South Bye Bye South West

So there it goes, another SXSW. I laughed, I cried, I drank. I'll be back next year God willing.

I had looked forward to it for a year and it certainly didn't disappoint. For me, this year's SXSW Interactive was the best so far.

Every year seems to be a little different. My first visit to Austin in 2005 came at a time when I was coming out of a very black phase and was seeing the end of my depression. It was also a time when I was thoroughly miserable about the state of my (then) business and angry at the antics of my (then) business partner. SXSW was a relief, another world: good friends, interesting conversations and above all the feeling that I was welcome, a feeling that by that time had been drummed out of me.

2006 was different; bigger, busier and seemingly less personal. 2007 was bigger still, but the organisers did a fantastic job and the halls never felt overwhelming. I also got to talk more with people that I wanted to meet and learn more about, plus some wonderful, quiet dinners with friends rather than the noise and crowds of parties.

It's often said that SXSW is more about the social events and less about the presentations than at other conferences. The presentations do matter of course and this year I saw more people speaking on more subjects across more tracks than I think I've seen at any event so far.

As always, it's impossible to hear everybody and within the ones I did hear, there was a mixed bag. Standout presentations for me were Jason Santa Maria and Rob Weychert's Field Guide to Design Inspiration and Mark Boulton and Khoi Vinh's Grids Are Good and How to Design with Them.

Both of these presentations left me feeling inspired to come home, move my studio furniture around and put up new pictures on my studio walls. That to me is the purpose of SXSW. I come to Austin not only to meet familiar and new faces, to hear about new ideas and reaffirmation of existing ideas but also to feel reenergised. Working on my own and in small teams can sometimes feel isolating. SXSW, @media, Web Directions and other conferences are opportunities to feel close to people who share similar passions, at least between Twitters.

Power(sessions) to the people

As I've already seen others commenting, this year's twenty-five minute power sessions were an interesting experiment in scheduling. I'm not certain that they were a complete success as I saw several presentations that could have held my attention for the full hour. Mark Boulton's and Khoi Vinh's exceptional Grids Are Good and How to Design with Them could (I hope) become a full day workshop. These guys know their craft and know how to speak passionately and articulately.

My own session, Bullet Tooth Web Design: Plan Your Web Site like Pulling off a Robbery, was packed and I'll admit, a little chaotic. Jason did a great job as the Italian mobster and thanks again to the wonderful Hard Man Dan Cederholm for introducing us and for being the brunt of the Jason Statham gag one more time. When Jason and I started planning Bullettooth, we knew that we only had one joke (in the title), and that we intended the session to be more about a half hour of comedy than about providing any really useful information. There were some serious points hiding out within the slapstick, my favourite quote coming from Jason:

Web design isn't always a crime, but it does have to be organized.

For us the twenty-five minute slot was ideal, just enough time to have fun, tell a few jokes and poke gentle fun at some web design luminaries including Doug The Head (Bowman), Derek Featherweight, Amish Rob (Weychert) and Turkish. Any longer and the (one) joke would have worn thin(ner). Infact, we did finish seven minutes early so thank-you to the amazing people in the audience who stepped up with wonderful themed questions. My favourite of these being:

What do you do if you pull off the perfect robbery only to find what you have stolen is a fake?

I've never been asked that before (or Is is OK to blame failure on a patsy when things go wrong?. Those type of questions did require a little more mental dexterity and lateral thinking than I'm used to so I hope we did OK.

UpdateOur slides are now online to download as a PDF (2.1Mb) and a very nice chap has also remixed them on Jumput.


The recent conversations about the diversity in speakers also continued in Austin. To me, SXSW showed that there are already boatloads of people of all races, genders and diverse professional specialities who can present on a wide diversity of topics. I was also impressed and inspired by people who I have never heard speak before. Khoi Vinh was commanding, Rob Weychert hysterically funny, Erin Kissane was authorititive and Stephanie Troeth was charming and engaging to listen to.

So there it goes, another SXSW. I laughed, I cried, I drank and I howled at the genius that was Flat Hicks who now even has his own entry on Wikipedia.

I'll be back next year God willing.


  1. #1 On March 16, 2007 12:51 PM simon r jones said:

    sounds like you had a great time. I was lucky enough to attend a half-day workshop at the Future of Web Apps (London) recently with Khoi Vinh on grid design for the web.

    It was excellent and thoroughly inspiring. As a lot of these great conferences seem to be...

  2. #2 On March 16, 2007 02:21 PM Jason Beaird said:

    It was nice to meet you Andy, and congrats on a great panel. It was fun trying to translate what you and JSM were saying from "robbery talk" back into design business. The audience questions really cracked me up. Cheers!

  3. #3 On March 16, 2007 02:35 PM Rob Weychert said:

    Oh Malarkey, I really do have to work out an affordable way to see you and your Brit Pack ilk more often than once a year. It's always all too pleasant and all too short. :(

  4. #4 On March 16, 2007 06:26 PM Sally Carson said:

    Andy, it was great seeing you in Austin! And congratulations on your book, I'm really enjoying it. Even though I was running on about 3 hours of sleep, I stayed awake and read Transcending CSS the whole flight home, very inspiring!! I can't wait to open up TextMate and play around with some CSS ideas this weekend.

  5. #5 On March 16, 2007 06:28 PM Matt Robin said:

    I missed it all....but it sounds like it was excellent!

  6. #6 On March 16, 2007 08:03 PM Andrea said:

    Great to see you again! Although the conference gets bigger, it seems to also get better every year. Nothing like being surrounded by so many inspiring folks.

  7. #7 On March 17, 2007 09:57 PM Mary M said:

    Did you launch your redesigned site during SXSW like you said you would on Twitter?! I can\'t wait to see it!

  8. #8 On March 17, 2007 11:25 PM Malarkey said:

    @ Mary M: Not yet, another couple of weeks and all will be revealed!

  9. #9 On March 19, 2007 03:46 AM Ben Buchanan said:

    You realise of course that Flathicks will end up requiring Flatpack - a massive poster of all the people who wish they were there... :)

  10. #10 On March 19, 2007 05:16 PM Daniel K said:

    Ben: Darn tootin'!

  11. #11 On March 28, 2007 01:11 PM Matt Richards said:

    I long for SXSW UK. Are you likely to be at this "Technology for a Small Nation" Bloc event in Llandudno? I'm still yet to take you up on that pint.


  12. #12 On March 28, 2007 01:37 PM Cees said:

    Web design luminaries - tantek is with a K - from TurKish ;-))