Exploring SXSW Interactive as a UX Designer

This year was my 10th experience “dealing” with SXSW. During those previous years, I’ve approached SX through the eyes of “I can’t wait to hear some new bands” to the “I’m going to avoid downtown for 2 weeks” mentality. I was always curious about the Interactive side of SXSW, but coming from the world of commercial land development where I practiced Landscape Architecture, I never saw myself as one of those people. I felt too far removed. Over the past three years, however, my curiosity grew. From the latest tech innovations to learning about a new idea some kid took to a billion-dollar valuation that I thought about 6 years ago but subsequently felt too far removed from the “How” to ever act on it.

Not this year, though. After deciding to change my career path into UX Design through General Assembly’s UX immersive course, I approached SXSW 2017 eager and willing to soak up as much knowledge and make as many tech related connections as I could. I invited my brother from Denver to come down and roam around with me (he’s in software, albeit on the client engagement side). We did the usual RSVP dance and attended several networking and start-up crawl events, sipping on some free beer and tasting the food as one normally would while on vacation.

The best exhibit I saw was from IBM and the technology projects they were showing off. The two story event space the deep-pocket company rented, Brazo’s Hall, was surely a costly expense someone in accounting gulped over, but they made the most of their investment. It was nice for some non-badge holder peon like myself to be allowed to enter and play with all the latest IBM tech toys. I’m sure the exclusive badge-holder exhibits inside the convention center were great but for a free event open to anyone, IBM put on a show.

As I roamed around feeling important and able to bring conversation to the table about UX design and other tech related blabber, I stumbled upon an exhibit that validated any last questions I may have had about changing careers. IBM, this 105 year old technology company with 380,000 employees and 75+ billion dollars in revenue, had their largest exhibit devoted to the User Experience design process.

There I am, walking through the exhibit, seeing this process that I’ve recently become obsessed over in only 2 short weeks displaying the same methods I’ve been learning in my UX class. “I know this stuff!” I said, probably out loud. Displayed across 10 or so different boards was the UX process of creating a new management software to make the lives of teachers easier.

The boards started with the WHY, explaining the problem and the solution they were tasked with designing, before moving on to why the designers placed an importance on empathy of the teachers (the users) and how they observed them.

Moving forward, the process explained how to turn those observations into ideas and further refine those ideas through a series of workshops using empathy maps, wire frame prototypes, etc… the same techniques I had learned about in the previous few days.

Walking through more of the design process, the exhibit shows the product that resulted from project. It was exciting to see and understand how the solution was dealt with in a “designed” way.

The last board discussed Testing, Improving, and Repeating….reminding the visitor that the design process gets repeated as user feedback is taken into account to improve upon a product until it’s ready for launch.

Great job, IBM, and thank you for validating my decision of entering the UX world. The importance they place on designing the experience of their products was evident and I look forward to keeping up with them as I move forward in my new field of UX Design.