When you’ve seen one man in a gold lamé jumpsuit…

…You’ve seen them all. Oh, is that not how the saying goes?

Well, we’re just a day in (and not even a full day) and I’ve seen enough characters to last me a whole South by. And yes, there was a grown man in a gold lamé jumpsuit. And no, I didn’t get a picture. There was also the equally aged man weaving in and out of traffic on a Segway, five people wearing virtual reality helmets, and countless techno geeks sporting wearables and hipsters donning vintage. I left DC as the sun was just appearing on the horizon and set out for Austin. Dressed in a sweater and jeans, the near cloudless 80-degree day in Austin hit me hard, but seeing as the last few weeks in DC have brought little more than rain, snow, and ice, a little heat was surely welcomed.

If absence makes the heart grown fonder, it also forgets about the insane amount of traffic congestion during SXSW. I had the best of intentions to make it to the session “How to Build a Following Around Your Idea” but just couldn’t make it from the airport through the traffic in time to find parking, get my badge, and get to the session. I was able to make it to the session “How Beautiful Tools Make Sense of Complex Data.” It seemed perfect to learn more about the increasing effectiveness of infographics and other visual tools and how we can best use those to explain heady policy issues in an engaging and informative way.

Unfortunately, I just wasn’t able to get into the presenters or their message. The description of the session was far more informative and interesting than the session itself. The key to democratizing data across an entire organization so all teams can utilize it is to make data insights more understandable. For ultimate data literacy and actionability, beautiful, simple and interactive data visualization platforms are absolutely necessary. The session was more focused on the tools to create extensive 3D-type models of data visualization than it was on what makes data beautiful and effective. So, as I learned last year, you have to know when to pick up your things and hit the road. There is far too much going on at SXSW to be stuck in a session that doesn’t pan out.

I’ve heard quite a bit about MyEdu and headed over to the session “Well-Designed: Creating Empathy-Driven Products.” The presenter, Jon Kolko, talked about the steps he took in creating MyEdu and what it was like to be purchased by Blackboard. Kolko listed ways to identify opportunities in the marketplace, design for innovation, and produce products that have lasting emotional impacts.

The focus of the lecture was definitely on creating tangible products, webpages, and the like – but it made me think about the way we view policy solutions and reforms, and how we market those ideas to our communities. Aren’t these ideas simply products? How would you market them differently if they were, in fact, products?

Kolko spoke of two considerations when creating a product: Product/Market Fit and Behavioral Insight

Product/Market Fit includes the broad technological and/or political infrastructure in which the product (or reform) wold launch (here I think of companies like Uber, Lyft, or AirBNB), social precedence (cultural norms matter, think of the failing of Google Glass or the acceptance of marijuana in certain states), and the opportunity for engagement by the purchaser (the choice they make to align with your brand (or your mission).

Behavioral insight aims to deep dive into your target’s psyche to determine their wants and needs. What do they value? Where do they find their identity? What would provoke that target to rethink the status quo?

When we create new policy solutions or set out to educate on legislation that impacts lives we should think about product design and behavior. In fact, Kolko later went in to what makes a good product manager, and I dare say these are the very qualities needed to be successful at getting policy solutions taken up. You need to sell, engage, learn, and listen, and get the whole team excited to do it. You need to be a good storyteller. Great product managers can tell a story about a user, what he is doing in his life today, and what he would be able to do in the future if we just got him the right product.