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Graphic Design Professor Presents at SXSW Festival

By Kaitie O'Hare

Photo courtesy of Ross Nover

Photo courtesy of Ross Nover

Graphic design professor Ross Nover, CAS/’05, was hand picked to lead a panel discussion at one of the nation’s largest interactive festivals, the South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival, in March.

Nover, who has made the trip to Austin, Texas for the festival before, was overjoyed when he found out that he would be presenting on a panel about the art of captions. “I called my mom—that was first—and then I forwarded it to some ex-girlfriends that never thought I’d amount to anything, and then I ran around the hallways here in Katzen to find somebody who knew what it was and understood why it was cool,” Nover says, jokingly.

The week-long interactive festival is just one part of the SXSW Festival, which lasts two weeks and also includes music and film. The festival has been known to spark interests and innovations responsible for launching some of the most popular websites in the past few years, including and Nover was invited to join other panelists at the festival after organizers announced the winning ideas of the SXSW 2011 Panel Picker, an annual competition in which the public submits and votes on ideas for discussion topics.

Nover, who maintains his own Web comic called The System and his co-panelists, who also create comics and art for their own blogs and other publications such as the New Yorker, were asked to lead a discussion called “Your Caption Here: How-to Manipulate your Images Without Photoshop” based on one of the winning ideas.

The panelists discussed “the pairings of words and images to create both art and design,” said Nover. “My biggest point was that I use all these techniques, both in design as well as in the comics that I draw. So, to me, it’s about the kind of universal nature of the ideas, where they can be applied to just about anything. That was probably the best part of it,” he said.

Nover presented examples of his students’ work and class assignments that related to the topic of captions to the roughly 100-member audience. “We also looked at things as silly as lolcats (a website which features pictures of cats and humorous captions), and did some cool workshops,” he says.

He and the other panelists offered an interactive demonstration that let audience members create captions for photos that the panel posted via Twitter. “We were watching the feed and seeing what came up and talking about what worked. We tried to approach it less as a lecture and more like a discussion, and I think a lot of interesting conversation came out of it, both for the panelists and the attendees.”

Outside of the panel discussion, Nover says one of the most rewarding aspects of the experience was being able to meet his fellow panelists. “There’s a bunch of great artists—some of whom I’d known before, but some of whom I got a chance to know— and the opportunity, both on the panel and off—to talk shop and discuss the kind of issues that we all encounter. That was really interesting and fun,” he says.

Nover’s hoping to grab another spot on a panel discussion during next year’s SXSW Interactive Festival, and will be keeping himself busy with teaching and creating until then. He’s currently working on a book of comics and writings that he hopes to publish later this year, and is touring the East Coast as an MC for a live art competition called Super Art Fight. “We like to describe it as ‘Pictionary meets pro wrestling’” he says.

Overall, Nover describes his time at the festival as “both fun and educational. It was edutainment,” and looks forward to returning again in the future—panel host or not. Those interested in learning more about the SXSW Interactive Festival or other SXSW festival categories should visit for more information.