SXSW2019: Where Austin Gets Tech Weird

SXSW2019: Where Austin Gets Tech Weird

SXSW2019: Where Austin Gets Tech Weird 1440 428 Randy Liddil

SXSW has an aura about it but this being my first time attending the Austin based–week-long–brand and music extravaganza, I really had no idea what to expect. Would it live up to the hype?

Traveling with clients, who have become friends, added another layer and, it turns out, made the show even more entertaining. I attended with the goal of better understanding how to incorporate new technology into our everyday work within the Digital Design Lab and from that, maximize our capabilities and propel our creative process in new ways. I walked away from Austin with plenty of inspiration and a few new ideas. Here are the highlights.

Human Meets AI

It seemed like every brand was trying to show that AI can be used alongside human interaction and that it’s more approachable than ever before. Often mimicking human behavior, we even saw AI used to help accomplish creative activities like writing, music, and storytelling.

Sony’s Cave Without Light exhibition is an example, where users can collaborate with AI to play music using sound and haptic technology in complete darkness. The purpose is to show AI’s ability to empower anyone to make music despite any disability they might have. Sony developed AI assisted music composition using augmented creativity of artists in music. This machine-learning technology can help create music–together with people. Within the space, language was also incorporated to raise questions on whether or not technology will enrich Human Creativity.

LG’s AI robot line, CLOi, was a not to be missed stop along the SXSW journey. Not just a toy, these robots communicate and have empathetic skills like joy, sadness, and anger. They recognize space, their surroundings, and objects. Creating an interaction that is more human than most robots and can be playmates for children or pets with built-in home security.  It might sound strange, but with more kids, and even adults, having full conversations with Alexa, we see this as a huge opportunity to engage through AI and voice technology.

Walmart has been getting into the AI game as well, utilizing machine learning behaviors. Using robots to scan aisles for inventory and programmers who then analyze social media and product trends via Pinterest, Walmart is able to monitor and track behavior to get a better understanding of what products are selling in specific markets and how much. Delivering their own set of outputs based on what the robots have gathered from inventory and trends. This learning allows them to see what is coming up, the correlation between social and product, and recommendations on what to do at the store level.

Communicate With Purpose

I thought I was going to walk into a digital playground of media and digital content smacking me in the face via giant screens. I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of digital screens and the use of alternative communication methods. Projection mapping, spray paint, vinyl wrapping, and even stickers made SXSW more enjoyable. Since my everyday world is creating spaces in the virtual realm, this kind of content communication made a big impact.

I appreciated brands like SnapChat, who completely overtook a house on Rainy Street and elevated brand immersion to a community level. The entire house was wrapped in branded yellow vinyl, standing out as a beacon of social fun before you even stepped inside. Throughout the house, from the kitchen to the bar to the backyard, were hang-out spots. Each detail was well thought out and executed with style. Energetic discussions could be heard all around regarding the future of visual communication and how they are using SnapKit to build unique experiences with partners like SeatGeek, Pandora, and others.

In all, I’d say it was a successful few days with high energy and creative imagination. There’s a rapid amount of change that is happening with technology, but also the conflicting nature of humans who just really want to connect and belong to a community. SXSW showcased how to bring those two conflicts together and create something great.

Interested in how retailers are humanizing technology? Check out our latest work with Xfinity.


A collection of insights research and observations across retail, restaurant, c-store and grocery. Helping brands provide a better experience for their customers. Enjoy.

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