SXSWi recap, Day One

sxswi 2008, the year in bloxes

SXSWi 2008 has come and gone. This was my second year attending SXSWi, and I have to say ’08 was a lot more fun than ’07. Over the next few days I’ll summarize the panels I sat in on, the hits and misses, the people I met and any ideas that have stuck with me. I’ll add photos to the posts as I have time, but if you can’t wait, check out my SXSWi set on Flickr.

Details, details

naz hamid at sxswi 2008

I kicked off the day with Naz Hamid’s panel, Design is in the Details (audio). Naz started by offering examples from a range of creative disciplines, including industrial design and cooking:

Craig Berman’sPinch“. It’s simple, functional, stylish and speaks to people who love to be in the kitchen.

The Rapha bike jacket is perfectly crafted for its audience; an offset zipper helps to avoid chafing and annoying rattling, a butt flap protects against splashes and features reflective fabric for safety. This jacket perfect example of form following function.

Finally, Naz walked through a checklist he uses to help achieve complete, detailed and functional designs (read more on ALA):

(1) Experiment / Exploration – Don’t limit yourself, Explore all the threads, mashup your ideas — you never know when you’ll find the beautiful mistake.

(2) Choices – Can you defend your design choices or is it just decoration?

(3) Stay Consistent – Make sure your designs are cohesive.

(4) Completeness – Don’t skip the small stuff. You don’t want your clients/audience to find mistakes or missing and incomplete elements.

(5) Step In, Step Out, Step Back – Step away from your designs. Let the ideas percolate. When you come back, take notes on what stands out (good or bad)

(6) Be Your Own Critic – Take the time (event if it’s overtime) to fix anything you know is wrong or incomplete. (see #4).

(7) Complexity in Simplicity – Less is more says it all.

(8) Obsession is Healthy – If you find yourself thinking about your designs in the shower, you’re obsessed. Don’t fight it. Let the ideas percolate in your mind.

The worst of the worst

The Suxorz at SXSWi 2008

Next up, The Suxorz: The Worst Ten Social Media Ad Campaigns of 2007 (audio), where I met up with a couple of the guys from Campfire to laugh at and learn from the mistakes of companies who have royally screwed up their forays into social media.

Pulling in ideas from their Facebook Group, the panelists each offered their nominees, ranging from Target Rounders to Carlton Beer to the winner by popular vote, HP PayPerPost (more info here).

All in all a fun panel, and a reminder that transparency, genuine interest and participation always trump secretive, shady campaigns (which should be obvious).

Hurts so good

Michael Lopp and John Gruber tag-teamed to explain why Great Design Hurts. Lopp (an Apple team lead) explained how Apple designs “presents” for their ideas. For example, OS X is a present wrapped in a present (the Mac) wrapped in a present (their packaging) wrapped in a present (the Apple store).

Lopp described his team’s design approach “10 to 3 to 1″; for a given feature, they create 10 pixel-perfect mockups. (the pixel-perfection removes the possibility of ambiguity, echoing Naz’s “Details” from earlier in the day). From the 10 original ideas, they iterate to 3 mockups, which are further iterated to reach the final design. For a relevant (and over the top) example, see Cultured Code’s dialog box design for Things.

Gruber rounded out the last half of the session. I’m a fan of his writing and I enjoyed his panel last year, but I felt like he rambled a bit. FWIW, two random points I walked away with were: (1) Different necessarily implies better, but different is scary and (2) a quote from Paul Rand, “Don’t try to be original, just try to be good”.

Droppin’ Science

Jim Coudal at SXSWi 2008

Jim Coudal wrapped up the day with my favorite panel, A General Theory of Creative Relativity (audio). He started with the boilerplate about Coudal Partners, leading up to an office creative exercise called “Booking Bands”; the goal is to combine a band name with a book title (i.e. Charlie Daniels and the Chocolate Factory, Megadeath of a Salesman, etc.)

He pointed out that anyone who tries this exercise will either: lock in on a band name and cycle through book titles of vice-versa. Thus, you have a variable and a constant. The resulting association is the creative event, and the first part of the equation.

He screened a great short film, “Regrets”, which led into the second part of the theory; the power, the divine spark of energy, the juice, the rush of enthusiasm; when you hit on a million-dollar idea and you can’t wait to work on it.

The third part of the the theory is the “Like3“:

Like1 is metaphor. This is like…
Like2 is a summary or shorthand; meaning you could go into an extended explanation of a scenario, or you could, like, summarize… like, duh.
Like3: Aesthetic Judgetment; I like…

All of the above results in an equation; something like: (x+y)E / Like3. Where do you go with that? Let me know if you figure it out…

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