For over twelve years I’ve worked behind the curtain at SXSW Interactive. And many times I have longed to experience the playground that I help construct for others.
Perhaps in another life.
For now, I humbly present twelve hastily-prepared tips and recommendations for this year’s event. Keep in mind there are approximately 1064 distinct sessions and about 1958 individual speakers for the Interactive event alone, so the following is strictly personal and a reflection of my own particular tastes and desires.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Oh, you work in social media? You’re a UX designer? Have a startup? Then don’t go to sessions concerning what you already know. Focus on getting inspired by new things and subjects outside your area of expertise. This year’s event occurs in eighteen nearby locations with different themes, so it’s more like eighteen micro-events in one. Seek out a campus with an unfamiliar theme, because unknown territories are where new discoveries happen.
Ditch Your Hometown Friends, Make New Ones
Similar to the point above, but worth expanding on. You’re going to travel all the way to Austin to hang out with the same people that you hang out with back home? This is a sure sign that you are doing it wrong.
Ride a Bike Around Austin
Between SXcycles and Bike Hugger’s Built, getting your bike on is easier than ever at SXSW. And whether you love him or hate him, Lance Armstrong’s Mellow Johnny’s bike shop is downtown and well worth a visit. The onsite cafe Juan Pelota (get it?) serves up Stumptown Coffee from Portland, so that alone is worth a trip.
Eat at Frank
What happens when designers start a restaurant? This. And it is fantastic. Keep in mind I recommend this place as someone who doesn’t really eat beef, chicken or pork. They also serve Handsome Coffee (which is single-handedly causing me to reconsider my dislike for the city of Los Angeles). And if you are indeed interested in awesome vegetarian fare, carve out some time for the short trip to Veggie Heaven near the University of Texas. Order the “Protein 2000” and a “Curry Bun, Fried.”
Cross the River to the Long Center
Perhaps the best venue at SXSW 2013, the Long Center contains special convergence programming with presentations from They Might Be Giants with Eugene Mirman, Cory Booker, Andy Cohen, Shaq, Daniel Ek, Kim Dotcom (via Skype) and many more influential names. Plus, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope exhibit is there, which will make the Hubble Space Telescope seem like toy binoculars by comparison and change the way we see the universe, forever.
While we’re on the subject of space exploration, you should definitely read this synopsis about what NASA and others in the aerospace industry are bringing to SXSW 2013. As a former aerospace engineering student and Space Camp attendee, you can trust me when I declare this is going to be “#amazeballs” as the kids say.
Attend SXSW Create and PhotoCamp
3D printing, bioart, drones, hacking electronics, light field photography and much more is just across the street from the convention center — and it’s FREE and open to the public. There’s even a special track of Meet Ups and PhotoCamp.
See a Film
Or two, or three. Truth is you don’t need a Film badge to get into most screenings at the SXSW Film Festival. Individual tickets are available and make for a nice escape from the hectic streets.
Hands down my absolute favorite thing at SXSW Music. Flatstock is a complete overdose of visual stimulation. You’ll leave incredibly inspired, wanting to start a screenprinting operation and with a much lighter wallet. But your walls will thank you.
Forget SXSW Interactive, Attend SXSWedu
Old-timers like to talk about how amazing SXSW Interactive was “back in the day.” The fact is, there are more amazing things happening at SXSW than ever before. But if you want to travel back in time for a taste of what the Interactive event was like ten years ago, attend SXSWedu. This “innovations in education” conference that occurs just before the Interactive event will let you apply your mad geek skills to change the world for the better — and heaven knows the educational system could use your help.
The Single Best Piece of Advice I Have Ever Received About Surviving SXSW
It goes without saying that you’ll want to wear comfortable shoes. But the golden nugget: change your socks and shoes when the sun sets. You’ll be surprised at the results.