The Best of SXSW 2014

sxsw logoI could give you a top 10 list or a top 5 list of what was best at SXSW. That would be great if I were trying to convince you of why attending SXSW is an amazing learning experience. However, what I’d like to provide is the best single thing I learned, and get into some actionable details.

So, I was ready to get into what seemed to be a great talk. I was on line waiting, about a dozen people away from the door, when I heard, “Sorry, this session is full.” So with that news I went next door and found a talk titled, “Let’s Get Physical—Design + Embodied Cognition,” by Michael Hendrix, Partner and Creative Director at IDEO. By chance, I’d just found what was to me the best talk of SXSW.

Embodied cognition is the theory that the human mind is largely determined by the form of the human body. To simplify, the mind is experiencing the world through all our senses. The more senses that are stimulated, the more powerful the experience.

The really interesting part of this is that our minds cannot really differentiate a real experience from an imagined one. For example, when we go to the movies and experience an action-packed film, we are experiencing intense visual and aural senses. Our reaction to this fabricated experience is that we may be sitting forward in our seat, our heart rate may increase and the palms of our hands may even sweat. Our minds are telling our bodies to react to the imaginary experience as though it’s real. This is powerful stuff. The more senses we engage in an experience, the more our minds take that experience in and make it memorable.

Brands are already using this principle to design their products to convey a certain aesthetic to potential buyers. One example provided at the SXSW session was that BMW makes the hinges on their car doors heavier to convey quality and safety. People who are looking to buy a car will place a premium on a safe, well-built car.

So how does this apply to our world of marketing? Well, let’s say we are creating an iPad piece for sales reps to detail to doctors. It is common for these to include some basic ways of swiping or tapping to navigate to content. Additionally, it is the sales rep who is usually using the device. However, if we want to make this experience memorable for doctors, we should put the device in their hands and tap into more of their senses. We should think about including interesting visual and audio content. Additionally, we can use the interactive capabilities of the iPad to engage even more of the senses. For example, the iPad will recognize with its built-in gyroscope if it’s tilted or moved in a three-dimensional space, with its motion sensor if it’s shaken, or with its multi-touch screen if it’s touched with multiple fingers.

This may sound like fun and games or interaction for interaction’s sake but there is real scientific research that backs up communicating this way. The more we can tap into human senses when we communicate, the more powerful and memorable the communication will be. And remember, that goes for real and imagined experiences. This is an idea that can breathe new life into the way we think about our clients’ needs.

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