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sxsw

Helvetica World Premiere

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We just barely snagged a seat in an extremely tightly-kerned crowd at the world premiere of Helvetica here at SXSW, where the entire audience sported buttons reading “I love/hate Helvetica.” Okay, okay, everybody has been making their little jokes about “the movie about a font.” But guess what–this is not really a movie about a typeface. Helvetica is just a character in this wonderfully-made film, which just might be the best history of graphic design we’ve ever seen.

Director Gary Hustwit‘s film will lead even the most design clueless through an intelligent global survey of design. But designers won’t be bored. It’s not a simplified primer; instead, it’s the soul of graphic design–straight from the source. Massimo Vignelli preaching that there are only really, three typefaces (we thought it was five; he must be getting pickier). Sagmeister saying clean type is boring. Paula Scher explaining illustrative type. Rick Poynor explaining Modernism. David Carson epitomizing grunge type. Experimental Jetset bringing it all back around.

The story of graphic design is meant for the big screen. With the exception of a few conferences and maybe the work of someone like Hillman Curtis, we just don’t get to see ourselves like this. And damn do we look good.

Especially Erik Spiekermann, and an adorable Michael Bierut, who are the real stars of this film. Bierut delivers the best monologue in the whole movie–an awesome treatise on corporate design that got the biggest laughs and a hearty round of applause.

True to subject, the film itself is simple and beautiful. There are some lovely animations of Swiss designs and cool shots of how type gets made. And there’s an exuberant quality about the whole thing–a lingering shot on a corner of a poster, the spare but expressive music, and the stunning, overwhelming ubiquitousness of this typeface that means nothing and everything, all at the same time. The film festival guy who introduced the film said this, and got a laugh from the audience, but by the end of the film it was apparent: Designer or not, you will never, ever see the world the same again.

Unstuck Yourself, Already

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Web guru Kelly Goto is putting together a process to help web designers get “unstuck,” both creatively and in their workflow. But since she couldn’t be here at SXSW to present it, Liz Danzico pinch hit for her at a star-studded panel including Kristian Bengtsson of FutureLab, Chris Messina of Citizen Agency, Luke Wroblewski (“Luke W”) of Yahoo!, and Jeffrey Zeldman, founder of Happy Cog.

The panel was interesting both in content and in format. The tips from the experts seemed to translate well into other mediums (seriously, an investment banker could still stand to learn a few things from Zeldman). After each panelist got a few minutes to chat about their unstuck ideas, audience-contributed questions each received one minute answers in the “lightning round.” Tons of issues got addressed this way. We jotted a few choice highlights.

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Getting Soaked At SXSW

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After our Frank moment, we splashed across the street to carouse with our interactive cohorts in a reunion of sorts. We slugged Stellas and watched drenched co-eds come in from the rain with Khoi Vinh (Mr. Subtraction) and Jim Coudal (aka Steve’s Day Job Daddy), who had just dined with Helvetica director Gary Hustwit. Metropolis/Wired editor Andrew Blum and Daylife’s Liz Danzico bailed early after their panel-participating duties. John Gruber gave wistful advice for Microsoft and extolled the wonders of emollients. Media Temple‘s Chris Leu and Apple‘s Michael Lopp bought the drinks (thanks…and, we’ll see you guys again tonight, right?).

Chris Fahey showed up later with an extra-long umbrella which we stared at enviously as the gutters began to overflow. After waiting 30-plus minutes for the rain to let up so we could walk the three blocks home, we gave up and hailed a cab. Best $2.00 we’ve ever spent.

OwnYourC and Host Ze Frank Win Big At Web Awards

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The internet’s been good to Ze Frank, so it felt quite fitting to see him as the host of the 10th Annual SXSW Web Awards last night in Austin. For those not familiar with Frank’s videoblog “The Show,” he was a triumphantly witty host, full of ubergeeky, web-centric humor. But for those feverishly snapping photo after photo as Frank took the stage (sports racers; you know who you are), this was like the hour-long special “The Show: Live From Austin.” Frank did not disappoint.

His video intro (in the style of “The Show”) encapsulated the typical experience of a SXSW Interactive attendee arriving in Austin: “Oh, cool, SXSW, so are you in a band?” “No…” “Oh, so you’re doing the film thing?” “No…” “So, what are you volunteering?” “No, I’m doing the Interactive festival.” “What the hell’s that?” “Oh, you know, we’re the ones who have been fucking up the other two’s business models.”

The actual winners ranged from frighteningly-addictive Twitter (easily the most buzzed-about new thing at the festival) to The Fallen Alternate Reality Game, which seems like something between “Lost” and The Game, to non-profit winner OwnYourC, the tobacco prevention site that also took Best of Show. You can view the complete list of winners.

After the awards, we followed Frank and his hordes of adoring fans out to the patio, where we were finally able to snag an interview with our internet crush. Sadly, he could not reveal anything about his post-show plans (his year-long experiment ends on 3/17), but he did sing us a song. Sigh. You know where we’ll be this Saturday.

Back In Austin and Already Up To Our Knees In BBQ

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Torrential rains welcomed us to Texas last night, which we found rather soothing for our parched Southern California soul as we dashed from 6th Street bar to 6th Street bar catching up with old friends.

We’re a day or two late to the SXSW party, but we promise to make up for it with lotsa dirt on your favorite interactive designers, a one-on-one with Ze Frank (we were practically drooling), an appearance by mediabistro.com mom Laurel Touby, and of course, plenty of smoked meats. Stay tuned!

So Long, SXSW

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Our last Texas moments were spent gathered around huge mounds of cornflake-crusted fried chicken and spicy fried potato wedges. It felt fitting, leaving a place we didn’t want to forget, to have a meal that was certain to stay with us for awhile.

We were joined by the New York Public Library’s Carrie Bickner and Happy Cog-gers Jeffrey Zeldman (pictured) and Jason Santa Maria. Bickner blushed when everyone reported the great feedback from her panel “Digital Preservation and Blogs.”. Santa Maria passed out screened and hand-cut cards, impressive for someone you’d think does a lot more Command-Xs than actual cutting. Zeldman called out the classic rock titles playing in the restaurant, bemoaned the reality of a Chef-less “South Park” and wondered aloud if Milton Glaser would let him use his studio for the next An Event Apart. Sounds great to us.

We’re not interactive designers. Honestly, we didn’t understand some of what these people were saying, especially when they spoke in streams of acronyms. But this was one of the most enlightening, engaging gatherings we had ever attended. Why does the SXSW Interactive Festival work so well? Perhaps it’s just that. It’s a “festival.” It’s not a conference. It’s a place to celebrate and share, to learn, perhaps, but really, to showcase what you’ve been up to for the past year. In the similar spirit of the film festival and the music festival slowly infiltrating Austin as we drifted away, SXSWi is a place to proudly step out from behind the computer and say, “See?”

And maybe that’s the other thing. Web- and tech-based disciplines are such an isolated pursuit. Dark rooms and bright screens. And the web itself is a very social place–almost too social, you wonder, as you look around when they ask how many people have blogs and every single person in the room raises their hand. But watching so many of these designers’ blogs go silent for these four days was a true testament to how ready, willing and capable these people were to show and tell.

But we still wanted an expert’s opinion. So we asked Zeldman. “These people are doing,” he said. We couldn’t agree more.

SXSW All-Star Design Closing Night Extravaganza

There comes a time at the SXSW Interactive Festival after walking eighteen blocks from the bat cave to chips and salsa, then running twelve blocks for a genre-bending mojito, followed by a midnight stroll to meet your final Shiner Bock, when you discover your feet are bleeding.

Our story begins at sundown, when the line to the Blogger party spilled out on the sidewalk and around a huge agave cactus, so we ditched the cement-block beauty of Club DeVille for the cement-block beauty of the Velvet Spade next door, where the Consumating (dork dating site, name scares us), Adaptive Path and Odeos of the world bought us drinks all night.

The DeVille’s iPod DJ eventually gave way to live music on our side of the wall. Mostly, we listened closely to Aussie Virginia Murdoch (our second woman friend of the festival), PC-user Chris Fahey, Boxes & Arrows editor Liz Danzico, NY Times.com design director Khoi Vinh (name-checked as “web design super-hero” earlier in the day), Apple hat-wearing (literally) Michael Lopp and the darling Daring Fireball himself, John Gruber. Topics so gripping they required three bars and three times that many drinks to cover included (in rough chronological order): nosehair clippers, Studebakers, Delia’s, Dick Cheney, TiVo, Chris Fahey’s PC.

What’s up with nobody taking pictures at SXSW this year?

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SXSW Wit T-Shirt Contest: Day Three

It was cooler today, which meant jackets were possibly covering your witty shirts. Saw some repeats of the internet famous and kern shirts. But we missed the Austin Linux users-hosted Nuclear Taco event, which would have probably been a nerd-shirt goldmine.

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He also has matching boxers.

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Seen in Peter Morville’s Ambient Findability presentation. Isn’t that like wearing the band’s shirt to the concert?

Apparently There Are Some Other Things Going On In Austin, Too

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To stay in touch with our Hollywood roots, and because one cannot exist on steady diet of design, margs and blogs alone, we ventured outside our own circle of dorks to interact with the dorks of other industries.

First stop, the “Darkon” party, where D&D masters crossed swords and a guy played the film’s score on his electric violin. Then we caught the star-studded film by former “Seinfeld” producers, “Live Free or Die,” at the Alamo Theater (where you can drink beer, do videoke (karaoke with movies) and purchase a Sparkle Motion t-shirt).

Last night was somewhat of a transformative experience, however, when we were blessed with “Punk Like Me.” This warped punkumentary of the Warped Tour is–we hate to say this because it will turn punk fans off, but seriously, you’ll love it–truly touching. Features the Vandals, Bad Religion, Sum 41, Buckcherry and Carne Asada. What the hell is Carne Asada?

Hear SXSW For Yourself

Podcasts were posted today, so you can have a little audible illustration while reading about James Surowiecki and his Crowds, Coudal and Fried, and especially, what all the blogger fuss was about.

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