12 Lessons on User Experience + Transmedia Storytelling from SXSW 2012

I had the opportunity to attend SXSWi this year, a mega-conference in Austin which is essentially the mecca for internet geeks. The event packs in over 1,000 panels + talks, hundreds of networking sessions + demonstrations and just as many parties in 5 quick days. It’s completely impossible to do everything you want to do, so you basically have to pick what you want to focus on and allow serendipity to drive the rest. I split my time between fun “brain candy” inspiration type things and educational sessions on two primary topics: User Experience and Transmedia Storytelling. Here are a dozen lessons I learned from entrepreneurs like Path’s Dave Morin and media mavens like New York Times’ David Carr on the topics:


…on user experience and product success 

  1.  Effective user experience should be designed to convey values + emotions to the user during the experience itself, not just at the outcome. That means thinking about everything from colors, to menus, to page animation and more.
  2. Think about how device types provide different experiences. Path was built as a mobile phone app only to enforce personal content creation and intimacy. Path is more emotional because you can’t do a lot of things you can do on Facebook, etc.
  3. Either it’s good or it isn’t. Be honest with yourself or you’ll end up never achieving great. Demanding “great” before shipping was the different between Path 1.0 failure and Path 2.0 success.
  4. We are in an attention economy. To succeed you need to find new ways to stimulate and provide value continuously, in the face of a generation that is more incapable of paying attention than ever before.
  5. Information design is critical in modern storytelling. The New York Times architects stories so readers with five seconds, thirty seconds or two minutes each have a complete experience, while maintaining the choice to dive deeper.
  6. Popular new media apps Intapaper + Flipboard have fantastically enjoyable reading experiences but no business model for content creation. New York Times and other stalwarts have a business model that ruins user experience. Who will crack the middle ground?

…on social’s role in transmedia storytelling

  1. Your social ecosystem isn’t separate from your other platforms, it’s part of one cohesive story that your brand is telling. Understand how your social hubs can be access points to that larger story.
  2. Social enables your audience to expand your potential farther than you can on your own. ESPN Top 10 is now more diverse because fans help identify great sports moments in smaller markets and less popular sports.
  3. Marketing opportunities are more engaging when all touch-points are planned as one. MTV develops 360° programs by planning broadcast, web mobile and social for partners all at once, as illustrated by this year’s Verizon + VMA’s sponsorship.
  4. Know your purpose across your ecosystem. ESPN knows it can’t always be the one to broadcast every sporting event, but it can be the one to host and drive the conversation for them all. Other brands become curators to help illustrate their point of view.
  5. Don’t lose sight of meaningful actions in the face of social KPI’s. Causes was fantastic at building audiences empowering “armchair activism”, but it hasn’t yet figured out how to move participants up the ladder.
  6. The goal of a mashup is to enable people to see something that already exists in a different way. Similarly, understanding creative ways to tell stories beyond just straightforward narrative will make your content more compelling.

The truth is most of what you take away from SXSWi can’t be captured in a number of bullet points.  Spending the majority of a week focused entirely on trying out new mobile products (I had four different ambient awareness iPhone apps running simultaneously on my phone), meeting new people and feeding thought-provoking concepts into your head is something we should all do at least once a year, if not more. That alone is a lesson in itself.

This content is cross-posted from Kevin’s personal blog.