The ImageThink Guide to Surviving SXSWi


SXSW Interactive is just a couple of weeks away. This will be ImageThink‘s 3rd year supporting the annual conference of technology, science and innovation in Austin, Texas. We are honored to be the official graphic recorders for SXSWi, just as much as we look forward to the warm climate of Texas and the never-ending supply of BBQ. However, anyone who has actually been to SXSWi cannot help but exchange a look of horror upon mentioning the sheer volume of human traffic, the overwhelmingly packed schedule and a feeling of inevitable failure at managing your digital devices, no matter how hard you try.

Last year, the ImageThink team live recorded over fifty sessions at SXSWi over the course of a week. We decked out three different locations–two ballrooms and one auditorium with easels and eight-feet-long canvases, moved in between locations throughout the day, and successfully captured our results daily on social media.

How did we do it, you ask? How did we disappear from one ballroom and then show up at the other end of the Austin Convention Center (if you have been there, you would know the place is huge) with seemingly no effort under less than ten minutes? How did we manage standing on our feet all day while thinking creatively and making original murals, in the midst of all that chaos? How on earth, did we survive one week of SXSWi, seeming unfazed by the humidity of Austin, the scarcity of short lines at a taco truck and the danger of dehydration while still rocking creative styles and awesome hair?

Here are some secrets we would like to share with you. You just may want to print this out and keep it in your notebook in your shirt pocket, just in case of emergency.

The ImageThink Guide to Surviving SXSW

1. Cowboy boots are actually comfortable.

–says ImageThink’s co-founder and principle Nora Herting. Cowboy boots are riding boots made of metal and leather, traditionally worn by cowboys. Despite its look, these shoes with hard pointy tips and loud western decors are in fact, comfortable for standing, walking and running over long periods of time. Not to mention, it will make you one of the most stylish attendees of the Southwest-based tech conference. Even if you don’t own a pair, here is a gem of a boot shop located just outside of downtown: it’s never too late to upgrade your style.

2. It’s faster to get around the ACC from the outside.

Waiting in line to get down the escalator, navigating confusing hallways, running into book signing lines, getting distracted by the sight of your favorite celebrity, all the while you are trying to get to the next keynote in five minutes? Forget it. The fastest way to get from point A to point B at the ACC is the following: leave the building, walk five to six blocks around it, re-enter the building. Not only you get to enjoy the sight of the frantic crowd trapped inside the glass building while you stroll by, you also get to breathe in some fresh air before diving into another information-packed session.

3. Hit up the food trucks early in the week for shorter lines.

It is not uncommon for someone to have attended SXSWi year after year and have never made it through the line at any taco truck. Excitement aside, obtaining food truck BBQ is one of the toughest tasks in Austin during the week. ‘We got tacos from the food trucks on the first day [of the conference,] before the mass arrived,’ suggests Heather Willems, co-founder of ImageThink, ‘also you might have better luck at the food truck trailer park.’

4. Two words: Hoard. Water.

Because you will be needing it so badly you will offer to give up a VIP seat or sacrifice a good percentage of your twitter followers for a bottle of H2O. Lines everywhere will get increasingly longer throughout the day, and soon you will come to realize the only forms of beverages being offered are two kinds: wine and beer. When you see free water, hoard it. When you see water that you have to pay for, buy it and hoard it. It’s never too much when it comes to hydration.

5. Consolidate devices, use less, bring charger.

If you are planning to use digital devices–use one, or two at most. Don’t try to use all of them at the same time. Smart phones can handle most of the work, and a slender laptop in your bag should take care of the rest. Always have the right charger with you. Be nice when you borrow, be prepared to relentlessly nag after you lend.

6. Take creative notes in an actual notebook.

Research show that a full one fourth of our brain is devoted to processing visual information, and combining images with text or speech increases memory retention by 40%. This means when you take creative notes combining words and pictures, it helps you understand and remember the content more efficiently. If you are going to devote your time to a specific session, it is important to optimize the experience of being there. Bring a notebook, a marker or a pencil, take notes of the next big idea.

7. It rains in Austin in March.

Bring an umbrella and some sort of water-proof container for digital devices. wear shoes you don’t mind ruining. Once in a while it pours in Austin, be prepared.

ImageThink will be supporting selected talks again this year. You will be able to spot us throughout the convention in front of the stages of keynotes and featured sessions. We also have a booth outside of Ballroom B: it will be a great opportunity to ask questions and meet some of our team there. We have our Best of 2014 book and SXSW special edition notebooks to check out, and possibly take home.

‘Is surviving an issue?’ asks James Lake, who is one of our graphic recorders who will be attending SXSWi for the first time, during the brainstorming session. The answer is yes, absolutely. But we promise this guide will help you survive the chaos like a pro with intelligence and grace. Bonus: if you find us at our booth and tell us how you used our guide to navigate your conference, we will give you a gift of surprise. See you Austin!


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