SXSW Report by Tim Wolfs

Author: Brice Le Blévennec

Emakina’s Exective Director, Tim Wolfs, reports back from the SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas.



“Go check it out to see if it’s any good first.” That’s what my Managing Director, Brice, told me when I suggested skipping Cannes this year, and only going to South by South West (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. “Why not”, I said to myself, “with a bit of luck, I’ll manage to convince him when I come back…”.

But first thing first, what is this Texan festival anyway? SXSW was started in the mid-80s as an indie music festival, gathering some 700 participants. Over the years it has grown and developed, becoming a Mecca for anyone interested in the American music, film and interactive industries.

So every spring, the Texan capital is taken over by hordes of young (or young in spirit) enthusiasts of films, music and interactive content. This year the event reached an all-time record of over 30,000 participants (note to myself: book the hotel for next year well in advance…).

The SXSW Interactive Festival featured approximately 150 independent speakers in the course of 4 days. With so much happening, to choose is to lose…! Yet, a few trends clearly stuck out and are worth special attention.


3D Printing
This revolutionary technology was announced already in the very first keynote speech of the conference with a clear message: 3D printing is the hottest thing on the market!  Even if you never thought you actually needed it, there are plenty of occasions in your everyday (professional and private) lives, where 3D printing could be extremely useful.

Imagine being able to print in 3D an item you lost when moving your IKEA cupboard last year. Actually, why stop there? Imagine that IKEA is only selling 3D models for you to print at home! Medicine could probably also make extensive use of this technology. Customised prosthesis , made on the spot is just one of many examples.


No interface is the new interface
Automation and better integration of digital technologies appear as an emerging field with great potential for innovation. Currently we are far too much hooked up to the screen(s) surrounding us since we manually operate our digital devices (car, mobile, PC, tablet, fridge, etc.). The real evolution happens when the screen is merely a back-up or activity monitor but where the actual action is triggered automatically. The self-inflatable tire of Goodyear is a great example as the entire activity is automatic with no need for any human intervention.


The real buzz, however, was around the future of some of Google’s highly mysterious projects, like ‘Google Glass’, and the ‘Trash Talking Shoe’. Nobody knows when Glass will be launched but during SXSW, we learnt how the Mirror API will work to link other apps to Glass, together with a demo. Frankly speaking, this was quite impressive! The big question is how Google will keep this within the “open” approach. A lot of good will expected from the developers to keep the experience clean. We’ll just have to wait and see…

The idea behind the Trash Talking She is to load as many sensors in a shoe as possible and link the shoe to mobile devices. The shoe then speaks back, tweets and talks, according to the owner’s activity. It even indicates when the sole is worn out and ready for change…

Other highly inspiring talks came from Elon Musk (ex-paypal and founder of Tesla and SpaceX), Mathew Inman (founder and writer of The Oatmeal.com).


What else?

The speech Tina Roth Eisenberg (AKA, Swiss Miss) came as a cherry on the cake! In case you are not one of her (many) followers, Roth Eisenberg has an excellent design blog and she’s behind some of the most daring design initiatives in the New York area.

Last but definitely not least, Stephen Wolfram gave a fascinating lecture about the Wolfram Alpha answer engine. Without presumptions to have understood all the all the mathematical manipulations he presented, I was proud to be among the first to hear about the extension the Wolfram Alpha, probably the best analytic tool for you Facebook profile – a true masterpiece!


Conclusion? The dormant geek inside of me had an adrenaline rush during this digital playground. It was definitely the place to be for anyone interested in where interactive technologies are headed. Oh yeah, in case you were worried, my manager still wants me to go Cannes for the Advertising festival. Life’s a bitch.



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