SXSW: Inspiring Creativity, Compelling Stories …and Big Data

Our SXSW experience was a little different this year—we hosted a 2.5-hour workshop session! In addition to teaching others, we took the opportunity to learn and be inspired by the creativity and genius that converges in Austin every year. We sent a cross-functional team of Duartians from design, account services, and marketing. We were fortunate to have Nancy Duarte attend and speak this year, and we came away with some great insights and compelling stories.

Leading a workshop was our most unique experience at SXSW. (It was our first time speaking, and hopefully not our last!) We worked with nearly 200 professionals, helping them to shape their stories. Nancy Duarte started the session by explaining the persuasive story structure, and the team worked with attendees on exercises to help them hone in on their Big Idea and Move From/Move To.


Next, our Associate Creative Director, Ryan Orcutt, spoke on principles of design for improving slides. He had the audience up on their feet and tracing slides to show how they perceived the flow of information. Finally, we finished off the session with a Q&A panel. We loved the enthusiasm and brilliant ideas from our audience, and we can’t wait to host another session at SXSW.



We attended many interesting sessions at SXSW, and we’ve got key insights from several team members:

Mike Pacchione, Facilitator

What was your biggest insight/takeaway from SXSW?

Preparation reigns. You could tell which speakers rehearsed and thought about the audience. You could tell which ones didn’t.

What was your favorite talk and why?

Besides the Productivity panel? Neil Degrasse Tyson. He illustrated something I’d never known, and did it in a really cool way. I don’t think you saw this. He brought someone up on stage and gave him a ball to represent the moon. Holding up a beach ball globe to represent earth, he asked the volunteer to hold the ball (moon) at its proximity to earth. The guy held it a foot, maybe two feet away. NGT laughed. “I need you to turn around and start walking” then sent the guy walking off stage, still holding the ball. He explained how far away the moon was and how it’s never represented properly in textbooks. “They always show the sun and moon on the same page,” he said, “In reality they need about 17 pages of space in between them.”

He made a point no one in the audience knew, but the cooler thing was how he illustrated it. He could have just said the bit about 17 pages of space; by using the audience member, he created what we Duartians know as a S.T.A.R. Moment.

Outside of the panels, what was the coolest thing you saw?

The real life Super Mario Kart course. Kills me we didn’t get to try it out.


Mark Heaps, Development Director

What was your biggest insight/takeaway from SXSW?

Year after year it’s completely unpredictable as to the type of experience you have, which makes it extremely challenging to plan or have strategy targeting anything at SXSW. This year I let it flow, and I got to sit in more talks, and have a much better time. As for topics, or themes the buzz worthy “storytelling” was still ever present. But, this year seemed to have a new buzzy on the block. “Big data and how (insert rest of title here)”. Certainly the newcomer this year was anything relating to data, and how it changes experiences. Visualizing data, data turned into story, analytics and where to get your data. One guy even spoke of how big data wasn’t really big data, it was just lots of small data because we can’t quantify the big data. So yeah…data.

What was your favorite talk and why?

The talk from another agency called Huge, Inc. They talked about what it was like to go from being a small agency to a large agency and it really landed with me and our current experiences of growth at Duarte. They spoke of how to keep a family feel, what challenges they faced, and how they course-corrected some of their initial ideas and turned them into successes that still mirrored the culture of their founding agency. Duarte has grown so much these past few years, it was nice to be reminded that all successful companies go through this when they have a growth explosion. I also loved Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s interview/keynote about the universe and the state of the world today. He’s probably one of the most informative and entertaining presenters I’ve seen in years.

Outside of the panels, what was the coolest thing you saw?

The trade show floor showed a lot of innovation in hardware. Wearable technology, etc. I probably enjoyed myself at the Join.Me party the most. They had a large HD digital graffiti wall where you actually held a spray can (presumably bluetooth or wifi enabled) and it let you spray on their screen with a really playful and somewhat realistic experience. Think of Wii but on another level, that was a really fun and creative night.


Ashley Faus, Marketing Manager

What was your biggest insight/takeaway from SXSW?

I saw two big trends at SXSW: making Big Data small, and merging seemingly-disparate ideas. Big Data is the shiny new toy of the marketing world, and everyone is trying to gather as much data as they can. However, plucking the few kernels of relevant information out of the data is what really adds value. It’s not enough to have data, you actually have to use the data to make insightful, actionable decisions. Also, several speakers focused on making connections between ideas, including art + branding, charity + business, and bringing together people from different functions to create something amazing.

What was your favorite talk and why?

I really enjoyed the talk on data by Eric Swayne. He was energetic and engaging, and he kept his talk short and relevant. Eric advocated for being a data narrator, not just a data janitor. I think the best quote from the talk was that an insight should drive an action, otherwise, it’s useless.

Outside of the panels, what was the coolest thing you saw?

The interactive graffiti wall at the party was incredible. It wasn’t so much the technology that made it cool, it was watching how people behaved that was interesting. People kept shaking the “paint can” to make “paint” come out, but in reality, it was all about clicking a button. So, I wonder: if the digital controller wasn’t packaged as an analog controller, would it change the way people interacted with the technology? It’s such an interesting question as we integrate devices and software into our daily lives!

Design / Diary / Event / Strategy / Technology

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