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(December 2008) Product Potluck

Posted: December 11th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Events | No Comments »

Thursday December 18, 2008
5:30 to 7:00 pm
Accelerator Centre
Meeting Room #2
295 Hagey Blvd., Waterloo

‘Tis the season to share the joy — and even (gasp!) the grief

Join us on December 18 for a potluck with a twist: instead of food, we’re asking you to bring a product. Make it a product that you either love or hate, because we’ll be sharing stories with each other about these products — and the juicier the story, the better!

A few guidelines and tips:

  • You’ll have a few moments to introduce your product to everyone and describe what you love or hate about it.
  • Be prepared to provide a few words or short phrases that describe your experience in using the product. We’ll collect these words throughout the evening and produce a Wordle tag cloud to illustrate the themes that emerged in our potluck.
  • If the product you want to share isn’t something you can physically bring to the event (like an airplane, or a printing press, or a website), then bring something that illustrates the product. If you’d like to share software or a website, consider printing a screenshot. Alternatively, a laptop, projector, and Internet connection will be available.

A potluck without food? Well, hopefully not.

We’re aiming to make this a fun and informal event. Nothing loosens up a crowd like tasty treats, so feel welcome to inject a bit of traditional potluck into this event by bringing along a food item to share. Now, to be clear, food contributions are not required! Please don’t hesitate to join us if you’re unable to bring anything edible. Everyone understands this could be a challenge, given that we’re meeting at the end of the work day. But if you are able to bring something… well, can you imagine a better way to make new friends? 🙂

RSVPs requested

If you’re hoping to join us, please send an RSVP to Wanda Eby at Communitech. This helps us to better anticipate turnout and plan accordingly.

4 tensions between Agile development methods and User Experience Design

Posted: December 11th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , | No Comments »

In last month’s workshop on Agility and User Experience, Declan Whelan identified four tensions that teams may struggle with when integrating agile and UX. The crowd split into groups to discuss these tensions and explore some ideas for managing them.

Many thanks to @ericamhc for taking the following notes from each group’s brief presentation — and for sharing them with everyone here.

Tension 1: Advocating for users vs. stakeholders.

First recognize that stakeholders = users. Each are important and must be satisfied to achieve business success.

Investigate and express people’s assumptions about business goals and user goals. Connections will be clearer when both of these elements are understood well.

Explicitly connect user needs to business goals. Avoid advocating for user needs that don’t serve business goals, because they won’t be considered valuable. This doesn’t mean that “usability” should be sacrificed: it means that we need to express the value of improved usability in terms of business goals.

Consider employing user stories (and other methods such as personas) to represent users as “real people”. While you need not formalize these tools, you can sketch them up to help the team connect product and feature ideas back to the needs of users.

Encourage stakeholders to observe usability tests. This brings to life how important usability is to customer satisfaction — and ultimately to metrics such as return on investment.

Tension 2: Balancing technology vs. usability

Take inspiration from popular and effective interfaces that demonstrate strong technology and usability. Our example was Google Maps: while your interface need not mirror these examples directly, they can provide ideas and concepts of what works well and what can be improved upon.

Make key functions simple, especially when constraints of budget and time exist. Focus on the most important and most often-used tasks to ensure they are as simple as possible.

Make interface methods transparent and instinctive. Strive to reduce cognitive load by understanding how people think. Resources: Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things and Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think.

Encourage developers to observe usability tests. This can be a valuable feedback loop in the agile process. Usability tests are excellent for highlighting the impact of interface design issues.

Tension 3: Designing up front vs. just in time.

When considering whether to produce documentation at the beginning of a project or just-in-time as you go, consider drafting high-level mock-ups broken into smaller components. Components should be easy to edit and update in response to changing priorities and lessons learned. Take advantage of existing frameworks or tools, even low-fidelity choices such as whiteboards and magnetic interface elements.

Keep teams in physical proximity so discussions are easily joined by other members. This encourages frequent communication and collaboration, which is essential when up-front deliverables aren’t provided. Consider using Skype or other web meeting tools in case you cannot physically be close.

Try building low fidelity mock-ups and prototypes. Consider what tools will meet your needs in the simplest and quickest ways. Paper prototypes and quickly-sketched personas can be very effective, even if they’re never formalized as artifacts. Consider whiteboard sketches, Post-Its, JavaScript frameworks… whatever you think will work. Some people feel that wireframing tools such as Visio may be too detailed and not creative enough for exploring exciting new interface ideas, so don’t let your tools restrict you.

Tension 4: Specifying what to build vs. how to build it.

Keep the vision of what you’re building in mind: focus on the Cathedral, not the bricks. Define the “what” at a high level before deciding upon details of “how” (technologies, designs, etc.). If possible, complete the vision for your Cathedral before the Agile development process begins.

Open communications right from the beginning and make an effort to keep those communications open. Camaraderie is key. Team-building exercises can be instrumental in helping members to communicate, whether they’re designers or developers.

Consider use cases, user stories, and other very lightweight deliverables. However, spending time on them too early or making them specific in terms of tasks can prevent team members from learning as they go throughout the process. These must not restrict you or take up too much time. Jeff Patton suggests a tool called story maps, which can help teams keep their sights on the bigger picture even as they get busy with bringing the details to life.

(November 2008) Agility and User Experience: The Final Frontier

Posted: October 17th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , | 6 Comments »

Thursday November 20, 2008
5:30 to 7:00 pm
Accelerator Centre
Meeting Room #2
295 Hagey Blvd., Waterloo

Last year, at our 7-Minute Soapbox event, Declan Whelan gave one of the night’s most popular presentations, titled “Tips for integrating user experience and agile development” (if you missed the event, check out the video here). We’re happy to announce that in November, Declan will be exploring this topic far beyond a 7-minute time limit. So if you enjoyed his earlier teaser, be sure to join us next month!

Event description

These are the voyages of star-struck UX’ers. Our mission: To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new ways to meld UX practices and agile development. To boldly go where no UX’er has gone before.

Well, perhaps a tad over-stated. But as agile development crosses the chasm and becomes mainstream in many organizations, there are significant challenges to putting in place effective user experience practices.

Declan Whelan will provide an overview of agile principles and practices, highlighting the potential dissonance that can arise when they’re combined with traditional UX methods. He will then draw on practices used by UX professionals on agile teams to show how these challenges can be overcome. Be prepared to rethink what you currently do to provide a leaner, more iterative approach that will deliver incremental value to stakeholders and users.

We’ll have plenty of time for discussions. So whether you are currently doing UX on an agile team, just testing the waters, or trembling in the face of working with agile teams, come on out. It is indeed a bold new frontier!

About the speaker

Declan Whelan is an active software developer and agile coach. He is also a professional engineer with twenty-five years of experience in a wide range of software industries including the financial, medical, educational, and manufacturing sectors. He has started three technology companies and has consulted with many other technology organizations in Canada.

Declan is a certified Scrum Master and a member of the IEEE Computer Society, Agile Alliance, and Scrum Alliance. His focus is on working in the trenches with teams to deliver better software value, quality, and time-to-market through agile principles and practices.

Feeling a bit timid about your sketching skills?

Posted: October 17th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Resources | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

At last night’s event, “What can we learn about design from Pixar?“, sketching figured prominently as a discussion topic. A number of people expressed concern about their lack of drawing skills, a sentiment that seemed widely shared, given the nodding heads around the room. Henry Chen, one our presenters last night, just forwarded this message from Adaptive Path’s alumni mailing list, which touches on this issue and suggests some resources to hone your skills.

Leah Buley writes:

Part of the challenge for me is just putting pen on paper and having faith that something interesting will result, so I’ve found these kiddie coloring/instruction books give me enough structure to get me moving:

  • Taro Gomi’s line of doodle books
  • Usborne Books series. I like this one.
  • You might also take a look at Dan Roam’s Back of the Napkin. He gives me confidence that the sketch itself isn’t really the most important thing, it’s the thinking behind it. Kind of encouraging for those among us who still feel a little daunted by the artistic aspect of sketching.
  • Finally, I have to give a little plug for Betty Edwards’s Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain — an oldie but a goodie.

You’ll find lots of talk about sketching on the IxDA discussion list, too, such as this thread about sketch-style wireframes.

(October 2008) What can we learn about design from Pixar?

Posted: October 14th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Thursday October 16, 2008
5:30 to 7:00 pm
Accelerator Centre
Meeting Room #2
295 Hagey Blvd., Waterloo

Event description

The product design community has long considered dramatic arts as a related discipline, albeit perhaps more of a distant cousin than a direct sibling. Brenda Laurel first explored this relationship in some depth back in the early 1990s, in her highly-regarded book Computers as Theatre. More recently, the arrival of NUIs (natural user interfaces) such as the iPhone has marked a renewed interest in dramatic concepts such as character and narrative — which can help any software interface come alive, regardless of its application or underlying technology.

Join us on October 16 as we take a close look at what might be the world’s most successful product design firm: the movie studio Pixar. Every film released by Pixar has been a commercial and critical success, something that no other studio can claim. Is it luck? Doubtful. In last month’s Harvard Business Review, Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, credited their success to “our adherence to a set of principles and practices for managing creative talent and risk”. Interaction designers can learn a lot from these principles and practices, despite designing different types of products.

Henry Chen (RIM) and Mark Connolly (Primal Fusion) will lead this group discussion about lessons to learn from Pixar. They’ll draw upon the recent HBR article and on Michael Johnson’s engaging keynote at UX Week in San Francisco. Michael leads the Moving Pictures Group at Pixar, where he’s responsible for the pre-production pipeline — a pipeline that feels eerily familiar to those of us designing software user experiences.

RSVPs not required

No RSVPs required this month. Hope to see you there! Feel free to spread the word, as everyone’s welcome.

(September 2008) "Innovation in Action" co-hosted with the Infusion Angels

Posted: September 15th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

We’re kicking off the 2008 UX season with a bang! Join us on September 30 for an event co-hosted with the Infusion Angels — where you’ll not only hear first-hand about Microsoft’s redesign of Office, but will get several chances to win over $3000 in prizes. Seating is limited so be sure to RSVP soon.

Tuesday September 30, 2008
4:30 to 7:30 pm
Accelerator Centre
Main foyer
295 Hagey Blvd., Waterloo

Event description

Innovation in Action Poster

Poster for the Innovation in Action event

Get inspired by two case studies of innovation in action:

  • First we’ll hear from Jensen Harris about the thinking and design process behind Microsoft’s new Ribbon user interface, introduced in Office 2007. Jensen is Group Program Manager of the Office UX Team and was a key designer of the Ribbon, so he’s able to speak from personal experience about what it was like to design something that’s now used by millions of people.
  • Next, the creative design team at Infusion Development takes the stage to talk about their work with Microsoft Surface, the interactive table that ushered in a new wave of commercial development in multi-touch (or NUI) devices. They will present demos of Surface applications they’ve built for clients in hospitality, retail, and government, discussing their designs and the challenges in building usable interfaces for this relatively new technology.

RSVPs required

Given the cool topics, the free food, and the great prizes, we’re likely to have a full house at the Accelerator Centre. Please RSVP if you plan to attend. To RSVP, send an email to Kayla Spiess at Infusion Angels.

So you think you’re a Guitar Hero?

Posted: June 19th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Events | No Comments »

Tech Capital Partners in Waterloo is giving you a chance to prove it, on June 24th. From their blog, where you’ll find full details:

Tech Capital is searching for the Ultimate Tech Guitar Hero. Is it you? Is it somebody you work with?

Show us your stuff at the 1st ever Tech “Guitar Hero” Competition, or simply join us for an evening of techraderie… A great opportunity to meet your peers and the founders of Waterloo Region’s most exciting and innovative, venture capital funded, technology companies.

(June 2008) Design Garage

Posted: June 16th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Events | 1 Comment »

Thursday June 19, 2008
5:00 to 6:30 pm
Accelerator Centre
Main floor networking area (aka kitchen!)
295 Hagey Blvd., Waterloo

Event description

In this, our last get-together of the 2007-2008 season, we’re wrapping up with an interactive, entertaining, and (gasp!) even educational event. Working together in small groups, we’ll tackle two design challenges: one at a strategic level, designing the concept for a product or business idea; and one at a tactical level, designing the form and behavior of a concrete product.

We’ll have some fun with this, as the design challenges will be quite unlike anything we face in day-to-day work (they’re remaining a secret until the 19th, so nobody gets a head-start!). At the end of each challenge, we’ll present our solutions to each other for a brief critique — and in the process will learn some new ideas about how to tackle design problems, even the ones we do face day-to-day.

Everyone is welcome to participate! Please don’t feel you need to be a superstar designer — or for that matter, a designer at all. With only 20 minutes for each design challenge, all you’ll need is some imagination, a willingness to encourage each other’s ideas, and a desire to learn and have fun.


RSVP is optional, but if you know you’ll be attending, please fire us an email. It’s helpful to know approximately how many people to expect. Feel free to invite anyone you know who might be interested.

(Note: No need to RSVP again if you’re a Communitech member and have already done so via Wanda Eby.)

(May 2008) User Experience Design at Microsoft

Posted: May 5th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Events | 3 Comments »

Thursday May 15, 2008
5:00 to 6:30 pm
Accelerator Centre
Main floor networking area (aka kitchen!)
295 Hagey Blvd., Waterloo

Thanks to our co-host for this month’s event, the Infusion Angels Innovation Centre (sponsored by Microsoft) — who will serve refreshments and give away prizes throughout the evening. Woot!

Event description

How is Microsoft changing its culture from engineering driven to experience first? What are some cutting edge human-computer interaction projects at Microsoft Research? What new applications are available to me?

In this session, join us as Qixing Zheng, Microsoft Canada’s first User Experience Advisor, answers these questions through insights and real-world examples. Qixing will describe Microsoft’s efforts to create a seamless user experience across all its platforms, while enabling designers and developers to work more productively together. She will also discuss various academic-focused design programs at Microsoft, different job opportunities in User Experience Design, and some innovative technologies being adopted in the UX industry.

Here are some useful links:

This free event is open to everyone, so spread the word to co-workers or friends who you think would be interested.


To help us estimate numbers for ordering refreshments, please RSVP to the UX group coordinators if you’re hoping to attend. (Note: No need to RSVP again if you’re a Communitech member and have already done so via Wanda Eby.)

(April 2008) Usability Lab Tour & Discussion at Research In Motion

Posted: April 6th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Events | Tags: , , | 4 Comments »

Thursday April 17, 2008
5:00 to 6:30 pm
Research In Motion (RIM)
Usability Lab, first floor, RIM 1 building
175 Columbia Street (southwest corner of Columbia and Phillip)
Waterloo, Ontario, N2L 5Z5

Parking at RIM

Although parking at RIM can sometimes be a challenge, it shouldn’t be a problem at this time of day. Security knows that we’ll be descending on the usability lab, so feel free to park in any available spot — even outside the designated visitor parking.

Event Description

Join us for a tour and demonstration of RIM’s usability lab. While snacking on coffee and cookies, we’ll hear about some of RIM’s work on testing their Blackberry devices and talk with each other about current methods in usability testing.


To help us estimate numbers, please RSVP to the UX group coordinators if you’re hoping to attend. (Note: No need to RSVP again if you’re a Communitech member and have already done so via Wanda Eby.)