Thoughts on product design + user experience

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

Written by bbb on September 18, 2012

Yesterday I 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.