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South by Southwest 2007

Whoever “they” are, they say you never forget your first time. And in 2005, my first SXSW was definitely unforgettable. They also say twice is nice, and as such, my second SXSW was all sugar and spice. As we all know, though, the third time is the charm, and this year’s SXSW charmed the hell out of me.

The people, panels, presentations, and parties were more plentiful than ever, but I still managed to absorb plenty of good ideas and get some good quality time in with a lot of friends, old and new. Just a few random highlights include:

To be perfectly honest, though, my favorite part of SXSW 2007 began with a brainstorming session last summer and ended in the Austin Convention Center last Saturday morning.

Taking It to the People

This was my first time speaking at SXSW (or anywhere, for that matter), which, in conjunction with business as usual, made the weeks leading up to the event a bit stressful. There’s a certain satisfaction that comes from writing an article, book, or speech—a moment when you look at an organized subset of the knowledge and ideas you’ve amassed and realize that you actually kind of know what you’re talking about. The presentation that Cameron, Stan, and I put together elicited just that kind of satisfaction, but my irrepressible self-doubt couldn’t be convinced that our audience would find my contributions particularly enlightening or valuable. And when Cameron came down with the flu and had to back out at the last minute, it did little to bolster my self-confidence.

But apparently I needn’t have worried. Even in Cameron’s absence, Stan and I had to trim our material significantly to fit into our allotted hour. The resulting presentation, After the Brief: A Field Guide to Design Inspiration, was lean and fluid, but still dense with information, recommendations, and anecdotes. My pre-show jitters miraculously vanished when the lights went down (sharing the stage with a close and ridiculously talented friend certainly didn’t hurt), and our audience of 700+ conference-goers seemed genuinely engaged. Over the rest of the conference, that notion was reinforced by the dozens of positive comments we received from both respected colleagues and friendly strangers. It was overwhelming in the best possible way, to say the least.

All of this is not to say that the presentation couldn’t have been better, and I asked most of the people who offered feedback how we might have improved upon it. The consensus seemed to be that one or two professional examples of applied inspiration might have been worth including amidst the myriad of passion projects we discussed. I don’t disagree (we actually cut out some client work examples whose points we thought were better made by other examples), but I also don’t think the lack of professional work stood in the way of the presentation’s general message of finding inspiration in almost everything we do.

If you couldn’t be there, you can still check it out:

I want to send out a huge thank you to everyone who came (in person or virtually), and everyone who offered comments, suggestions, and kind words. You really made my SXSW.

And last but not least, don’t miss my requisite SXSWi 2007 Flickr photoset.