SXSW Interactive Part 1: Web Design & Web Typography

By Lisa Holmes


March 17, 2010

I just returned last night from a great week in Austin at SXSW Interactive. This was my first SXSW conference and first trip to Austin… a very creative city that reminded me a lot of Portland. It even rained on my last day there.


At the conference, I attended 17 sessions and will recap what I learned along these six tracks:

  • part 1: web design and web typography
  • part 2: content management systems
  • part 3: visual note taking
  • part 4: technology: css3 and html 5, mobile apps
  • part 5: greater good, sustainability and unconsumption
  • part 6: interactive infographics

Each session at SXSW had a specific Twitter hashtag assigned to it. Do a Twitter search on the hashtag to follow the conversations that took place during the conference.

Part 1: web design and web typography


Sessions attended: “Beauty in Web Design”, “Simple Steps to Great Web Design”
Twitter hashtags:
#beautyinwebdesign #simplestepsgreatdesign


The overriding message from the sessions on web design is to look for design to evolve beyond the current medium, getting influence from traditional print:

  • look at other mediums for inspiration: art, packaging, magazines, advertising (could be ironic since most early websites were accused of being brochure-ware, but what this really means is that web tools and technologies are now at a place where there can be greater creativity with fewer design constraints)
  • know the content inside-out: research and listen thoroughly (a common theme in branding and traditional graphic design)
  • add subtle interactions to create “moments of pleasure” for the user (light and subtle animation effects for buttons and other elements on a website that the user won’t expect but that add to the experience without taking away from the main focus)
  • be more creative and use custom photography to stand out from all of the stock used everywhere (support local photographers!)
  • have a clear vision for a project and design without ego — don’t design for other designers and awards (I’ve heard this message many times, but not specifically for web design)
  • think beyond the client and intended audience: think of the greater good and how to help a wider audience (sustainability is a hot topic that is just now starting to reach the interactive community… more on this in part 5 of my recap series)


Sessions attended: “Get Stoked on Web Typography”, “Fluid Web Typography”
Twitter hashtags: #getyourglyphon


At SXSW Interactive, I frequently heard that “2010 is going to be the year of web typography”. Why has it taken so long for us to be able to use more than the core five to ten fonts in web design? Licensing of fonts is one of the key reasons. Most people don’t know that fonts are intellectual property, much like music and photography. End user licensing agreements (EULA) for each font must specify that a font can be embedded in a web page in order to be used legally. Font formats are another issue… platforms and browsers don’t support the same formats across the board.

Several new services allow designers to use fonts that are licensed for use on websites for free or a small fee:

  • Font Squirrel // Handpicked free fonts for graphic designers with commercial-use licenses
  • Typekit // a subscription-based service for linking to high-quality Open Type fonts from some of the worlds best type foundries
  • FontFont // offers stand-alone professional fonts without relying on system fonts or webfont services

More info on web typography:

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