It may have been a month ago that nearly 40,000 people descended upon the city of Austin for SXSW 2017, but our brains are still reeling from the panel pandemonium. Five Hothousers attended the Interactive portion of the festival this year and if each person relayed their experience, you’d think we were all at different conferences. That’s the beauty of South by. With thousands of speakers and sessions, you can tailor your time in Texas to be exactly what you want it to be. So when tasked with crafting a recap, you can imagine that the takeaways ranged far and wide. Read on for a taste of what stood out to each of us over the course of the week.

 

VR—Don’t Believe the Hype…not yet, anyways
Dale Bump, Executive Creative Director

For years (and at many SXSW conferences), VR has been touted as the next tech breakthrough. Yet the hype has been disappointing, as advancements have had limited use-cases. Even this year, the highly publicized Mummy Zero Gravity VR Experience was met with less than enthusiastic reviews from the Hothouse crew (and the press weren’t too thrilled either). Instead of creating content that played to VR’s strengths, the result was a 10-minute trailer wherein Tom Cruise explained how the film’s zero gravity sequence was filmed. Womp womp.

For brands and marketers alike, the creation of VR for the sake of VR is over. Those who have successfully utilized the medium in unique ways bridge the gap between the technology and storytelling, resulting in content that’s powerful, engaging and most of all, fun. Google’s Tilt Brush and Wonder Woman Experience was an excellent example. It allowed participants to explore 3D illustrations created by artists for the movie, immersing them into another world. Home: A VR Spacewalk snagged the Future of Storytelling award for its ability to transport viewers 250 miles above the earth proving that when brands leverage VR in the right way, it ends with a winning result.

 

Andrew Harrison, VP, Technology
The Rise of Conversational Interfaces

The limiting factor in personal computing used to be the pixel, but now that’s changing. Alexa, Siri, Ok Google and all their chat screen counterparts are fundamentally expanding the possibilities for how people interact with technology. As such, SXSW’s word of the conference was “bots.” You could’ve formed a drinking game out of it, it was said so much. But bots are the fundamental building blocks that are powering this transformation. Advances in underlying software technologies like language recognition, machine learning, big data and neural networks make Clippy look like a n00b (remember him?). As a result, bots have the potential to supplement (not replace) websites and even become better than humans at certain tasks like customer service, problem identification and research/data analysis.

 

Audio Branding & Voice UI
Ethiopia Rabb, Associate Technical Director

Siri, Google Home and many other voice UI’s have become part of our daily lives. Yet Alexa, for example, doesn’t actually work for any one product and instead connects to you third party services like IHeartRadio, Capital One or the Nest. Marketers and consumers alike are used to identifying these brands through elements like color scheme, logo, fonts, etc. But how can these third party companies create a voice UI that’s just as unique as their traditional visual package?

As agency leaders, we will soon be tasked with developing such experiences for our clients as the popularity of these devices continues to escalate. Let’s take Spotify—is there a “narrator” that takes us through the app and if so, what should that voice sound like? Or should a theme song play in the background while the user makes voice commands? There are a multitude of opportunities for brands to create an immersive experience through the use of audio and just as we’ve seen podcasts integrate well produced opening numbers into their format, soon voice UI’s will need the same.

 

Sprinting Toward a Solution
Cara Lunney, VP/Group Account Director

Clients and agencies are racing against the clock now more than ever with budgets that provide their own set of challenges. Through design sprints, teams can help cut through the amount of work that needs to be done in order to arrive at a successful solution. It’s also an excellent way to give everyone a seat at the table because despite the moniker, design sprints aren’t just for designers or coders. Everyone that touches or has a stake in the project should be included—even the client. But aim for no more than 5-7 people. The process is quick and clear, beginning with the discovery phase, which includes customer journey mapping and competitive research. The team then moves into sketching and wireframing, then design. The final phase involves prototyping, which allows for the collection of user experience feedback. Then it’s rinse and repeat, until the team arrives at a solution. It should be noted that design sprints aren’t just for websites or other tech ventures. From product and internal processes to company vision and strategy improvements, sprints can help teams achieve a variety of goals in a cost-effective manner.

 

The Future of the Workplace
Sarah O’Bryan, Creative Director

Clock in and clock out—a job’s just a job, right? That’s not the attitude to take if your agency is looking to hire. Today’s employees want more. They’re seeking a sense of purpose at work—not just a paycheck. In order to attract and maintain new talent, it’s crucial for agencies to amp up their cultural vibe and create a space for employees to bring their whole selves to work. For managers, this might mean opening yourself up to emotional leadership, practicing vulnerability to mirror to your team that doing things that are hard and uncomfortable is encouraged. Another shift could include implementing “radical responsibility,” in which everyone must maximize their impact on the business and team. Imagine the pride employees would take in the company if they knew they had the power and autonomy (not to mention support) to act on an opportunity or issue. Sharing information freely with your team is also a great way to create a culture where people feel invested. From financial transparency to releasing minutes from senior team meetings, give everyone equal access to every bit of info and unlock the knowledge from your top tier execs. These small changes can make a huge difference when it comes to hiring (and retaining) the best of the best.