Adventures in Austin

News Flash | Adventures in Austin

Find out what weird stuff went down at SXSW in Austin...

Day One

Today we thought about how we should all do better (at doing better).

It is interesting times over here with Obama's term drawing to a close and some challenging choices for Americans to make. Everyone we speak to – from bartenders to taxi drivers to gov officials (even a reporter for NPR) wants to chat change (and how we're gonna get better at fixing the big issues) and two of the keynotes we saw today posed some good places to start...

'Make room to question people who tell you they have the answers!" Casey Gerald inspired us with the 'Gospel of Doubt'. Where he asked why the world is going so wrong when we clearly have the brainpower and tech to fix it.

"We can only solve problems if people pay attention" President Obama made the case for harnessing tech to create and retain civic engagement. Only once people are listening can things start to change – creative and tech brains need to get together and come up with a way to make that happen.

Five ways to start doing better:

1 Give a damn!

2 Listen more than you speak

3 Act more than you plan

4 Embrace discomfort & uncertainty

5 Step up and join in


Day Two

My head is totally spinning. This is partially due to the free booze I've been knocking back at every opportunity, but also because being in a place where anything seems possible is inspiring me to REALLY THINK about the threads that are emerging and how we might weave them into our work.

One of those threads is around purpose – and what we expect from our interactions with both technology and each other.

A standout panel that touched on this today was 'One Robot doesn't fit all' which started with the premise that 'robots are totally a thing now' and went on to explore the impact this has on our behaviour.

The panel explained that although both the character and purpose of a robot determine the way we interact with them, our expectations are more likely to be influenced by how well they mimic us, than how well they perform their tasks.

Which I think raises the question – is 'performing' more important than performance?

Today has been a right old melting pot of thoughts and ideas – happiness & habits, security & privacy, partnership, craftsmanship, robots, lego blocks, innovating, co-creating, appeasing the plurals, constructing food murals – and that was all pre-lunch. But if the point of coming to this crazy-ass place is to pull your head out of the 'now' and start thinking about the 'next', SXSW is certainly delivering.


Day Three

Today was for play! 

Our mission was to roll our sleeves up, get involved and see who else is doing just that – the makers and inventors, the start-ups and the do-ers.

We began in the Accelerator Village hearing from the finalists who've got the SXSW judges excited. Sessions we heard included:





Although each of these products is very different, the thing that unites them is a real belief they are onto something, that they're going to solve a problem and make their product a part of our everyday. 

The rest of the day we sought out new toys from the big boys and were really encouraged by what we saw. From IBM's Cognitive Studio, where we experienced Watson and were guided through a sensory playground, to Sony's Future Lab where developers are joining forces over Project N and Haptic.

There is no doubt that VR is everywhere here (as we all knew it would be). But what is clear, is the floor is very much open and the product that makes itself truly accessible to the masses will clean up. 

The tech is there, it just needs to find a way into our pocket and our lives – and (based on some of the things we saw today) that connection could just as easily be made by a tech giant as a new contender. Exciting times y'all!


Day Four

A huge takeout for me from today was the importance of play and the impact it has on creative thinking.

Play as a route to creativity has come up a few times this week – from the Lego & Cartoon Network panel on Day 2, to the concept behind the wonderful Pop Up Play (which won its category in the Accelerator Awards on Day 3).

Today we went to one of the most fun panels we've seen this week: Burning Man: From Free Play to Innovation Science which began with the notion "We don't stop playing because we get old, we get old because we stop playing".

The panel (comprising of a team from Ideo, Oxford University, Burning Man, and the National Institute of Play) discussed the importance of incorporating more play into our practice for a more fulfilled and creative life.

The idea is not to just have more breaks or play more Ping-Pong, this is about getting out of your seat (and your comfort zone), leaving your inhibitions (and devices) at the door and "chasing the glee".

The definition of play is "enjoying the experience for its own sake, voluntarily, with no need for outcome". This is a tricky one because we can probably all think of ways to be more playful in our work, but the nature of what we do means there always has to be an outcome. 

So maybe a more realistic option is to take the principles of play and adapt our thinking. If the biggest killer of play is fear and stress, then surely we need to be more fearless in our approach.

If we fear less, we'll play more – and if we play more, our creativity can become more fearless, which is always a good thing.


Day Five

This morning we headed to Iron Man Interfaces: Next Generation UI (Or UX) feeling a bit jaded from wringing every drop out of Austin over the last 5 days. We hoped this talk would send us out with a bang – what we didn't realise is that we'd still be reeling from the explosion.

The first speaker Jayse Hansen has done screen UI for pretty much everything cool in recent years – including the amazing Big Hero 6, which (due to having a four year old son) I have watched approximately 342 times and still love – largely down to the amazing UI that Hansen and his team have created.

He took us through the intricacies of his creative process – tiny Z-space details that the audience will probably never notice but totally underpin they way they are left feeling. Beautifully-designed micro-moments in which to tell complex parts of the story through the flash of Fury's monitors or Tony Stark's HUD.

And just as we were sat thinking about how cool it would be to be Tony Stark (a topic that I've been a bit obsessed about for a while), Meron Gribetz of Meta took to the stage. That is when something amazing happened...

Gribetz showed us Meta 2, the first 'natural' computer to be designed based on Neuroscience. Grounded on 3 guiding principles – 'You are the OS', 'Touch to see' and 'The holographic campfire', the Meta 2 allows you to interface seamlessly with the content (and others) in front of you and works based on intuition, not learned behaviour. It basically takes everything that sucks about the boxy, unintuitive, limiting UX of our current devices and chucks it out the window.

Gribetz feels pretty confident that by SXSW 2017 his 100-strong company will have thrown away their monitors and all be hooked up to natural machines, and only Meta know if they will be ready in time to live up to that claim. But judging by the gasps, applause and standing ovation that the demo triggered in the room, I'm not the only person who is really hoping they do.