The first actual day of the conference, Saturday, we spent trying to attend as many panels as possible, whilst simultaneously introducing ourselves to random people in the hallways. Although fun, it was a bit of an uphill struggle until later on in the day when people who’d attended the year before had arrived and started being friendly. My full (and possibly unintelligible) notes are here

The Imagination Challenge

The first panel of the day was Alex Manu’s The Imagination Challenge. He had some very interesting thoughts about how we were going to start banging up against the limits of our own imaginations before we ran out of possibility with the technologies we use. The session was about methods to stimulate imagination.

There were some very interesting concepts that were my key take-outs from this session:

  1. There is a difference between an adult and a grown-up. We should strive to be grown-ups (grown-up children) rather than adults, who lose their childlike perspective on the world
  2. There is NO DIFFERENCE between work and play. When we can see the two as interchangeable, then we can truly be working with our imaginations and exploring the limits of possibility
  3. Something cannot exist until it can be imagined — Manu gave examples, such as commentators not believing their eyes the first time someone used the backwards high-jump style, Inca elders having to have children describe the Spanish galleons to them, because they could not conceive of boats so big. The Emperor’s new clothes story is the archetypal example of this

Key quote:

“It is better to be a purposeful grown-up than an accidental adult”

Keynote: Opening Remarks

Zeldman‘s opening keynote was, as other’s have noted, primarily SXSW cheerleading. Nevertheless, I found it quite interesting and he did present very well, even if he does look a lot like Elly’s architecture professors 😉 He reaffirmed for me that SXSW was worth coming to just to meet all the people you’re already reading, and to discover who else you should be reading. Since we funded our own trip this year (everything from flights to passes), it was a nice thing to be reassured about on the first day.

I thought his presentation style was really amazing — slides were sparse, acting more as notes to him I think, but the headings were interesting enough that if you were there you can look through them again and they help you relive the talk as well. He was very funny and self-deprecating, especially when talking about web standards (guilt) when in previous years people would come up to him in the hallway and apologise for their sites not validating.

Fun quotes:

  • “I’m here to tell you what you already know, but, like my clients, you’ll think I’m amazing for doing so”
  • (Explaining that his family isn’t here because there were carseat issues) “…so we’re looking at each other like the baby’s on fire!”
  • “The people here are so good that I’m in a really good mood, even though I kinda owe myself some depression” (because the family couldn’t make it)
  • (SXSW is all about…) “…putting meat on the virtual … “
  • “is it ‘break brad with bread’ or ‘break bread with brad’ ?” I think it’s safe to say it will forever be break brad with bread

How to Hot-Wire The Creative Process — Drive It Like You Stole It

I was drawn to Curt Cloninger‘s panel by the subtitle and so initially put off when he proclaimed that this was just for redneck credibility since he was presenting in Texas. The rest of the session was quite useful though, although my notes are pretty much just me copying down his slides so you’re probably better off looking at them.

Most useful concepts:

  • Blitz to get yourself going — put yourself under pressure if you’re the procrastinating type
  • “A good concept poorly executed is more compelling than a bad concept well-executed”
  • Don’t doubt yourself whilst you’re working — leave that for another time
  • Fail early and fail often — the analogy he used is you should imagine all your ideas are plates in those push-down cafeteria plate things. Basically, you have a stack of ideas and maybe you need to work through the crap ones to get to the great idea underneath
  • You need to celebrate failure because it surrounds success

He also showed some tools for autogeneration of designs, as well as some strategies for using “regular” tools (like Photoshop) in different ways to stimulate creativity. Unfortunately I a) don’t have a Mac and b) am not really a designer, so at the moment these tools and strategies aren’t massively useful.

How To Make Big Things Happen With Small Teams

Jason Fried really was one of the best presenters of the conference. His presentation is well worth a look, as are some of the notes other people have made that he links to. This session was one that just had me completely buzzing by the end. A lot of what Jason was talking is very much in dialogue with my flexible planning project, which was very encouraging in terms of the overall usefulness of what I’ve been doing.

I imagine some of the themes from his presentation will emerge in subsequent blog posts, but here’s a summary of the particularly useful things he came out with:

  • Having a small team of great people has massive advantages — but you need to leverage them. Act your size and kick ass
  • Keep your mass down (mass is everything that stops you moving quickly)
  • Work within your constraints — they can help you be more creative. Make your constraints an advantage
  • “Build half a product, not a half-ass product”