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SxSW Round up: Part One

So, here we are. Day one of the SxSW Interactive Conference 2017 is well and truly under our belt. But where to start in terms of recounting the adventures of the day…

After the initial trauma of transporting 24 beady-eyed Bristolians from Silicon Gorge to Austin, TX – via a 5am journey along the M4, 10 hours 20 minutes of cruising at an altitude of 64,000 ft and safely making it through homeland security – all cumulating with a bleary-eyed table of travellers struggling to make it through the 24th straight hour awake as they wolfed down fajitas, it was time to rest up ready for what would prove an action-packed first day of the festival.

Kicking us off with the first session of the conference (following the obligatory breakfast burrito, of course), were a couple of design strategists from SapientRazorfish talking us through how they have been able to break through increasingly homogenous design tropes across the web with Digital Copycats: Escaping Plato’s Cave. This session focused around finding novelty and unique thinking in an increasingly same-same world of brands echoing not only the same design patterns as each other, but often entire business models and value propositions being copied-and-pasted from tech start-up to tech start-up. With interesting questions raised around the implications of how second-nature some digital products have become – for example the rise of Deliveroo or Just Eat leading to food being treated as something that simply comes to you at the click of a button – it was interesting to hear people challenging the traditional trend of “don’t make the user think”.

Next up was festival favourite, Gary Vaynerchuk, who has been pleasing SxSW crowds for the last decade or so. This session was a typical example of what’s so revered about the SxSW Interactive Festival as it took a Q&A format with the famous Gary Vee taking individual question live from audience members. With topics ranging from what specific marketing tactic was best to deploy at the exact point at which an audience member’s business was at, through to how to balance the trials of an entrepreneur’s private and professional life, this was a rare opportunity to directly pick the brains of one of the leading entrepreneurial minds in the world – or to simply kick back and soak up the insights pouring forth.

After wolfing down a rushed bite to eat in one of the day’s notorious queues for the next session, it was time to hear from Cory Richards. Over the course of a fascinating hour, we were taken from an adolescent rehabilitation centre on the outskirts of Salt Lake city to the peak of Mount Everest as the first American to climb without the aide of supplementary oxygen – all via scarcely surviving an avalanche on Pakistan’s highest peak, through Angola’s land-mine ridden river deltas and a stint as a homeless teenage street photographer – suffice it to say that this was an inspirational session centred around how through throwing yourself at the most challenging adversities, we are properly able to explore the boundaries of human capacity.

The next few hours was a good example of serendipity SxSW style. After a rush across town to try to catch A Tale of Murder: Why Netflix Killed Max ending in the disappointment that the session had been full a good half hour before I’d arrived, I found myself exploring the delights of the IBM Experience. All in a completely hands-on environment, we were invited to test how secure our online footprint really was in an exercise designed to highlight our vulnerability to cyber security concerns, we were also treated to a personalised beer selection as the algorithms behind IBM Watson decided which beer we were most likely to enjoy based on our taste palate and response to select questions, as well as being invited to duet with IBM Watson on the piano! This was a fascinating insight in to some of the most advanced goings on in the field of AI and left the mind veritably reeling.

As the last session of the day, what better way to round things off than listening to Ingrid Vanderveldt run through her journey in building EBW2020 – an organisation founded with the sole purpose of empowering, enabling and supporting one billion women in business around all corners of the globe by the year 2020. With the clamour of voices demanding more diversity in the global technology and digital community worldwide growing, the topic of women in tech is one we’re keen to dedicate more focus to – so watch this space for more particulars on this session!

With the mind buzzing from the information and inspiration coming through after just one day of talks, it was time to head off in to the night to sample more of the delights SxSW has to offer – this time in the form of creating connections, sharing ideas and making merry, all in celebration of an industry we’re so proud to be a part of and excited to see the future of.

Not bad for a day’s work…