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Devices vs. Content: Lessons from SXSW Interactive

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SXSW Interactive 2012Each year at South by Southwest Interactive Exit Disclaimer (SXSW), a theme or trend emerges that defines the year, a touchstone that marks an up-and-coming application or idea. Past SXSW conferences have seen platforms like Twitter and Foursquare launched, and these applications have gone on to become cornerstones of the social media landscape.

Throughout the week, many at the conference strive to be that next big thing, to lay claim to the attention of an audience comprised of designers, engineers, entrepreneurs and innovators that can become the early adopters and influential advocates for their product or service. But an appearance at the festival is not a guarantee of success, and for every Twitter or Foursquare, there are other startups or services with unusual names that fail to capture the imagination or attention of the attendees.

Some notable apps were launched, among them Highlight Exit Disclaimer received the most buzz. Time will tell if any of the apps that launched will become social media fixtures. However there were some overall themes that were touched on in keynote and breakout sessions alike that dominated many conversations throughout the conference.

In the technology and design sessions, the concept of “responsive design” was continually mentioned. Responsive design is an emerging practice in web development that allows designers and developers to adapt their content to the screen size of the device.

Considerations for the Changing Landscape

Every couple of months a new device or way of accessing the internet is released. Connected devices are no longer limited to desktop computers and laptops, and statistics show that the majority of web traffic will come from mobile devices sometime in 2013. The new device landscape includes everything from internet-capable feature phones with small screens, all the way up to wide-screen televisions with internet browsers. E-readers (e.g. Kindle, Nook), tablets, smartphones, netbooks, and laptops comprise the resolutions in between. It is impossible to predict what the next five years will bring and how many more types of devices and computers will gain access to the internet.

Targeting each of these devices is not practical, so there must be a way to adapt content and designs to each device without endlessly redeveloping web pages. Responsive design addresses this complexity and each design session focused on a different aspect of its application.

Above all, the call was to consider content before form. Website visitors expect your content to be available regardless of how they reach it, so everyone from content copy writers, to social media strategists, to designers, to engineers must work together to create, mobile-first content as a new way of creating products for the internet.

In the realm of HIV/AIDS this is especially true. Health searches on mobile focus on the “personal things” Exit Disclaimer – chlamydia, bipolar disorder, smoking, herpes, and depression are some of the top mobile search terms according to Healthline Exit Disclaimer. Those seeking information on HIV/AIDS are more likely to do so on a mobile device. How do those facts affect your planning or your strategy for online content?

AIDS.gov is currently planning a responsive site design, and has already released a responsive site through our Facing AIDS campaign. To learn more about responsive design, the best place to start is with the web design blog, A List Apart Exit Disclaimer and the first article written on the subject by Ethan Marcotte, a web designer who has subsequently written a book on the topic.

For more information on some of the themes that were presented, please reference these presentations from the SXSW conference, which are available in audio format.

Cited presentations:
Josh Clark – “Teaching Touch: Tapworthy Touchscreen DesignExit Disclaimer
Jacob Surber – “The Page is DeadExit Disclaimer
Stephen Woods – “Creating Responsive HTML5 Touch InterfacesExit Disclaimer

Were you at SXSW or did you follow the coverage? What were the highlights for you?

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