Yesterday was our first day at SXSW 2014. As Brandon mentioned in his post, we spent a lot of time in sessions geared towards education, as our careers are in talent development. Surprise! It’s not just parties and music. There are actual sessions here on everything from marketing and UX to the future of humanity and AI.
I took a few moments yesterday and explored a little of the branding around town as well. I started in Mashable House, where the primary feature once again this year is Grumpy Cat. I know she’s just an internet meme, but she’s a cute one, and a 5 minute line to have my photo with Grumpy Cat seemed okay. It was a very in-the-moment thing, a very SXSW thing. Why not, right?
From there, I popped into the 3M tent. I don’t know what I expected – post-it notes perhaps? It was more of a museum that showcased products made by 3M materials. Also, I somehow missed the drink tickets. Free food is a recurring theme at SxSW, so I managed to enjoy cupcakes and a popcorn bar. I also wandered into the #Mofilm Lounge for my free drink. Last year, this tented lounge was absolutely jam-packed all the time. This year, you could actually move.
That was a theme throughout, actually. No matter where I went, I rarely had to stand in line. Last year, I think I spent most of my time at SxSW standing in lines, so I appreciate that everything seems slightly more efficient this year. While there are still apparently 30,000+ people here, I’m not feeling as crushed.
This year, the sessions seem to be more track-focused. My preferred design thinking, workplace functions, and UX design tracks are located in the Marriott, Four Seasons and Convention Center. In fact, I went through my schedule this morning and removed sessions that are in the Hilton, Sheraton, Wanderlust and the Omni. SxSW may be more organized around people flow this year, but the sessions are spread out around the town. Sometimes it feels like SxSW has outgrown Austin. I’m not the only one feeling the distance of certain things either.
While brands are everywhere, I’m not feeling as overwhelmed by the marketing as I have in the past. It’s an improvement. Last year, so many apps – many tacky or ridiculous – had posters pasted everywhere. A lot of the silliness (although not all), has disappeared. The smaller apps and brands just aren’t as in-your-face this year. However, Oreo is printing 3D edible cookies, GoToMeeting has free Grilled Cheese and Beer, Samsung is handing out batteries for anyone with a Samsung phone, and Deloitte is making 3D action figures. The big brands are here in force with “free” things that rarely have anything to do with the brand.
People are saying SxSWi has jumped the shark. I think it might have jumped last year and this year, it’s starting to find itself again. I don’t think it’s there yet. The organizers seem to be wrestling with what has become the SxSW brand versus the actual educational sessions. So we’ll see – I’m not giving up on the conference yet, and I’ll be back next year too.