3 Design Lessons from SXSW Interactive 2019

This year, I was lucky enough to attend the 2019 SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas with BIG YAM’s Sr. Copywriter, Megan Stark. We got to soak in all the sights and sounds of Austin while being surrounded by thousands of great minds in many different fields. To get the most out of the conference, Megan and I decided to split up onto different tracks. My focus: design. When I say “design,” I don’t mean just visual aesthetic; design is fundamentally more that. Design encompasses user experience, program flows and the problem solving required to make things work better. Design should be functional and intentional.

During the three-ish days in Austin, I tried to catch as many sessions as possible. Here are some nuggets of wisdom I walked away with!

1: Embrace Women as a Customer Base

I attended a panel entitled “Women are building the brands we’ve always wanted,” which featured four women leaders from a range of industries. They participated in a discussion of the increasing purchasing power of women, the impact women are having on brand marketing and how increased board room presence helps forge a new frontier for brands to prioritize being open, real and empathetic.

Why should businesses of all types embrace their female customer base? To start with, here are some stats: 70-80 percent of all consumer purchases are by women and 50 percent of male products are purchased by women – so women have a lot of purchasing power. Additionally, in surveys conducted, 68 percent of women and 59 percent of men desire a feeling of “connectedness” to a brand.

Taco Bell Sr. Vice President Amanda Clarke said, “Brands are embracing a lot of the qualities that we as a society label as traditionally female; we talk about them as transparency, connectedness, honesty, emotion.” She has helped Taco Bell embrace their female focus by shifting the brand’s voice across their social media channels to embody authenticity and focus on conversations.

My takeaway: I am proud to be at a company which values its female employees and leaders, and I hope to see our clients take on initiatives that are tailored to women.

Integrated marketing agency in Phoenix client Hope for Haiti designs for people.

2: Design for Impact by Designing for People

I learned lessons of empathy from Tanarra Schneider, a studio lead at FJORD. In her session entitled “How Not to Design,” she shared some stories highlighting the lessons she’s learned and the mistakes she has made over the last decade of her career.

She emphasized that to design well, we as designers must slow down and keep our focus on the humanity of the people we are designing for. First and foremost, we should be thinking about the consumers who are on the outside of the main population. When we focus on designing for outliers, we are forced to think about different ways to design and to adapt to limitations. This is intentional design which results in an end product that serves people better.

My takeaway: My thoughts immediately turned to our beloved client Hope for Haiti. They’re a great example of impactful work. Intentional design as a principle is a huge part of their impact as an organization. You can see this in the way they’ve designed a platform that creates sustainable infrastructure, and in how they maintain a presence among the people they are helping. By establishing intentional design, they’ve grown into an organization that is trusted to affect change for the better.

Image Credit: Tito’s Vodka

3: Keys to Building Brands that Consumers Love

The session that left the biggest impression on me was led by Nicole Portwood, the vice president of marketing at PepsiCo – Mountain Dew. Her session focused on how the brand she has worked with ensures and grows brand loyalty among their consumers.

Nicole broke down brand building into the simplest language: LOVE. She asserts that if your brand is for and by people, then love should be at the heart of your brand communication. She refers to a kind of love that drives affinity to a brand, which in turns becomes evangelism and loyalty.

She used Tito’s Vodka as an example of a brand that has nailed this concept. Tito’s is a self-declared brand about people, and they were able to experience a whole lot of brand growth just by being kind to their consumers. Tito’s figured out the Way In to the hearts of those who would become their people.

My favorite example of this Way In approach for Tito’s is the Vodka for Dog People initiative. The company’s founder had a soft spot for dogs in need of homes; following his example of kindness, the company’s culture followed suit. Early on, the brand connected with local animal shelters and encouraged its employees to get involved. Out of that effort grew a connection with like-minded people. The company has an entire platform dedicated to this cause, which helps them maintain an authentic connection with people while bringing them joy.

My takeaway: Asking myself how I, as a designer, can weave kindness and love into everything that comes across my desk.