SXSW Day 2 – Great Sessions, Great Seth Priebatsch Keynote, Etsy Microconference, and DiggNation

by Troy Grosfield
March 13th, 2011

Transportation from the hotel was a bit nightmarish.  It was quite hard to pile so many people in to so few shuttle buses.

Make sure you get to your sessions early!  Popular sessions will fill up and will even have lines to get well after the session has even started.

Stop the Bleeding! Immersive Simulations for Surgeons

Really the only reason I went to this session was because one of the other sessions I was trying to attend had a very long line to get in.

This session went over the importance of computer simulation for surgeons.  They explain why computer simulations are a necessity so doctors can learn and perfect how to do different surgical procedures.  The panel walked through a few different simulations and showed how they work.  One example they demoed was a doctor doing a surgical procedure simulation on a patient with a clef palate.  The doctor is then graded on his procedure when finished and can repeat the graded simulation until the appropriate grade is received.

Your Mom Has an iPad: Designing for Boomers

Boomers comprise of nearly 1/3 of the online population.  They far surpass spending on technology over young adults.  The oldest member of the baby boomer generation turns 65 this year.

So, how do you design for boomers?  You don’t.  Design for goals and behaviors, aptitude and attitude, not generation.  Design for simplicity.  When a user first sees the app they should get an immediate sense of “I know what to do”.  You want to give people the sense of confidence that they are able to use your app with ease.

Give feedback, retraceable steps, and breadcrumbs.  Have a strong visual design to establish trust.  It’s hard to garner confidence with your end user if you site looks like crap especially if a payment is needed. Keep consistent navigation and behavior.

Boomers expect technology to adapt to them.  When designing for users with disability, don’t make it glaringly obvious “click here for the disability version of the site”.  It’s a huge turnoff for a user.  Nobody want to click on something that says “yeah, that’s me.  I’m disabled”.  Have meaningful links when dealing with accessibility.  A screen reader doesn’t work well with a bunch of links that just say “read more”.

Between the topic content and the excellent presenter, this by far was the best session to this point!

Inclusive Design: Creating Beautiful, Usable & Accessible Websites

Make sure your website is user centered.  Websites are designed for people.  Don’t forget that!  9 principles of inclusive design:

  1. User Centered: Designed to optimize for use by all people
  2. Beautiful: Visually pleasing
  3. On Brand: Delivers on brand promise
  4. Accessible
  5. Usable
  6. Interoperable
  7. Open
  8. Meaningful: Conveys purpose giving meaning to end users
  9. Universal: fit for purpose to be used by all

Design in the process of conceptualizing and creating something tangible, in order to serve a specific purpose.

Let users test early and often.  They will provide very valuable feedback early on.  They will also help show what value your site provides.

Help your user’s experience as much as possible.  When filling out forms, make navigation through the form easy.  Provide tips for places where a user may get confused.  Enable JavaScript to help error messaging to the end user.  Have a JavaScript check In cases where a user need to pick a username to see if the username has already been taken instead of waiting for form submission.

They did a good job presenting and providing relevant examples when needed.

Keynote Simulcast: Seth Priebatsch

Seth Priebatsch SxSW Keynote

Seth Priebatsch SXSW Keynote. Source:

Seth makes very interesting analogies with games and business.  Everyone loves a challenge and some business’s thrive in this area.  He explains how many very successful business, as well as our education system, utilize the game concept well.

He gave an interesting alternative to how we treat schools.  He mentions how the grade system is broken and how we should treat school more like a game.  The better you are the faster you move up.  If you’re good at the game you can move up faster.  This would advance more intelligent kids at a faster rate.

Naturally this system has it’s flaws, but it’s a very intriguing approach to the education system.  One flaw being that school isn’t all about education.  You also build very important personal relationship skills along the way.

One of his corporate examples is Groupon.  Every Groupon deal is like a game.  You have a countdown in which you have to get a number of people to purchase the same deal as you for the deal to be on.  So the game is getting other people to make the same purchase in the allotted time.

Seth is a very good speaker and does a very good job of keeping his audience engaged!  He speaks fast, but is not hard to follow.  He speaks his intelligence well.

Moving Fast at Scale: a SXSW Microconference


Etsy talks about their development and deployment processes.  They push code up to 25 times a day.  They have more people in the company releasing than number of developers in the company.  Meaning they’ve simplified the process to much that just about anyone in the company can deploy code.  The first day a developer is on the job, they deploy code.  Their justification is that the people who fail to take risk make about 2 big mistakes a year.  The people that do take risks make about 2 big mistakes per year as well.  There are times when you try so hard not to make a mistake that you end up breeding more mistakes.

Etsy has a one button deploy.  This enables any employee in the company to deploy code.  They have a tool called the Deployinator that is a webpage that will kick off a code release.  They have tools like ‘what to watch for’ when a deploying code which shows the person deploying what to look for when a code is pushed.  They shoot out log messages that state all this information as well as the user performing the push and the changeset that’s related to the push.

Etsy graphs everything site performance related so when they see strange spikes in a graph they know there may be something they need to look into or something that had a positive impact in their system.  They have a very good grasp on the changes they make and how the change affects end user behavior.

They can easily parse through their logs by namespacing the log entries.  This makes grepping the log a breeze.  Use Graphite and Ganglia to help facilitate their metrics and graphs.  Open sourced StatsD which they use for statistical analysis.

They simplified the dashboards so to get a new graph all they need is a url with the query params values of interest to get a new graph.  It’s done very similar to google charts.  It’s an html image tag and the source url generates the image.

They have monitors on the walls that display the graphs and charts at all times.


Digg Nation

Digg Nation

DiggNation put on a hell of a show.  They rented out Stubbs BBQ who has a very large concert venue in the back of the restaurant.  They had a stage on one end with a roof where they streamed video.  They kicked off the show with some cheesy ‘magic tricks’ and setting ‘world records’ for stupid things like the farthest air high five.

However, once the corny magic tricks were over,  Mike Relm, who may be one of the best DJ’s I’ve ever seen, took the stage.  He mixes controversial video with his music and scratches better that just about anyone I’ve seen.  It was one of the best sound systems I’ve heard and he knows how to move a crowd.

After Mike Relm DiggNation took the stage where Kevin Rose and Co talk about articles that have been Digg’d recently.  Digg definitely knows how to throw a party!

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  1. Author
    October 4th, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    It has to be very interesting session. I would like to learn more about how designers in the User Experience space approach wireframes.