Take-aways from #SXSW

I few weeks ago, I attended my first SXSW. It was a great experience. I loved every day out there and I’m absolutely sure I’ll attend again next year. So what did I take away from 5 days in Austin?

Do what you love

I attended this talk of Gary Vaynerchuck; it was an hour of straight-up Q & A. At some point somebody asked what to do when the company you work for doesn’t align with your believes and your principles. Gary just told the guy to leave the company; even after it turned out the the company was his father’s. “Happiness drives everything!” I have always been saying this. It was really nice to hear the same ideology from somebody as famous and as experienced as Gary.


Samsung is kinda cool

I have been an Apple fan ever since I bought my first iMac. I have been using iPhones for an eternity. I gave up looking around for other phones about 2-3 years ago. However, it seems a lot has happened in that time.
Samsung had hired a building and dubbed it the “Samsung House” at SXSW. They showcased a few of their latest devices, ranging from the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, their watch called the Gear S2, their VR goggles (Gear VR) and their 360 camera that’s coming out soon: The Gear 360.

I checked out their stuff and I have to be honest: they looked VERY interesting. If it hadn’t been for Best Buy, I would’ve bought their entire line-up right then and there. I had my credit card ready. They just had to take my money. They really managed to put out a few interesting products; and they built this whole ecosystem around their devices and it works really well. I really enjoyed it.

Character is key for great UI and UX

I saw this talk about robots and how they should interact with people. Many people are currently working on robots. And while many of them are great engineers, one of the big challenges in building robots is allowing them to be interacted with by humans. We can’t communicate the same way with robots as we do with computerscreens. Especially when they need us to perform actions. This kind of communication is called ‘Human Robot Interaction’.

In the SXSW talk, a team of engineers brought in a few people from Pixar (who animated the robots in Wall-E) to see if they could help with the interactions. They came up with a few very basic ideas that made all the difference in the world. They added basic human behaviour to express what a robot is doing. Scratching its head while ‘thinking’, lower its head and shoulders when it ‘failed’ at something, reaching out and pointing to something it needed help with, etc.

And while the talk only focused on robots expressing themselves, it pointed out just how badly current UI’s are designed. When I saw the robots interact with people and be more comprehensive than current user interfaces, I realized just in what a bad shape the current software is. We as designers and developers are increasingly lazy and expect users just to ‘figure it out’. We could be doing a way better job. We should.

360 video and VR are coming and it’s big

360 video and VR experiences are cool. To many people it might still seem like a nice tech-demo or a gimmick. But this technology is bound to bring a huge shift in several markets and industries. I watched several talks and panels about this technology. I talked to people from real estate markets and travel agencies. All of them see great opportunity in 360 and VR. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this!


Austin is a beautiful place

It’s true. It’s a really nice place to be. The people are friendly, the city is clean, the buildings are pretty, they have plenty of spectacular views everywhere, etc. We don’t hear enough about the beauty of this place. I’m a huge fan of New York City because of the extremity of the place. It’s a crazy, crowded and insanely spectacular place. Austin is somewhere halfway between the overkill that is New York City and the boringness that is Kortrijk – my hometown. Austin hit the sweet spot between big city and relaxed vibe. If you get the chance to visit, please do. You won’t regret it.


I haven’t been using this social media thing as much as I could have

Everybody and everything was all about social media. Everybody is talking about it. Everybody is selling or distributing something somehow in that space. A lot of tricks and approaches were revealed to me. A lot of opportunities that are right there in front of me; unused. Apparently I have become blind to the world around me and ignored the changes that were happening. It was an amazing experience to be given a bit of a shake-up and feel some new energy.

I might be focusing on the wrong things

Career-wise that is. I have always loved building strange things, hacking code and working with video and 3D. I have always enjoyed figuring out really weird problems. I have never really cared for large-scale applications, enterprise development and low-level computer science. I’m not sure why; some thing are really interesting but I just can’t stay fascinated by long enough to become really great at it.

I think with the rise of 360 video, VR interfaces and my passion for coding and hacking, I might just have found the crossroads of hacking and video. And if I’m not mistaken, there is a market growing around it. I’ll be looking into that and hopefully, I can do more work in that space soon.


Of course there was a lot more to be said and seen in Austin (I walked into Casey Neistat on several occasions, I high-fived a lot of people, vlogged my entire time over there, got to meet so many cool and friendly people and experienced a pretty cool sunset). However, these were the things that personally stood out for me. I loved the conference. It was huge, it was crazy, it was interesting, it was pretty much the nerd-vacation I needed. It gave me new perspectives, gave me a chance to reflect upon my own views and ideals and it allowed me to discover some new things.

I loved it. We’ll be going again next year!



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Ronny is a freelance frontend developer with a wild passion for creativity and a relentless hate against flat design. Ronny spent years as a Flash developer before moving to HTML5 and rediscovering fun and happiness.

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