Eight takeaways from SXSW Interactive

With dozens of venues and a program guide the size of a small novel, SXSW is crammed with information and inspiration. VSA had eight staffers at the event (one of whom was a speaker), absorbing all they could in a short time. Here are some of their key takeaways:

1. Storytelling is scientifically proven to improve engagement. 

When it comes to marketing, creating a human story around a product or service can increase engagement with a brand. When we hear stories, oxytocin, a hormone that is linked to empathy, is released in our brains. In a study about charitable giving, when individuals were told a story about a cause, rather than given the facts and figures, they were inclined to donate more. Great stories build relationships and make us care, increasing the bond between people and brands. — Sierra Swanson, Senior Content Strategist 

2. Dumbing down digital experiences is dumb.

Sung Kim, the founder of the software company Gestures, Inc., believes we are stuck in the paradigm of creating digital experiences that reflect real world actions and desires, versus flipping the script and having digital experiences define our reality. The key soundbyte for me was, “My grandmother never learned to drive a car and my father still can’t figure out how to double-click stuff … but this doesn’t mean that the car and the mouse aren’t incredible, user-friendly inventions. We need to stop designing for the lowest common denominator and start redefining reality through optimal digital experiences.” — Ben Sherwood, Creative Director

3. UI as we know it will change in the near future.

All the interfaces we’re creating and becoming accustomed to on our devices will only represent a part of the UI of the future. Smarter tech is starting to recognize our context, facial expressions and movements to serve up the content we want—even on surfaces as low-tech as walls. —Scott Theisen, Creative Director

4. The screen will no longer be the main means of interface. 

As the Internet of Things grows and more everyday objects and environments are being imbued with computing power, the screen will no longer be the primary means of interface. Thus, interaction design needs to change paradigms. Smaller and smaller projectors mean that any surface (solid or transparent, stationary or mobile) can become an information display. With the use of cameras and beacons, any object in a space can be monitored to a fine degree, meaning their movement and rotation can be used as an input. Your can of Coke can be turned into a volume control, your chair a light switch. Environments and objects—and the experiences we design for them—are now one and the same. So we must think of interaction and experience design in these new contexts instead of only through the lenses of mobile and desktop. — Cory Clarke, Partner, Technology Practice Lead

5. We can all learn from BuzzFeed’s new social-media focused ad format.

In the content/media arena, there is a move away from distributing content on owned and operated platforms to leveraging third party content/social platforms. BuzzFeed just announced its new Swarm advertising format, offering brands the option to run campaigns across BuzzFeed’s Vine, YouTube, Facebook and other social channels. Lots of questions remain around metrics, platform transparency and best practices around avoiding viewer fatigue from sponsorship overload, but there are lessons to be taken from this move for media companies and brands alike. Namely, the importance of prioritizing content value and user empathy over top-down messaging. —Brendan Colthurst, Director, Development

6. Our industry has surprising overlaps with the food industry.

There were a few sessions about food, two of which (Food Rediscovery: Science, Culture, Convergence and Chef’s Table: A Conversation) stood out and were quite inspirational. Although we are in completely different industries, I saw a lot of overlaps: a) Embracing failure is part of the process of discovering and creating something great; b) Open-sourcing recipes in the creation of new foods is not unlike open-sourcing code/tech in the creation of new software—and both are incredibly valuable for innovation; c) At the heart of what we do, the creative process is driven by the passion of the “makers.” — YanYan Zhang, Creative Director

7. Context is king.

For all the data we have and the personalized messages we want to send, we’re still lacking a lot of the context needed to make it relevant. The right message for the right consumer at the wrong time is destructive. — John Fisher, Associate Partner, Director of Technology

8. The autonomous car is the new mobile

The tech industry is in the same frenzy around the autonomous car that they were around mobile a decade ago. Not only will it effect massive change on our cities but it will open new free time as people do not need to focus on driving. This free time, in the captive environment of the automobile, is a new channel that is yet untapped for marketing. As with every technology, and as we cede more control to devices, there is also concern around how insidious marketing can behave. Already advertisers are buying special placement in Waze, where the app will recommend stopping by an advertisers establishment while on route to your office. But once your car is autonomous what is to prevent it from subtly altering your route to pass by that establishment? — Cory Clarke, Partner, Technology Practice Lead