Keepin’ It Weird: How I Survived My First SXSW

I had never been to SXSW. It’s one of those events that you always hear your friends talking about or telling you they’re speaking at, or that you “should totally go, ‘cause it’s awesome,” but when push comes to shove, every March, I seem to say “Maybe next year.”

Well, next year is this year. I think the reason I say that is because it’s not a design trade show and I often wonder what the heck will I, as a design blogger, get out of a music, comedy, book, interactive festival? To find out, I hopped on a plane thanks to Post-it Brand to venture down to Austin (I’ve never been!) and experience the launch of Post-it Big Pads, but also to experience the SXSW action – as much as I can pack into two days.

Here’s how it all went down:

I went to two sessions: the Mashable Variety show, where Pete Cashmore talked about the Mashable redesign and trends in devices, how we read blogs and news, and where things are going in terms of content. I also caught Scott Belsky, CEO of Behance talk about creativity.

Most of the day, I just wandered around and took in the sights in the exhibit hall – from a weird, completely blue dude, a guy in a tutu playing the harp, and a dancing Firefox [VIDEO]. Also, tried on this Google Glass-type headpiece that projects a screen in front of your eye from a company called Tele-pathy. Cool! I ate some amazing sliders with tots, and then ran into Aaron Wood, you know, that awesome guy who designed those social media propaganda posters? He is super cool.

I spent quite a bit of time at the Post-it Booth, which was basically just a giant white space covered in Post-it Notes and Post-it Big Pads. But instead of just passing out information like many of the other booths, the Post-it team invited passers by to answer some fantastic and clever questions, turning the giant white space into an amazing, interactive analog experience. For example, here are some of my faves from the day:

And you can watch here while Craig Staggs draws a self portrait.

Watching the attendees get super excited as they were handed Post-it Big Pads was an eye-opening experience for me. OH: “I love this. This is amazing!” and “Holy crap! It’s huge!”

In an exhibit hall filled with digital devices and cloud servers, the good, old-fashioned paper booth was a hit. There’s something about Post-it Notes that people absolutely love, and it was evident in the interactions I experienced while there, but I also felt it gave me a physical representation of the talented, creative people that were walking the show.

My morning started listening to one of my publishing heroes, Jane Pratt of, talk about her publishing secrets.

Some wise words from Ms. Pratt:

“Torch your bridges… A success for one woman is a success for all women. The media pits us against each other in competition.”

“It takes a tremendous amount of passion to do innovative things every day.”

And my favorite, “Employ a bunch of freaks who make you feel normal.”

I listened to Scott Dadich of Wired talk to Hosain Rahman of Jawbone and Tony Fadell from Nest about meaningful design. My favorite quote from Tony was “It’s about removing things, no extras. Subtracting, keeping the essence.” I think this is actually more than “less is more” – it’s about a way of knowing when to stop adding and when to start taking things away, something that proves difficult in a day and age in which having multifunction and tons of features is appealing. It’s about knowing what we need. Loved that.

Wandered through the exhibit hall again to discover some cool waterproof iPhone and iPad cases from Lifeproof, Mophie keychain chargers, Olloclip 3-in-1 camera lenses for iPhone, and the University of Michigan solar car (it goes up to 109 MPH and uses no gas!).

I stopped into the 3M Innovation center to see what’s new. Did you know 3M had touch technology? I didn’t. They had this amazing giant table/desk that was a huge touchscreen. I feel like just 5-7 years ago, I’d seen something like this in a movie and thought, “Wow, that’s the future!” The future is now.

I stumbled on Susan Kaup and Ryan Gantz’s Interactive Playpen, which is just a giant pile of LEGO bricks on a table. Fun!

Needing a break from the Convention Center, I walked over to Urbanspace Interiors, a great design/interior dealer to check out their space. If you’re ever in Austin – you definitely need to stop by and check them out.

I then headed down to South Austin to check out a brand new store called Nannie Inez. They specialize in small, local Austin designers like Alyson Fox, and smaller European designers like Donna Wilson. What a great space! Highly recommended.

Then, I finished my day with a relaxing, friendly meal with an Austin-based friend at a local joint. It was nice to break away from the crowds.

You can see more snaps on Instagram.

My recommendations/tips if you plan to go to SXSW next year (and make it next year for sure!) are:

– Book your hotel early. Like now. Within walking distance of downtown would be ideal.

– Do your research. There are a TON of events, and they change the schedule sometimes the same day. Events pop up unexpected al over the city. Don’t just rely on the SXSW website… check out all your favorite sites, blogs, Twitter, and local Austin bars/restaurants/clubs etc. to find out what else is going on that you might want to check out.

– Have a Plan B. If that awesome session you wanted to go to (*cough* Google Glass *cough*) ends up being full, have a backup session or event to go to. And expect this kind of thing to happen, because the festival is so big.

– Investigate alternative transportation, like Pedicabs or a car service like Uber, which was giving free rides around Austin during the festival. Cabs are nearly impossible to get and the shuttles are sometimes unreliable.

– Drink tons of water every day. People always say this when you travel, but it’s warm in Austin in March, especially coming from the East Coast that time of year. But bring layers because it’s chilly in the morning and at night.

– Bring comfortable walking shoes. This isn’t NYFW. These people embrace cool, relaxed kicks (like these and these!).

– Get thee a Mophie case or backup battery for your phone. Mophie was there, too, and they have really cool pocket-sized and keychain chargers! Bring your charger with you, too (just in case!).

– Download the SXSW app so you can get reminders for the sessions you want to go to otherwise you will get caught up in all the external action and completely miss the talk (can you tell I’m talking from experience?)

– Meet locals. Make friends with them. They will direct you to the yummy local Austin fare. Convention center food does not count as a good Texas meal. Luckily I enjoyed a stop at a little café/coffee shop in South Austin with a friend. It was nice to step away from all the crowds.

– Bring eye drops. Because most likely, you’re gonna party it up til the break of dawn, gonna rock right down ‘til the early morn.

What are some of your best your SXSW survival tips? Any great art + design recommendations for next year?

Jaime Derringer, Founder + Executive Editor of Design Milk, is a Jersey girl living in SoCal. She dreams about funky, artistic jewelry + having enough free time to enjoy some of her favorite things—running, reading, making music, and drawing.