Design By Filching Session (SXSW)

My first day on the ground at SXSW- a conference on a Texas sized scale! The Austin convention center is a massive city. Early notes- they are really organized with staff and helpful people every step of the way trough registration; only took about 12 minutes to move through long line. Double bonus points because after your badge, you go elsewhere to get the program and the schwag bag… but you can come back later to get the bag, you dont have to lug it around (thanks to tip from Christene who I met in line).

My bummer is this morning my trusty Canon PowerShot seemed to have powered up in my pocket and jammed the optics. I can only shoot in Digital Macro mode. Crikies!

Okay, first panel session on Filching Design: When the Shoe Fits with Skip Baney (Apple), Lindsay Simon (Google), and Luke Wroblewski (LukeW Design/Yahoo).

First interesting observation at this techni geek fest is that looking around the room, I saw more people taking notes on paper than laptops/devices, radically more than an ed-tech conference. I am not sure what this means.

Session about what is “filching” form perspective of code, user design, and legal implications. Already the vibe in the room is more energetic, even for first session after a party night.

Lindsay posts slide “filch to take as booty” from old board game– asked audience have you filched? “We are all sinners” was a later slide.

Classic Zeldman quote “Don’t worry about people stealing your design work. Worry about the day they stop.”

Concept of extreme programming- “do simplest thing that could possible work to solve an immediate problem” for code that is often “filching”

Fun diagram for coders How to be a programmer

A few rounds of looking at sites with audience yelling if it was “filch” or “fair” -most were code examples- Riby on Rails versus CakePHP. Not sure for me,

Middle session by Luke Wroblewski on filching User Interface design was best- showed real examples that started as obvious copies (AOL front copied Yahoo) to Google copy of Yahoo’s Download IE7 page. And the reply on a blog was shown where the blog design was an obvious copy of a WordPress template w/o any attribution to the WP designer.

Trickier with adwords- Yahoo adwords look a lot like Google, but did Google get idea from Overture?

Other examples from Luke’s 8 year old blog where design showed up reworked on other sites.

He argued for cases of not filching in doing original sites (Digg in page voting, online simple geneology design site at Geni).

More discussion of legal issues form Skip Baney. Walked through an interactive design tweaks of a fake haku site that started as a direct copy of del.icio.us design- and started by changing colors, moving elements around, changing UI elements – it gets fuzzy where a derivative is different enough.

Moved into open discussion- I got compelled to make a comment that alot seems to go away if designers make the effort to give credit and/or contact a design/code we “filched” – as I said, “we all know when we are doing it” so it is a conscious act.

I liked the pace of the session here, a lively panel. Off now to find way through the convention center maze to the next.

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. I’ve always avoided SXSW because it looked paradoxically too huge (how to choose?) and filled with an elite cabal who knew each other to the Nth degree and excluded all others. And the parts that I should go to wouldn’t be the parts that would benefit “work me” as much as “art me.”

    Doesn’t sound too bad so far based on this report. Even Zeldman, who I’ve always thought was a bit of a twit (not a Twit) says something I wholly agree with!

    I’m looking forward to hearing more of your impressions here… but I have to admit I was just glad I read the title wrong the first time and this wasn’t a design by felching session. Don’t know what that would look like and don’t want to…

  2. Several reasons for being here- I am in town Wednesday-Friday anyhow for NMC meetings, so it was part convenience. But mostly I want to experience some conferences outside the education box as much to get a taste if there are differences, or ways to run sessions differently.

    I dont know about the elite cabal nor would I want to be part of one. If they are here, I will extends a personal Pffffttt to them from Alaska.

    Gawd, look at my typos! I am not planning to do a lot of session blogging.

  3. Getting outside of the education box is one of the reasons I enjoy the Emerging Tech conference, which directly precedes SXSW and shares many of the same participants. I found etech hard to get into the first time– and I suspect there are a few cabals at work– but they don’t much matter to me now.

    Hope you learn some good ideas re: different ways to run sessions. That hasn’t been the case at etech, but they don’t try to from what I can tell!

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