Last week I spent a long weekend attending the interactive portion of SXSW and I’m here to you, our people have no chill.
TL;DR: You never really see the “Future” of things at these events but you do get a sense of what your collogues are thinking/worrying about and what will likely dominate our industry’s narrative for the next 12 months. Last year it was cultural diversity and a general disillusionment with technology. This year it was all about women, AI and the death of creativity.
Let’s start our journey with a reminder of how your boy was feeling after SXSW and Cannes last year:
At first glance, diversity and equality dominated the narrative in 2018 but the other story was around the growing contempt for the “Technology Hype Cycle”. AR, VR, AI, IGTV, Twitch IRL, and what the f*ck is The Alexa Marketing Stack!?
This is just one man on the street’s observation but after talking to cohorts at SXSW, The Webbys and Cannes, I can confirm that ad people are burned out on the “next big thing”. Keeping up can be burdensome, overwhelming and frustrating unless we remember this: New technology and new marketing channels are just fresh ways to tell a story. Chill the f out and use what works and ignore what doesn’t. The methods of delivering the story may be changing but a brand is still “the sum total of all the emotions, thoughts, images, history, possibilities, and gossip that exist in the marketplace about a certain company” – Luke Sullivan
Here’s a nice wrap-up on the subject from Tasha Cronin, Head of Interactive at Droga5: “Creative agencies that feel the pressure to jump onto the next tech bandwagon need to take a step back toward the basics.”
Okay, back to 2019. I assume most of you understand the effort it takes to slog through the self-congratulatory detritus of one of these conferences to find the worthy gems. Let me tell you, it ain’t easy but your boy is up to the task. Thankfully SXSW does a good job at clustering the speakers in huge hotels in one part of town. I only had to venture out of the city center a few times for more obscure discussions like “Finding Clarity In Your Work After Getting Sober” (don’t worry, my interest in this topic was purely academic). This makes it possible to hit a lot of events and form a big picture in your mind.
A common topic of conversation was that AI is coming for our jobs. All of us. Particularly sensitive to this eventuality are artists and designers. I imagine that this sentiment was fueled by the fact that there were exactly 50 panels or programs on the topic of AI. Check out the full list HERE.
AI was big last year too but in 2019 It was absolutely ubiquitous. Apparently it’s poised to do everything from solving the “Bias Problem” to reforming civilization itself. Yes, AI-related-tech is firmly planted on the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” in the Gartner Technology Hype Cycle.
However, as we know from our own AI practice, Blab, it’s more likely that this technology will inform and shift the focus of humans, rather than replace them. The ads created using insights from Blab don’t perform well because the system tells us how to design or write the ad, they perform well because our designers and writers are more informed on what topics will resonate in the moment. The creative execution is as challenging and important as ever.
This is the fun and interesting bit of the AI craze; the proposition of humans getting a little bit better at what we love to do by supplementing our knowledge and tweaking our approach based on data crunched in ways that we can use. When using that lens, it’s hella exciting.
With all that said, let’s check out some pontification:
AI Is Your New Design Material: AUDIO RECORDING
Discover the critical role of UX and product design in AI, which is set to define the next era of digital products—and of our craft. Learn to use machine-generated content, insight, and interaction as design material in your everyday work. Refit familiar design and UX process to work with the grain of the algorithm, to help the machines solve real problems without creating new ones.
How AI is Changing Advertising in China: AUDIO RECORDING
Advertising in China is at the frontlines in AI adoption and innovation. The majority of ad spend in China is already digital, and AI-based advertising thrives on the massive datasets available in China for number crunching and automation. The key driver for AI in advertising, however, is China’s hyper-competitive ecommerce market, which is more than double the size of its US counterpart.
Product Design Principles in the Age of AI: AUDIO RECORDING
A new era of product design is emerging, thanks to the evolution of AI, prompting considerable debate about the transformative technology.
AI and the Future of Storytelling: AUDIO RECORDING
How do you feel about machines creating stories or art? Do you think you can tell the difference between art, words, or music made by a human versus artificial intelligence? Does it matter? In storytelling, we are in the very early days of seeing the potential of artificial intelligence to aid storytellers and artists
VCs Reality Check for AI Hype: AUDIO RECORDING
AI has become hyped in the media with futuristic stories, but in reality, AI adoption is relatively low. This panel will discuss the types of AI startups VCs look to fund, showing investment dollars are shifting away from unproven futuristic ideas and toward more pragmatic, foundational AI infrastructure.
Game Of Thrones: Bleed for the Throne VIDEO RECORDING
When attendees enter the repurposed market in Austin, Texas, they will come face to face with a replica of the Iron Throne, surrounded by Lannister banners, before taking an audio tour to basically recap the show. You will follow the journeys of Arya Stark, Jon Snow, Cersei Lannister and Tyrion Lannister, and relieve some of the show’s most memorable scenes, including an actual “walk of shame” with a nun screaming at you.
Keynote: Kathy Griffin with Kara Swisher: VIDEO RECORDING
Kara Swisher, Recode editor-at-large and New York Times contributing opinion writer, sits down with award-winning comedian Kathy Griffin for an interview for Swisher’s Recode Decode podcast. Each known for their candid styles, Swisher and Griffin dive deep into the last 18 months of Griffin’s career, which included death threats and being the subject of two federal investigations.
Tinker Hatfield (Nike Designer) with Scott Dadich: VIDEO RECORDING
One of the most famous shoe designers in the world, Nike’s Tinker Hatfield is a legend among sneaker-heads. He’s also the subject of one of the most popular episodes of Netflix’s Abstract: The Art of Design. In this session, Abstract co-creator Scott Dadich—a renowned designer in his own right—breaks down the creative process with Hatfield, exploring how different disciplines of design influence, inform, and inspire each other.
I hope you enjoy. Look for a lunch and learn on various related topics coming soon.