Obsessions: March 22nd, 2010

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South by Southwest.

I’m just back from South by Southwest Interactive, the yearly festival happening in Austin Texas. SxSW began as a music-only festival, and the interactive portion of it grew organically as a few bloggers from the early days decided it’d be cool to meet up face to face and see a few bands over some barbecue. From those grass-roots, strangely social beginnings, the web’s presence in popular culture begain to grow.

This year’s festival was a bit of a watershed in that, for the first time, reported paid attendance for SxSW Interactive outnumbered SxSW music.

Adobe was an ever-present force in sponsorship, sponsoring a café where authors read from recently-published works, and added to that by announcing their own book: a ten-year anniversary of InDesign. The book is clearly a marketing, but it’s interesting to use as a marker of where we’ve been as publishers and where we’re going. Ten years ago, every designer I know was grumbling about QuarkXpress’ shortcomings, actual and perceived. Now, I don’t think I know many designers who own a copy of it. Adobe’s point is made.

SxSW’s tenor this year seemed to be, “What is it we’re doing? What can we do to make it more meaningful?” So many designers seem disinterested in simply adding to Facebook’s toybox of semi-operational applications or making another stupid iPhone fart app, so much more interested in adding to the world around them in rich, meaningful ways.

This year, I sat in on conversations discussing what we could do to increase patient-doctor communication routes, our cities as raw information platforms for social good, the implications of our constant watching of so many screens, and a renewed interest in getting decent typography on the web in a meaningful way. We are interested in developing our work off the desktop computer, and in the real world—be that via smartphone, SMS, or simply artmaking.

I am so pleased to see so many people making a concerted effort to move technology from its confining boxes to places we can actually use it. The future feels bright again. The next few Obsessions will dive into these issues individually.