The State of Infographics at SXSW 2014

For many years now, data visualization and infographics-related session topics have been a part of the annual South by Southwest (SxSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, TX, and this year was bigger than ever. Infographics are an undercurrent to the whole conference/festival because they are a part of all the various topic areas. So while this year saw the launch of the new SXsports dedicated sports-focused track of sessions, data visualization topics were seen in sessions related to sports, health, web design, big data, business and journalism.

Infographics were the primary topic seen in many sessions, expert panels, mentor sessions, workshops, book signings, meetups and trade show booths. I've summarized them all in this blog post on Cool Infographics, so I won't try to list them all here. I continue to add links to events that I missed as they are submitted by readers because there were so many, and even I couldn't keep track of them all during the five-day festival while I was in Austin.

The topics ranged from how data visualization is revolutionizing sports statistics to more intellectual topics around data ethics and how readers should be more skeptical by challenging the data behind the visualizations. I appreciated the various levels of expertise required of the audiences, with some beginner topics clearly intended for info-novices and some advanced topics targeted at professional infographics designers.

Social Media and Infographics

SxSW is also a hugely social event, so every event had its own unique Twitter hashtag. The audience would tweet comments and questions that started side conversations during the events. They were also used for live Q&A during some panels and presentations. Other people on Twitter addressed some questions and some speakers took the time to catch up after the event and responded to all of the questions that used the hashtag. All of the events I attended had very engaged audiences and asked a lot of questions. Some of the bigger infographics-focused events had rooms that were packed with more than 300 attendees.

Combining social media and big data with data visualization, the team from FleishmanHillard were running an impressive 13-screen social media command center throughout the entire 5-day festival in the FH Black Box Lounge. This intelligent monitoring system was tracking millions of social media mentions and conversation about SxSW, and visualizing them in real-time. Popular trending topics, sentiment, demographics and even very specific location data (within 15ft). For a limited time you can still see and interact with the data visualization online.

Graphic recording, also known as visual note taking, was bigger this year at SxSW than ever before. The SxSW Interactive Festival fully embraced this visual design form in 2014, and partnered with ImageThink to be the Official Graphic Recorders of SxSW. Designers created more than 50 graphic recordings LIVE at many of the prominent keynotes and speakers, and then put them all on display in the Austin Convention Center. The full gallery is now available publicly online.

SXSWi attendees touring ImageThink's 3-D towers. Source

My overall impression is that the state of infographics at SxSW this year was very strong, and I expect it to continue to grow into an even bigger presence next year! The amount of data and information we all have to filter through continues to grow, and visualizing that information helps us all make better sense of it. With over 1,000+ events and sessions, these visuals even help us process the information we learned at SxSW!