point made in a responsive design panel was echoed in a discussion about wearable devices. And so on...

So processes! How we learn, how we teach, how we advance our industry and ourselves, why something works or doesn't work, what we're aiming for and where we are in the meantime. There was much introspection and celebrating of the journey, more so than the destination this year. The panel for 100 Year Starship beautifully summed up the merit of examining how we're all working, growing, and how we'll carry on in the future:

Pursuing an extraordinary tomorrow creates a better today.

Here are some ways that pursuit was illustrated at SXSW this year:

Of course, responsive design was a big topic this year. The consensus was that no one has the best process for creating a responsive site nailed down just yet. Which is a good thing! We now have an opportunity for designers and developers to rethink how they collaborate and how to create responsive sites that use responsive to its full, creative potential.

Always look for ways to grow. Here's maybe my favorite thing I learned this year: a person has either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. Those with a fixed mindset see their intelligence, skills, and abilities as built-in and static. Those with a growth mindset see them as things that can be developed with hard work and learning. As a result, the work of those with a fixed mindset is static. They aren't as interested in alternative points of view or negative feedback. Meanwhile, those with a growth mindset are sponges for criticism; they want to know how they can do better and how others before them have succeeded. Seek honest feedback and perspectives that challenge your own, not just praise and reassurance, and your creativity and quality of work will grow.

Study and share processes, not just finished products. Whether it's a site, app, or a planet outside our galaxy, we can learn so much more from their growth than from just studying their final state. Every project has a story full of successes, failures, and breakthroughs that are valuable. Show a man a nice site, and he learns how to create an inferior, derivative site. Teach a man how a nice site was made, and he learns how to create nice work of his own.

Embrace your silly and side projects; you never know where they'll lead. Whether it was science hack days or just doing something about one of life's little annoyances, silly side projects were stars this year. Why do them? Even if it's a weekend-long project that goes nowhere, it's a chance to play and try new things you wouldn't get to otherwise. Best case scenario: your bit of fun ends up being the first step in a process that ends with helping scientists detect cosmic rays in a cloud chamber

The space exploration sessions were not only a highlight of this year's lineup, but also a fitting reminder why it's important to view our work and processes as works in progress that we're always rethinking. Space exploration has always meant pushing our technology to its limits to reach far beyond our planet. And the further we've reached out, the more we've seen there are no limitations. There is no final end-point to the universe, only another journey that take us further out than our last one. Similarly, there is no end-point in our field. There's always something to learn, a problem to solve, and a tool to use today that didn't exist yesterday. Just doing what worked yesterday is no fun. Pursue an extraordinary tomorrow, and you'll be better for it today. 

The Process of Being at SXSW

To visually bring you a piece of the SXSW experience, I could attach blurry photos of LeVar Burton (but I already did that.) Instead, here are some hopefully more informative visuals. First up, everyone should know my pain when it came to choosing between three or four sessions all taking place at the same time:

Wearable and self-tracking devices were a popular topic this year. Formally, this meant several exciting sessions. Informally, this meant I wore my FitBit all week and kept announcing to everyone how far we'd walked, whether they wanted to know or not.

And just where were we doing all this walking to? Well...

Your SXSW Homework

Should you choose to accept it, here's a list of assignments as varied as the sessions themselves.

Blair Culbreth

Blair is a visual design director in our Boulder, CO, office. She crafts intuitive, emotionally driven design for our clients including VolunteerMatch, the Lupus Foundation of America, and other national non-profits.

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