Today I’m going through all my notes and memories and business cards and free stuff from this past weekend’s SXSW interactive. This was my third time attending. It felt much bigger than last year, and that both helped and hindered my travels through it. On the upside, there were lots of fresh faces and more choices for panels. On the downside, parties were crowded and hallways were full, which meant some of us waited in line for a full hour to get in to one party only to get frustrated and leave after all that time. It would be tough for SXSW to scale much bigger and still maintain the great sense of intimacy and equal access I’ve enjoyed there for the most part.
Most of my consulting work comes through online discovery and word of mouth between friends, so I haven’t rushed out to make Extraface business cards. As SXSW drew closer, I realized I probably needed something and spent days and days trying to come up with something cheap, handmade, unique, and beautiful I could do. I’ve never been happy with cards I’ve made off of my home printer. I considered things like tiny plastic animals from Target with tags tied to them(too clunky at a social gathering), postcards(potentially too bulky), and Tiny Envelopes from my old, dormant tinyenvelope.com site(too much overhead to explain). The night before I was to leave I decided to take a bunch of Chartpak rub-on letters and some cardstock I had lying around, and just see what would happen if I made a couple of very analog handmade cards. I was very pleased with the result:
That’s it. Nothing on the back. Just my standard online username and URL, which easily leads you to my web site, blog, phone number, email address, and flickr account if you plug it in to any old popular search engine. If I make business cards with fuller information, I end up with the word “extraface” over and over again on the same card.
Still, there was no way I could make large quantities of these, as you traditiionally would for a big event. I also only had five X’es in the set with that typeface, so at most I’d be able to make five Extraface cards. I made a couple more before the trip, grabbed the rub-on letters and the cardstock and packed it all in my bag.
One of the first friends I ran in to at the conference was Chris Schultz from Voodoo Ventures and Flatsourcing. He mentioned that my cards tied in to the subject of Brian Oberkirch’s talk at FOWA Miami, about how the currency of identity is changing from e-mail to URL to username. As we sat down and waited for a panel, I splayed out all of my cardmaking materials on the floor and made a few more cards. I tweeted that anyone who needed an extra business card or two was welcome to come join me, and my friend Jonathan from lk9 made a spare card for his business.
Throughout the show, I had a total of maybe 9 business cards to hand out. Each time the card exchange part of the conversation came up, I would explain that I only had a few cards and had made them all by hand, and then I would pull out my favorite. I gave people the choice of either taking one if they really liked it, or taking a cameraphone picture of it since that would get them all of the necessary information. People really seemed to like that idea.
Among the recipients: I gave one to Daniel Burka from Pownce. One went to artist Dan Shefelman, who I met at the Frrvrr party. Matthew Levine from Technorati got one, after I spotted his beautiful notes at the Jared Spool talk. As did Andy Carvin from NPR. Brian Kalma, Director of Creative Services at Zappos, who I had met last, year took a cameraphone pic of one. I also gave one to the guys at howyadoing.org, a neat new “global mood ring” site. I’d love to know where they all went and who all saw them, so if I’m leaving anyone out please let me know and I’ll add you here.
I felt good about giving out and showing off something that I made with my own hands, imperfections and all. It also probably helped to scratch the crafting itch for me at a time when I’m mostly focused on technology and things that happen outside of the space of physical objects. I’m running out of Chartpak letters but I can see doing this same thing again next time I need cards.
(Update: if you like these you can put in a vote for them over at SXSWCards.com)