SXSW Interactive 2016

We attended many impressive sessions during our time at the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) conference last week. The festival is a showcase for all things tech, and we were inspired by the exhibits, gadgets, and experiences that filled the city of Austin, TX. We focused on sessions in the Design and Development track including: “Fast and Rigorous User Personas,” “Checkbox That Ruined My Life,” and “Designing for Smartwatches.” We found it interesting that several themes emerged from the design sessions, regardless of the session title and topic.

As predicted in our “Tech Innovations to Watch in 2016” blog post from early this year, the Internet of Things was one such theme, specifically in regard to wearables. Most tech users have transitioned from desktop to mobile, and the next transition from mobile to wearable is happening now. Smartwatches and fitness devices remain the most widely-used items in this network of physical objects embedded with technology.

Exciting changes are ahead for such wearable technology, as devices will begin to transition from measuring and relaying past data, to providing users with actionable data to help in the future. For example, many fitness wearables now inform users of statistical data during use, but the future of wearables lies in recommendations, such as specific nutrition suggestions based on the user knowledge the device acquires.

The “Designing for Smartwatches” session dove-tailed nicely with these trends, and allowed us to dig into the user experience and the interfaces behind apps for the Apple Watch. The four-hour hands-on workshop divided participants into teams with creatives from all over the world to create a custom solution for a port shipping company. The design experience gained in this session will undoubtedly influence the apps we design for Apple Watch in the future.

Another recurring theme was the importance of human-centered design, which is a creative approach to problem solving that starts with the people for whom you’re designing and ends with tailor-made solutions to suit their needs. Human-centered design focuses on first understanding users’ needs before forming an intentional solution. Awareness of certain psychological principles around human tendencies can help inform design and make a better product. For example, during the session “Insights to Building Great Digital Products,” we discussed how too many choices can be counterproductive to a successful app. There is a human tendency to fear making the wrong choice, as well as a desire to have some choices made for us, so offering numerous options can be a pitfall. As speaker Scott Belsky, co-founder of Behance and current General Partner at Benchmark put it, “Mo’ options. Mo’ problems.”

SXSW also offered some exciting insights into products, innovations and movements taking place throughout the world in the technology field. A wearable suit that physically causes the user to feel the effects of pollution. Helmets that when used in combat can help the user connect to an ideal “flow” that optimizes their abilities. Virtual reality that can transport a classroom of students to a field trip on the moon. A robot percussionist that looks to the conductor for the last note’s final cue. While InspiringApps will not be building wearable suits or robots anytime soon (though we can dream!), we came away with new insights to design and develop excellent mobile apps.

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