SXSW 2018 Day 7: South By South Best

09 March, 2018 Share socially

How to make sense of the last week of innovation, experimentation and predictions about what’s going to be big in tech, film and music? 

A couple of standouts:

  • Artificial intelligence - not just a trend, but a trend that powers other trends. As computing power increases, the amount of data that is collected deepens and storage space becomes available this will become increasingly prevalent. To make use of AI, data science is no longer “nice to have” and like many other disciplines is becoming more and more a core required competency. So, what is your data strategy and how are you using AI to get the most value from it?
  • Blockchain - while Blockchain has long been mentioned in the same breath - but as a bit player - with the rise and rise (and occasional fall…) of the value of Bitcoin, this support act may well prove to be far more influential than the headliner. Just how influential? Blockchain can potentially be involved in any form of transaction anywhere in the world, bringing parties closer together and increasing their speed. Cryptocurrencies may rise and fall in value, but the underlying tech that makes them possible is what is really worth watching.
  • Convenience, not content, is both King and Queen - with more environments and experiences to design for than ever (look at the rise of voice user interfaces and their associated devices such as Amazon’s Alexa) - it’s essential to remove friction as part of your customer design, and to put appropriate measures in place to see how well your system work.

So as we look to put these thoughts to work (and release our full South By South Best 2018 report) - we leave you with the words of the locals: y’all come back now, y’hear!

SXSW 2018 Day 6: Speak To Me - Designing Brand Experiences For Voice 

We spend a lot of time talking about brand personality - but what happens when the brand actually talks back to us?

Designing for voice user interfaces - VUIs - has a number of key implications:

  • The use of third party platforms - such as via designing skills for Amazon’s Alexa - is literally humanising a brand on a mass level, giving people personalised two-way interactions with a brand, so firstly think about whether or not people trust your brand for this type of interaction (or prefer a more traditional channel such as one on one with a person, particularly for confidential matters such as personal finances)
  • Humanise the technology - don’t force people to upskill their tech skills to engage with you
  • Voice interfaces deliver personalised experiences for users - but set up guardrails for this, decide what is fixed, what is flexible and what is free within this experience 
  • Don’t create an experience that is like a 1990s interactive voice response (IVR) system - when using VUIs people expect to speak naturally to you  

Whether it’s Amazon’s Alexa / Echo, Apple’s HomePod / Siri, Google Home or any other VUI system, voice is only going to become more prevalent - so what does your brand have to say and how does it sound?

SXSW 2018 Day 5: Convergence Day - The Skinny Legs Meet The Startups

Convergence Day - the midpoint of SXSW and the one day where people from the Interactive, Music and Film streams all meet. Apart from seeing the music and tech worlds collide (one group has all the cool, the other all cred - and each wants a bit of what the other has) it tends to be one of the most interesting days of the festival. A few standout thoughts from today: 

  • The current focus on customer experience / CX - for both B2B and B2C enterprises - is likely to get even more important as competition increases, however beyond building new experiences we must evolve our measurement systems to account for “friction” and account for how people feel at any stage in their journey
  • Beyond the primary experience that you offer (in the case of record labels - music) consider what your secondary products and opportunities are, especially the ones that won’t replace the primary ones (in this case, the other ways to realise the value in a copyrighted work in a way that benefits both the owner and creators of that asset)
  • Leveling the playing field can deliver benefits for all parties. When established brands work with startups (as opposed to other businesses of a similar size) new arrangements may be required, should the values of both brands be similar, consider the possibility of exchanging equity for terms that are tailored to work with a startup (a class of business that many majors avoid dealing with due to issues with scale)

As the Tech part of SXSW winds up for 2018 and Music and Film take over, we look forward to seeing how these key trends that we’ve discovered unfold over the next year and also to incorporating them in our own work. Oh - and we’re also looking forward to the next couple of days of music and discussion about the future of the music industry!

SXSW 2018 Day 4: Better Together

Three near-term scenarios have been mentioned a lot over the last couple of days when it comes to artificial intelligence (echoing a larger and longer conversation that’s been going on for a while):

1. We’re all gonna be out of work (or at best working for a bot)

2. We’re all gonna die (i.e. the “Terminator” scenario)

3. The bots are gonna to put all the Terminators out of work* 

While no one yet knows what’s going to happen, one thing is becoming increasingly clear - if we want to continue to be around, to thrive even, we’re going to have to work together. Fortunately, the idea of “better together” has come up more than all of the abovementioned scenarios combined. So how will we work with AI? A few thoughts: 

  • Every major innovation is, by definition, disruptive to the status quo - so beyond looking at what we do, we need to know what we’re good at (versus what an algorithm is better than us at)
  • Don’t look for AI to replace human intuition, instead look for ways that it can make that intuition better (such as by generating new insights, creating associations within data sets that we might not make or by providing recommendations)
  • Break down any “data cartels” that you have in your organisation and instead create a “data democracy” - the saying “garbage in, garbage out” was never more applicable - AI is incredibly data hungry, so you’re going to need massive amounts of it from multiple sources in order to help make the right decisions
  • Decide how to best operationalise this new AI-assisted decision making process - it’s one thing to make the decision, it’s another to implement it 

No industry - not even the creative ones - is immune from the changes that AI will help create, so let’s make sure that this advancement is something that benefits everyone.

*Scenario 3 is actually my idea, but it’s fairly logical if you think it through. 

SXSW 2018 Day 3: From Clicks And Mortar To Bricks And Data

“Real word” retail has been getting a bad rap lately. Vacant stores. Falling numbers. Buying online is more convenient. Wait, what about my brand again…? 

A number of panels today covered the future - and the opportunities - of “bricks and data”, that is how physical retail stores and online presences can work together. Oh, and the brand too. Some of the key thoughts:

  • Forget having “a digital strategy” - focus on convergence of online and offline services and experiences to create a blended approach. Your customers don’t differentiate between these different operations - after all they come from the same brand - so neither should we. 
  • Give people a reason to visit your store. Again and again. And again. Your store communicates your brand, and there’s more to that than just a place to transact (which may well be done better - for all parties - in the online space).
  • Figure out what people want to achieve with your products and services (not what you want them to do, which is probably to buy lots more of your stuff) then use your physical presence to make that happen for them. Online help, chatbots, call centres all have their place, but it’s hard to beat a one on one experience instore (I’m looking at you Apple).

Retail isn’t dead, far from it, you just need to bring the whole experience - online and offline - together for people (and for your brand too).

SXSW 2018 Day 2: Inclusive Design - Diversity Is Being Invited To The Party, Inclusion Is Being Asked To Dance 

Inclusion - in hiring, in ownership, in points of view - is a major theme this year, and today saw discussion about it as a key requirement across all types of design. There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. As design thinking becomes increasingly prevalent (one local example of the diverse range of ways in which it’s being deployed: the establishment of the Design Institute for Health at Austin’s own University of Texas, which applies design thinking to health care challenges) there are more opportunities for exclusion, or, hopefully, inclusion
  2. Artificial Intelligence relies upon enormous amounts of data to “learn” how to make decisions - using non-inclusive data results in AI bias (potentially a greater threat than the “Terminator” scenario that has been mentioned here over the last couple of days)

A third reason - if required - is to expand your market, just look at the film box office successes over the last year: Black Panther, Wonder Woman, The Foreigner, The Big Sick and Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

SXSW 2018 Day 1: Actual, Not Artificial, Intelligence

The key theme from SXSW 2017 was artificial intelligence - not just in its own right but also as the technology that powered the other big trends of the year. In 2018 AI is back again - with far more case studies and in much greater detail than just one year ago. A number of today’s major panels focused in on machine learning, highlighting just how pervasive and diverse it already is in its application, however the most useful thought was at a higher level: make sure that you don’t treat AI as a single thing, instead recognise that it’s an umbrella term that includes machine learning, natural language processing, other technologies and - using the definition of “AI is about humanising tech” - user experience (UX). Little wonder then that, according to Forbes, 89% of CIOs are either using machine learning in their organizations today or planning to use it.  

The other key thought from today - perhaps supported by the number of panels that discussed AI - is that we tend to overestimate the impact of new technologies in the short term, while underestimating them in the long term. Am not sure whether or not that applies to AI, but am keen to find out, so roll on SXSW 2028…

SXSW 2018: Blockchain, Inclusion, Artificial Intelligence, Breakfast Burritos All Predicted To Dominate In 2018

March means a number of things in the USA: spring training for professional baseball teams, spring break for students and SXSW - also known as “spring break for geeks”. However like all 30-somethings, SXSW has grown up a bit (and expanded quite a lot). What began as a music industry conference in 1987 has become a brand that stands for breakthroughs in the areas of tech, film, music and beyond (as well as being the site for some fairly major activations - such as Jay-Z playing a show for American Express a few years ago). In the way that SXSW has grown up, so has the host city - its motto may still be “Keep Austin Weird”, but in addition to local native, Dell it’s now home to major presences for Apple, eBay, PayPal, Facebook, Amazon, IBM, Oracle, Indeed and EA (Electronic Arts). All of this makes sense, of course - Austin has long been one of the food truck capitals of the USA, the startups of the restaurant world - so growing tech brands and talent is clearly in the city’s DNA (and having access to the best BBQ food on the planet no doubt helps draw talent in too). 

So as we look forward to talks by everyone from Spike Lee to Priscilla Presley, from Bernie Sanders to Arnold Schwarzenegger (and the aforementioned breakfast burritos, even if they end up being lunch), the team from FutureBrand will be here for the next week, ready to bring you the key trends from Austin as they emerge and return home to Australia with the best ideas just as soon as SXSW 2018 concludes.