Insights from SXSW 2024:The Whitby Writeup

The bustling streets of Austin, Texas, once again played host to the whirlwind of creativity and technology innovation that is South by Southwest, the SXSW 2024 Conference. Amidst the sea of ideas and inspiration, BZDesign‘s own Laura Whitby, a seasoned user experience designer with a knack for turning complex concepts into sleek user interfaces, embarked on a journey of discovery at this renowned event.


“So much learning—like drinking through a fire hydrant. Love this conference,” Laura exclaims, encapsulating the immersive experience that SXSW offers.


Dr. Lisa Su, Chair and CEO of AMD, discussing Generative AI computing with Ryan Patel at SXSW2024 Among the myriad of captivating sessions, many stood out as highlights for Laura: one in particular was the keynote, featuring Dr. Lisa Su, Chair and CEO of AMD in Conversation with Ryan Patel, discussing Generative AI computing. “Lisa Su was impressive. Down to earth and relaxed… Excellent leader—you could just tell,” Laura recalls. Dr. Su proudly showed the latest AMD Generative AI chip, the MI300 with 153 billion transistors packaged in roughly 3×3 inches. Lisa. Su’s insights into the future of AI left a lasting impression, particularly her prediction that very soon, having your own private, personal AI computer will be the norm, revolutionizing the way we interact with technology by providing unparalleled access to knowledge and imagery. 


Another thought-provoking session centered around AI and Co-evolution with  Humanity, with OpenAI‘s Peter Deng taking the stage. Interviewer and former TechCrunch editor Josh Constantine asked, “Why are you still doing this? You could have called in rich!” Deng philosophizes that AI makes us fundamentally more human. Laura reflects on Deng’s assertion that AI shifts humans from being creators and having the answers to being curious and asking the questions… “That’s kinda deep.” The evolving role of humans in the age of AI is a long-time hot topic as is the claim that AI will save us time and free us up. “I don’t know about that,” ventures Laura, “I think it will just drive productivity increases. But I certainly hope it is all positive in that way”.


Beyond the thought-provoking discussions, Laura delved into interactive exhibits that offered immersive experiences. One such exhibit,

YOURS to LOSE by Freedom Forum, challenged participants to confront the fragility of First Amendment freedoms.

It served as a powerful reminder of the importance of safeguarding our liberties. Laura provided us with our very own immersive experience in her retelling:


“Attendees gathered outside the exhibit where they offered complimentary drinks from the bar, ice cream, and even a full lunch. It was really a very nice spread, so what this was about was intriguing.

 Stepping into the first space, surfaces covered with tagged artifacts beckoned us closer. We were instructed to take one that resonated with us. Individuals clad in black military garb guided us with silent gestures, leading us to secluded cubby areas where we were tasked with introspective reflection. Pen in hand, we inscribed the personal significance of each artifact onto its respective tag. We were ushered into another chamber, where we were asked to exchange tags with a partner and where libations flowed freely, again! I got the hint here that this was a subtle invitation to relinquish inhibitions.


Tags hanging on a chainlink fence -"YOURSto LOSE," exhibit by Freedom Forum at SXSW2024Suddenly, the mood shifted as dramatic-looking actors appeared, spinning a wheel of fateful occurrences. We watched as it landed on “terrorism,” prompting a sobering realization of the gravity of the exercise. The question posed was simple: which of our tags (and its described item) would we be willing to surrender in the advent of terrorism? One of my tags said Fox News so I handed that one over pretty easily. The next occurrence was a Pandemic …. and I wasn’t going to give up the Huckleberry Finn tag, so I opted out. As the wheel turned to equally dark scenarios, others also resolved to give up tags. People who refused to give up their tags were moved to a different area. About 60% gave up their tags, and 40% of us refused.


At the end, all were invited to the final space where a lone figure strummed a mournful melody on an acoustic guitar. We were instructed to tie all the tags up around the room… Participant expressions morphed as it all clicked… we were surrounded by all sorts of wonderful things that are important to people…that they could have given up. Important takeaway for real life.”


Reflecting on the diverse array of sessions, Laura shared insights with the BZD team gleaned from a session on counterintuitive marketing tactics, noting the potential for experimentation and testing in our own client projects. From exploring the entrepreneurial spirit with luminaries like Mark Cuban and Andrew McCullum (co-founder of Facebook) to unlocking the secrets of successful advertising icons like J.K. Simmons, aka “Professor Burke” of Farmers Insurance, SXSW offered a treasure trove of inspiration. “You know all those whacky situations that happen in the Farmers Insurance commercials?” Laura asks. “Those are all true stories from Farmers’ agents. Ha, I couldn’t believe it!”


Laura’s retelling encapsulates the essence of SXSW: a melting pot of ideas, perspectives, and possibilities.

As she navigated through the exhibits, encountering everything from exoskeleton strength devices, immersive simulations, to near real-time fantasy story animations, Laura found herself at the intersection of technology, AI, Quantum computing, creativity and innovation discussions and examples— all representing a testament to the potential of our future…


As the curtains close on SXSW 2024, Laura’s journey serves as a reminder of the transformative power of ideas and the limitless opportunities that lie ahead. With her insatiable thirst for knowledge and her down-to-earth demeanor, Laura embodies the spirit of exploration and discovery that defines BZDesign’s approach to design. Thank you Laura for sharing your experience!