Going Big Tech in Texas at South by Southwest

South by Southwest

Considered one of the premiere conferences melding music, film, and technology in one of America’s ‘it’ cities, Austin, Texas, South by Southwest (SXSW) didn’t disappoint. My first time in Texas other than a Delta Airlines stopover in Dallas, SXSW was an incredible combination of what makes me – creative joie de vivre, adventurous spirits and the desire to try anything at least once. In addition to incredible food experiences, great people and places the technology sessions we opening and breath-taking. The conference theme of storytelling was woven throughout all of the sessions and the conference brought leaders to the Lone Star State to share.

Below is a summary of the sights summarized in an outline format.

South by Southwest Conference, Interactive Session Summaries

Abby, the SXSW Bot, and the SXSW app

Can Metro use this technology to help respond to customer questions or common inquiries? One of the highlights for me as a convention goer was the SXSW Bot, Abby. As a first time visitor to the state capitol, Austin and my first extended trip to Texas, and as a first-time attendee to one of the most attended conferences in the country, Abby was a great resource. You simply type in a phrase such as “Where is the Designing for Accessibility session?” or “How do I get to the SXSW Shuttle to the JW Marriott Austin?” or “Where is Registration?” and Abby provides clickable cards with the information or map you need.

The app also managed your schedule, provided a live my that included your location in proximity to a session or Meetup, notified you (based on your preferences) when a session was approaching, allowed for note taking, a course rating system and social media sharing.

Design Changes the World, Adobe XD Changes Design

March 10, 2017
2:00p-3:00p
Rio Grande Ballroom, Courtyard by Marriott
Tomas Krcha, Adobe

Adobe’s lead designer discussed their User Experience tool, Adobe XD, its place in open source development and how it has changed the design process. He downplayed the fact that Adobe products are not open source or require annual licensing to utilize.

The Future of Experience Design

March 10, 2017
3:30p-4:30p
Rio Grande Ballroom, Courtyard by Marriott
Eric Snowden, Adobe

Adobe’s Senior Design Lead discusses changes in their products to allow for more collaboration for local or remote teams. Features such as ‘Creative Live Streaming’ allows multiple creatives to work on the same illustrations from different locations in real-time akin to Google Docs.

Design Sprints for Social Good

March 11, 2017
9:30a-11:00a
Paramount 1, Westin Austin Downtown
Gopika Prabhu and Abigail Marvalli, Elefint Designs

Hands-on session talked about the value of incorporating sprints into your work cycle, how their firm did it for a global social cause and profiled their solution. In addition, the class formed groups and designed an outdoor jacket for a mythical big brand using sprints. A valuable exercise in how this process differs from linear processes.

Media vs Fakers & Haters In the Post-Fact Era

March 11, 2017
12:30p-1:30p
Capital Ballroom, Sheraton Austin
Angie Drobnic Holan, PolitiFact
Julia Beizer, The Huffington Post
Tom Januszewski, The Associated Press
Jim Rutenberg, The New York Times

Very topical and interesting panel on the Media vs Fake and Negative news after the era of traditional and the death of online newspapers. As the market has decentralized due to drives to monetize through gamification, the emphasis on quality journalism has been supplanted by unverified information passing as news.

The panel which includes the NY Times, Huffington Post and the Associated Press, discussed topical events, their response to being banned from the White House and paths forward as the landscape has changed.

Pants Not Required: Telecommuting Like a Boss Meetup

March 11, 2017
2:00p-3:00p
Room 209, JW Marriott
Maytal Dahan, Texas Advanced Computing Center
Susan Lindsey, Texas Advanced Computing Center

Pros and cons of working remotely in this meetup. Hosted by two workers who are based in Southern California but work in Austin, Texas. The perils of working at home, including productivity, interacting with and nurturing/motivating teams that work for you. How to evaluate performance and approval (or removing) telecommuting privileges of your staffers.

Discussed a need to solidify HR standards and practices to make telecommuting no so taboo to management. Described how difficult it was to get approval to telecommute but how she’s been doing it for 12 years and has moved up within her company by documenting her progress.

EPL v MLS: Lessons in Soccer Storytelling

March 11, 2017
3:30p-4:30p
Ballroom AB, Four Seasons
Richard Clarke, mrrichardclarke.com
Resource: Slide Deck

Social media storytelling and messaging strategies differ greatly by region, country, and sport. Richard Clarke is the only person to work for an English Premier League and Major League Soccer franchise as Digital Manager (Director of Marketing/Public Relations) for the storied Arsenal (EPL) and Colorado Rapids (MLS) clubs.  The practice of ‘reflecting messages back and forth to fans’ was fascinating and how it grew soccer the Portland Timbers brand or an overseas trip to Japan with Arsenal.

Delightful insights into how emphasis differs based on the target audience (MLS targets the Hispanic audience here in the States for example), sensibilities — MLS is snarky, humorous and playful but in England that approach doesn’t fly. EPL Fan reports are extremely profane in keeping with the image outsiders have of European football.  Example of a ‘Fanzine” video above was shockingly profane (and funny).

Designing for Accessibility

March 12, 2017
11:00a-12:00p
Salon H, JW Marriott
Jordan Dunn, WillowTree Inc

Resources: Designing for Accessibility, Netflix Accessibility Project, BBC Accessibility, BBC Future Media Standards and Guidelines
Video: Image Recognition software demo

Riveting presentation on the importance of accessibility in the digital space. Jordan Dunn is a talented user experience design who had a life-altering event occur. Went in to have routine corrective Lasik surgery but the short-term side-effects (ghosting, double vision) never went away and got worse over time. Having to re-learn how to see and function THEN his job, he pointed out that there are over 8 million persons with disabilities in the States — the size of Rhode Island — who need goods and services (thermostat drama example).

Talked about brands with terrible track records (Amtrak, Greyhound) and those with stellar efforts in the area (Lyft, Netflix, Disney, BBC, Apple iPhones/OS). He highlighted initiatives for a quartet of women at MIT to build Braille to Voice technology, optical recognition software, bone conduction headphones that filter out background noise and allow the user to hone in on an important dialog in movies (Disney Anywhere).

Facebook and Instagram as leaders in Image Reading and other great stories including how Lyft, in responding to a disabled patron, actually hired him to lead their Accessibility team. Lyft also holds any app release if the project is not 100% compliant.

30 for 30 Podcasts: Audio Storytelling in Sports

March 12, 2017
12:30p-1:30p
Room 15, Austin Convention Center
Libby Geist, ESPN
Jody Avirgan, ESPN
Rose Eveleth, ESPN
Julia Henderson, ESPN

DOM Ready: How Fast Load Times Alter User Behavior

March 13, 2017
12:30p-1:30p
Room 303-304, JW Marriott
Ian Carrico, Vox Media Inc
Jeff Morin, Condé Nast
Mike Stamm, The Washington Post
Salem Berhanu, The Washington Post
Resource: Performance Update #4: So much to do, so much to see

An awesome session that addressed issues that most heavy traffic websites encounter — how slow loading web pages drive customers away from what you want them to see — even if it is important information. Covered how it is imperative that improvements in speed and being empowered by management to control what appears on the homepage (and for how long). Lead technology architects at some of the largest and profitable web presences talked numbers, journey, learning curves and how ‘Jank’ drives users away in droves.

Key Takeaway for Metro: Consistent performance testing (including daily reporting to Executive Management Team) increases buy-in and support for efforts. Conde Nast noticed that pages are now 65% faster — 135 more pages per month or +1.25% (multiply this number out per year excited their advertisers) takes constant work. Interesting that prominent features we use (head scripting, hero images, ads and pixels) are the biggest culprits hurting load times.

How to Uber-ize Public Transit to Save It

March 13, 2017
3:30p-4:30p
Salon 7, JW Marriott
Marlene Conner, Marlene Connor Associates
Douglas Kaufman, TransLoc Inc
Michael Russel, Texas Christian University (TCU)
Paul Mackie, Mobility Lab

The final session was pertinent to Metro’s (and the nation’s) transportation strategy. Interesting that our OEI head appearing in the opening video. How do we incorporate a proven successful transit idea (Uber) — door to door service — into existing outdated systems? Transit agencies have traditionally said, “We have a route/line that runs in this circle, we hope close to where you live and we’ll try to get you somewhere close to where you need to go but only during a smaller window of time than you may need.”

Examples of a service that is attempting to integrate various options into public transit systems, Tranloc . Interesting stats/opinions:

  • 85% of most cars have one driver;
  • In the six largest cities 35% of people have no cars;
  • Your grandkids will wonder why you actually drove a car (driverless car ARE going to happen);
  • Transit isn’t built for the rider (Uber does); transit was built for transit agencies (we’ll drive in circles somewhere close to your home and if you’re lucky we’ll drop you somewhere near where you want to go)
  • Dallas DART is creating a service similar to Transloc (seamless integration of operators and providers);
  • What TCU is doing on campus — Woman-first, safe door to door rides-on-demand and their growing pains will be used as a model;
  • What to expect from this administration? Big cities and their real estate properties will always need better transit options so they don’t see the government turning away from this initiative;
  • Crazy idea — make gas, parking and vehicles more expensive which will cause folks to get out of their cars (cigarette taxes example); and Systems will become data becomes more available (tap into existing data for better transit info); and
  • CalTrain example

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