Must-see sessions at SXSW Interactive

The ten most vital talks, seminars and events from the digital frenzy in Austin, Texas

Music Top Ten
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For anyone going to SXSW Interactive, the amount of sessions on offer each year can be overwhelming. As any seasoned SXSW’er will tell you, unlike the Texan BBQ, it’s quality not quantity that matters. So relax and put the highlighter down as I’ve scoured the depths of this year’s programme to present my ten must-see sessions at SXSW Interactive 2014.

Show Your Work!: Austin Kleon (Friday 7th March)

With artist/writer/thinker Austin Kleon, you’re sure to get more than a phoned-in interview. An Austin native, Kleon talks with clarity, humour and honesty on the creative process in the digital age. It’s a perfect place to kickstart your SXSW Interactive 2014.

The Future of Making: Joi Ito - MIT Media Lab, Tim Brown - IDEO (Friday 7th March)

Head to this discussion with heavy-hitters Joi Ito and Tim Brown late on Friday afternoon for fascinating insights into what we all might be making with technology in the next 10-15 years.

Media & The Personal Brand - ESPN, Grantland & 538: Bill Simmons - Grantland, Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight (Saturday 8th March)

Admittedly, not a hugely promising title, but this one is all about the two speakers. Bill Simmons is big in US sports media while Nate Silver is a genuine digital-media superstar, predicting everything from US election results to baseball scores. Both Bill and Nate now work for ESPN, but they’re brands in their own right, running and fronting their own sites. Has the power now shifted to personal brands online?

Go Home Marketing, You Are Drunk: Kristina Halvorson - Braintraffic (Saturday 8th March

If I had to bet a round of drinks on one talk being a must-see for anyone remotely involved with marketing or content (that’s everyone these days, right?), this would be it. Just don’t get mad when Halvorson tells you that your marketing sucks. Open your mind, open your ears and learn from one of the world’s leading voices in content strategy.

Everyone's a Curator: Do Museums Still Matter?: Willa Koerner - San Francisco Museum of Modern Art + more (Sunday 9th March)

I’ll admit, I picked this talk because it links directly with the theme of the day our creative agency is curating at Hackney House Austin. But it’s a genuinely fascinating topic that all museums and galleries are now being forced to wrestle with: how do you curate digital content and remain relevant in a world where everyone is encouraged to curate all of the time?

Hacking Princess Culture: Girls, Games, & Science - Lindsey Shepard - GoldieBlox, Sara DeWitt - PBS, Jennifer Oxley - 9ate7 (Sunday 9th March)

Correcting the gender balance in the tech world  is a challenge that extends far beyond the workplace. In this conversation, three women from male-dominated worlds discuss how we can work to inspire girls in areas like maths, engineering, science and technology, to create the next generation of programmers and engineers. This panel also features the VP of GoldieBlox, who you may remember from theirrather brilliant ad (and subsequentlegal issues with the Beastie Boys) last year.

Glassholes: The Cultural Dissonance of Technology: Elise Hu - NPR, Timothy Jordan - Google + more (Sunday 9th March)

Wearable technology is the next big thing (again), so there's a number of panels dedicated to the topic this year, looking at the issues of privacy as well as the incredible opportunities for genuine life-enhancing innovation. With all that said, a massive hurdle to adoption remains – making products that are not only technologically advanced but also socially acceptable.

It's Not Rocket Science: UX for Niche Communities: Joseph Medwid and Kevin McMillin - NASA (Monday 10th March)

There are several space-related talks (even alive-chat to astronauts), but this one brings galactic travel back down to Earth. The UX designers at NASA are testing and analysing designs and systems that have the potential to destroy whole space missions. Kinda puts my work in digital design into perspective.

Do Algorithms Dream of Viral Content?: David Carr - New York Times,  Eli Pariser -  Upworthy (Monday 10th March)

It’s probably still cool to hate on Upworthy and their click-/cringe-inducing headlines (‘You Won’t Believe What Happened Next!’), but it would be a mistake to ignore their unique approach and phenomenal growth. The always-excellent David Carr and CEO of Upworthy Eli Pariser face off in this battle of algorithms versus humans.

Office of the Future: Optimizing for Happiness: Scott Chacon - GitHub (Tuesday 11th March)

As GitHub move to their new 55,000 square foot home in San Francisco, go along to this session to hear those fabled stories of tech employee perks (On-site manicures! Helicopter rides!), as well as insights into the balance of work, home and the surrounding community.

Bonus recommendation: Hackney House Austin (8th, 9th, 10th March)

If you are heading to SXSW Interactive, don’t forget to  drop by Hackney House Austin, an alternative trade mission showcasing London's creative talent, which is on every day during the festival.

We at Human After All have curated a day of talks and events on Saturday 8 March, focussed on digital design. We’ll be talking about the permanence and value of digital design, including a panel by Dazed on digital and print publishing, as well as contributions from the V&A and D&AD.

To round off the day we’ll be hosting ‘EPIC WIN!’, a unique raffle of digital collectibles, where you could win a piece of digital history from the likes of Pinterest, Pitchfork, Foursquare and Dazed.  

Hackney House Austin has a great programme during the festival - stop by at 721 Congress Avenue, just next door to the Paramount Theatre. We’ll even tell you where you can eat the best burgers in Austin.

Alex Capes is the digital director at London-based creative agency Human After All. To find out more, visit humanafterall.co.uk

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