Robert Barlow-Busch’s thoughts about user experience and product design, all rolled up into one reasonably tidy and occasionally tasty blog.

Demand for “user experience” design shows Waterloo Region tech companies preparing for a strong future

Just yesterday, I once again had lunch with a company founder who’s on the hunt for a user experience designer to join his most excellent team. This is pretty much a weekly occurrence, which got me thinking about what this demand for UX could mean for the future of Waterloo Region.

If you live in Kitchener-Waterloo, the impact of RIM’s success on our community is abundantly clear. So these days, as the company faces the non-trivial challenge of finding its feet again in the market, inevitable questions arise about what the future holds for us all. How reliant are we on the fortunes of this singular company? Can we foster new businesses that will have the same impact as RIM, arguably our biggest success story to date?

Unless you’re plugged into the area’s tech community, it’s possible you’ve missed one of the major signs that bode well for our future prospects: a skyrocketing demand for design talent. Specifically, a demand for “user experience” designers.

The secret’s out: user experience design is your secret weapon

“User experience (UX) is now becoming a critical point in customer engagement in order to compete for attention now and in the future. For without thoughtful UX, consumers meander without direction, reward, or utility. And their attention, and ultimately loyalty, follows.” — Why User Experience Is Critical To Customer Relationships (BBB: never mind the focus on brand and new media, the ideas here are widely applicable)

UX is a rallying cry for designing products that are useful, relevant, understandable, and an absolute delight to use. Have you experienced a moment of unexpected wonder when using a new device? Or ever wanted to throw one out the window? Both of those emotions are what keep UX designers up at night, though for different reasons. Less of a specific profession, UX is more of an umbrella term that unites a range of disciplines such as interaction design, information architecture, visual design, industrial design, web design… the list goes on.

The Elements of User Experience

New to UX? The Elements of User Experience by Jesse James Garrett is a great starting point.

Companies big and small across Waterloo Region are clamoring (and competing) for user experience designers. I see this first-hand as co-champion of uxWaterloo (along with my friend Mark Connolly). We’re contacted frequently by startup founders and hiring managers at established organizations looking for UX practitioners. This wasn’t always the case, mind you: when I did a test-run of uxWaterloo 12 years ago, interest was too low to make a go of it. But in the last 5 years, things have changed dramatically; there’s now a huge appetite for UX. We’ve had up to 200 people turn up for uxWaterloo’s monthly events.

So why the change? My theory is simple: overall, we’ve matured as a region. In the good ‘ol days, we produced mostly “hard technology” — stuff that was generally embedded inside other products. Very few companies produced goods that got into the hands of end users, particularly in the consumer market. Today, however, it’s a different world. You’ll find loads of companies in town building products that people touch directly. And in those markets, user experience design is of real strategic value.

Waterloo Region is about to get a big, healthy dose of UX

In response to this demand, Mark and I have organized a 2-day UX conference called Fluxible that’s drawing experts from around the world. Our goals with Fluxible are to:

  • Shine a light on the great companies in this town who are investing in UX. Proud examples include our sponsors Google, Harris Corporation, BlackBerry, Quarry Integrated Communications, and nForm (okay, nForm’s not local but they’re still Canadian and awesome).
  • Bring a world-class event to our local community. Travel typically accounts for the biggest expense in attending a conference. By hosting Fluxible in our own backyard, we hope to provide a great opportunity for professional development to a whole lot of people.
  • Have tons of fun! Done and done. I mean, what other conference has its own song?

Fluxible is happening THIS WEEKEND, but there’s still time to register. Note that link points to a special discount code “Fluxibbble” that saves you a healthy $200.


UX and the future of Waterloo Region

Today, UX is widely regarded as one of the most strategic investments a company can make to build successful products or services. So this surging interest bodes well for the future of our region. It shows that the over 800 tech companies in town (according to figures from Communitech) are taking their businesses very, very seriously. They’re out to win big.

Which means we’re all going to win big — both as consumers, and as proud residents of this great town.

User experience conference coming to Kitchener-Waterloo in Sept 2012

Big news! In mid-September, KW will play host to an awesome 2-day deep dive into user experience design called Fluxible 2012. Working with my friend Mark Connolly, we’ve been lining up a roster of top UX practitioners from around the world. The event format will include a variety of presentations, hands-on workshops, displays and demos, local tours, and activities in which you’ll get to meet and talk shop with your fellow UX aficionados.

Volunteer info session this Thursday

As they say, it takes a village to raise a conference. So we’re looking for people to help in lots of ways such as marketing, venue preparation, food, speaker relations, party planning, and so on.

Think you might like to get involved? Come on out to an info session this Thursday. We’ll describe the conference plans in more detail, talk about the many ways in which you might get involved, and answer lots of questions.

Thursday, March 1
5:30 pm
Bauer Kitchen special event room

Located in the Bauer Marketplace at King & Allen streets in Waterloo

Fluxible logo

The surprising and magical benefits of making “brand” a product requirement

Have you ever marvelled at the difficulty of getting everyone aligned behind the same vision of a product? Marketing and technology often seem especially at odds, with design caught in the middle trying to make sense of it all. Well, there’s a simple way to hugely alleviate these issues, and it’s got a name that has come under fire in recent years: BRAND.

Yes, brand. And hold on, marketers, before you get all high ‘n mighty on everyone; we know brand was originally your idea. Please realize we’re not talking about logos anymore. We’re talking about experiences.

Brand exists only in the mind of a customer. And we cannot design experiences, at least not directly. But there’s good news still: we CAN design the setting in which experiences take place, which CAN influence the meaning that people assign those experiences in their minds. Our choices as product designers (and developers) can have a huge effect on the outcome.

My thesis here is simple: make brand a product requirement.

Express your brand in terms of the emotions you want to evoke in people and the meanings you want them to ascribe. Then make those expressions concrete targets the product is required to hit. From my experience, this approach is remarkable for its ability to get everyone aligned, regardless of their position in an organization. It’s like magic!

Last weekend, I took the students of Wilfred Laurier University on a deep dive into these concepts at the Laurier Marketing Association’s annual conference. It seemed appropriate, given the conference theme of “The Future of Branding: A Forum for Technology in Marketing”. Flip through my slides below, or click through to Slideshare to view the speaker notes as well.

What do you think: is the concept of brand dead, or is it stronger than ever?

Top 10 design-related Top 10 lists from 2010

Seriously, how else to wrap up 2010 than with a Top 10 list of Top 10 lists? As my friend and mentor Dave Goodwin likes to say, everything eventually goes meta.

1. The Top Ten Innovation Myths in the U.S. by Scott Berkun

  1. You got your chocolate in my peanut butter
  2. Gutenberg changed the world on purpose
  3. Just build a better mousetrap
  4. The greatest thing since sliced bread
  5. The Post-It Note was invented by accident
  6. Apple invented everything
  7. Ebay was started in a garage, for a Pez-Dispenser
  8. Henry Ford invented the assembly line
  9. Newton was hit by an apple and discovered gravity
  10. Edison invented the light bulb

2. Mashable’s Top 10 resources for design inspiration

  2. Balance Network
  3. deviantART
  4. Smashing Magazine
  5. Abduzeedo
  7. LogoPond
  8. Best Web Gallery
  9. Kuler
  10. Flickr

3. 10 UX (User Experience) Blogs to Watch in 2010 by Whitney Hess

  1. 52 Weeks of UX
  2. Bobulate
  3. Johnny Holland
  4. Pure Caffeine
  5. UI&us
  6. UX Booth
  7. Usability Post
  9. Winning Content
  10. Wireframes Magazine

4. 10 of the best TED Talks by Smashing Lists

  1. Ken Robinson: Schools Kill Creativity
  2. Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry: Sixth Sense
  3. Jill Bolte Taylor: Stroke of Insight
  4. Mark Roth: Suspended Animation is Within Our Grasp
  5. Elizabeth Gilbert: Nurturing Creativity
  6. Blaise Aguera y Arcas: Photosynth
  7. Richard Dawkins: Our “Queer” Universe
  8. Arthur Benjamin: Mathemagic
  9. Malcolm Gladwell: Spaghetti Sauce
  10. Stephen Wolfram: Computing a Theory of Everything

5. Fred Wilson’s 10 Golden Principles of Successful Web Apps from Think Vitamin

  1. Speed
  2. Instant utility
  3. Software is media
  4. Less is more
  5. Make it programmable
  6. Make it personal
  7. RESTful
  8. Discoverability
  9. Clean
  10. Playful

6. My Top 10 Design Resources by Mr. Joe Payton

  1. Think Vitamin
  2. Noupe
  3. Nettuts+
  4. Boagworld
  5. Abduzeedo
  6. A List Apart
  7. Six Revisions
  8. Creattica
  9. UX Booth
  10. Smashing Magazine

7. Chris Spooner’s 10 Usability Crimes You Really Shouldn’t Commit

  1. Form labels that aren’t associated to form input fields
  2. A logo that doesn’t link to the homepage
  3. Not specifying a visited link state
  4. Not indicating an active form field
  5. An image without an alt description
  6. A background image without a background color
  7. Using long boring passages of content
  8. Underlining stuff that isn’t a link
  9. Telling people to click here
  10. Using justified text

8. Gizmag’s Top 10 things you CAN’T have for Christmas 2010

  1. Seabreacher X
  2. “Mercedes-Benz Style” helicopter
  3. The Kid’s Walker exoskeleton
  4. The most exclusive motorcycle on the planet
  5. LEICA M9 ‘Titanium’ digital camera
  6. Top of the line television
  7. Domespace rotating wooden house
  8. A balcony for your private jet
  9. See-thru speakers
  10. A quiet getaway… in a “flying” submarine

9. The 10 weirdest questions asked during job interviews from Wired UK

  1. “How many tennis balls are in this room and why?”
  2. “You are in a room with three switches, which correspond to three bulbs in another room… How do you find out which bulb corresponds to which switch?”
  3. “Are your parents disappointed with your career aspirations?”
  4. “If I put you in a sealed room with a phone that had no dial tone, how would you fix it?”
  5. “If you were a brick in a wall, which brick would you be and why?”
  6. “How would you move Mount Fuji?”
  7. “Develop an algorithm for finding the shortest distance between two words in a document… take a few hours to develop a working example…”
  8. “Given a dictionary of words, how do you calculate the anagrams for a new word?”
  9. “How many hair salons are there in Japan?”
  10. “Say you are dead — what do you think your eulogy would say about you?”

10. Fast Company’s Top 10 most innovative design companies

  1. BMW Group Designworks-USA
  2. Ideo
  3. Rockwell Group
  4. Pentagram
  5. Ammunition
  6. Fuseproject
  7. Frog Design
  8. Potion
  9. Attik
  10. WET Design

Finally, be sure to check out Top 10 design-related Top 10 lists from 2010. Because everything goes meta.

Context incongruity: One of these things is not like the other!

Need to break through the clutter and really grab someone’s attention? Sometimes subtle tweaks in context are all it takes.

Context incongruity at the gas pump

Context incongruity at the gas pump. Feeling thirsty yet?

On a related note, if you need Coke in bulk, I guess the Amco Station in Kitchener is a good bet.


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