MC – From our perspective, we wanted to introduce the community here in Waterloo Region to the UX world at large, but it was also important for us to bring the outside UX world to Waterloo Region, because there are people doing related work in this region who haven’t had a chance to get that kind of exposure before.

So, we deliberately set out to bring speakers from the larger world.

A few examples: Daniel Szuc, an Australian based in Hong Kong, jumped on board right away. We actually spent some time with him talking about his conference experience, running UX Hong Kong.

Patrick Hofmann, he’s actually from Kitchener, but based in Sydney, so it gets weirdly circular. Patrick was very happy to come back. He works for Google in Sydney and he was a very early committed speaker to Fluxible, and we’re thrilled about that.

A really neat one, which took us a long time to get sorted out, is Dan Gärdenfors, who is a designer with RIM, formerly with The Astonishing Tribe (TAT), which RIM acquired, and who were a very well-known design consultancy based in Sweden.

We’re thrilled these guys are coming to town because it’s going to be a chance for people to see what’s going on beyond the region. And that’s in addition to the various people coming down from Toronto, from Edmonton and all over the States.

We’re bringing the world here because we want people to go, ‘Wow, look, there’s a bigger world; we can be a part of something more than Waterloo Region.’

BBB – Over the years as organizers of uxWaterloo, we’ve had the opportunity to go to a lot of top conferences all around the world – North America, Europe, China and so on – so I’ve seen personally the value of really connecting and meeting with people in UX globally.

For me, that’s always been a really important goal of this, to kind of help the local community experience that same feeling of being part of this global movement.

It’s been our suspicion, based on our experience with uxWaterloo, that not a lot of people in town get the opportunity or choose to go to conferences outside the region.

Occasionally, we’ve had a handful of members of our own group go to conferences out there and then come back and help do a teach-back, maybe, to everyone here, but it’s generally been a pretty small proportion of folks who do that.

We saw this as an opportunity to say, ‘Well, if people can’t, for whatever reason, go, let’s just hold one right here.’ Then you don’t have any excuses.

MC – And there’s a bunch of reasons for that, too. There aren’t a lot of UX-related conferences in the area. There’s nothing in Waterloo Region, and there’s rarely anything in Toronto, surprisingly, or Canada as a whole.

Travelling to Lisbon or London or Hong Kong isn’t something that most companies can afford to do. We wanted to make this thing as stupidly affordable as possible so that it would reach as wide a range of people who were interested in UX as possible.

BBB – It’s actually a point to reinforce. People may not realize, actually, what a steal this is.

Conferences exactly of this format – sometimes even half the length – are twice the price, typically, so we’ve done everything we can to really make this affordable.

All of our speakers are volunteering their time; we’re not paying anybody, for example, which is a huge thanks to them, because these are all folks who regularly get paid to go and teach workshops and so on.

MC – We’re covering all their expenses, obviously, but they are doing this as a way giving back to the broader UX community, and they’re doing it here.

BBB – So it is something worth reinforcing, that it’s a total steal.

MC – It’s stupidly inexpensive; I mean, it’s just almost embarrassing.

BBB – We’ve talked about how there’s such a spike of interest in UX locally, because of the success of everything we’ve been doing for the community here, but the reality is, we have a real shortage of people who would stand up and say, ‘I’m a UX designer’, ‘I’m a UX researcher’, ‘I’m a UX practitioner’, and have really good experience to back it up.

I’m expecting a lot of people at the conference to be folks who totally understand user experience, are really fascinated by it and want to move their careers into that direction, but they may not have had a lot of experience or opportunity to do stuff about it yet in their own jobs.

So I think it’s worth acknowledging that we know that, and we’ve designed it in a way that there’s a lot of great content there for people who are looking to break into the field. It’s a fantastic opportunity to do it, because, guess what, this is your tribe, right? This is everybody, and what a great investment in your career to come in and spend the whole weekend getting to know people, not just from around the world but here in town.

MC – I love the big-tent metaphor, because obviously we designed this thing for designers, practitioners and researchers, but we expect there will be developers or product managers or marketers – anyone who is peripherally interested is going to get stuff out of this.

We wanted to make it accessible to those sorts of groups that have a stake in user experience.

BBB – Marketing is one that you wouldn’t think of as being a good fit for a conference like this, but it really is, because the user experience right now, if you’re doing anything online, kind of is your most powerful marketing weapon.

It’s the one a lot of companies are struggling with the most – you know, ‘What should this product be? How should it behave? How should it look? How should it make people feel? How do we create this stickiness in the product? How do we get people to feel it’s a delightful experience?’

That’s marketing.

Q – For people who don’t work in UX, it can look a bit like magic; it’s a key part of the tech world, but it leans to the artistic and creative side. What is it like to be a UX person working among engineers in a place like Waterloo, where hard tech has been such a fixture?

MC – I think the answer to that question is going to depend on who you ask.

Bob and I will have different answers because we have slightly different backgrounds and different experiences.

I’ve got a fine arts degree, but I know how to code, so I work side-by-side with the development teams that I’m building products with.

As it happens right now, I’m writing a lot of code on a project; at other points in the lifecycle or project, I’m doing a lot of other, more-obviously-UX-related things, like doing design, creating wireframes, doing customer interviews and other things.

So it depends, but for me it’s lots of fun, because on a really strong team, you’ve got a range of skills and experiences that, when you put them together, make for a team that creates great stuff.

If you all respect each other and understand those strengths and weaknesses, you’ll build amazing things.

For me, the experience is, ‘Wow, this is fun, I get to build stuff, and when I say ‘make it red,’ they’ll make it red because they trust me to make it red.’

BBB – One of the most fun things about this as a career is the fact that you get to live between those two worlds. You have one foot in technology and engineering; one foot in the humanities.

There’s a lot of psychology in this job, a lot of art as well, and a lot of social sciences. So, it’s actually a great sweet spot for somebody who kind of enjoys all of that and doesn’t like to just pigeonhole themselves into one slot.

MC – I know developers who are interested in user experience and want to move in that direction, and they’re great to work with because they want to soak it up. It’s wonderful.

BBB – It’s not uncommon to see this migration from one side to the other. We each know a lot of people who started out just as engineers and developers and, for whatever reason, maybe ended up working on projects that had a lot of user-interface component in it, and they realized, ‘Wow, I really love this challenge.’

Other developers have the same experience and go, ‘Whoa, I hate that and never want to do it again; give me the back-end technology.’

But the people who find themselves attracted to the user interfaces often keep going, and they become some of the most passionate advocates of interface design and user experience. And it goes the other way, too.

People may not have started out as coders but they discover that they love it, and look for opportunities to code as much as they can.

So, it’s a whole continuum, and if you’re in this field, you’ll find a spot for yourself somewhere along that continuum.

MC – I’ll just generalize and say that whatever direction you’re coming from, if you’re genuinely interested in what other people are doing and what other people on your team are doing, there’s all kinds of opportunity to learn and grow and do different things.

You read about the stereotypical [attitude], ‘Well, the engineers, they’re not listening to what the designers want’, that kind of stuff.

I have not personally experienced that to a great extent; I’ve found that with the developers I work with, if I’m open and work closely with them and listen to their thoughts on how a product should go together, I make better products and there’s no friction.

There’s opportunity. If you’re open-minded and open-eared and you go out and ask questions, there’s all kinds of opportunity to learn and grow and change.

Q – You’ve already alluded to this, but how important is UX to the future of this region’s tech community?

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About The Author

Anthony Reinhart
Director, Editorial Strategy

Anthony Reinhart is a veteran journalist who left the Globe and Mail to join Communitech in 2011. Tony has covered everything from crime, politics and courts to business, the arts and sports, and his writing has won numerous journalism awards. He is Communitech's Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer.