Fluxible, Canada’s UX Festival, kicks off next week

By Kelly Pedro on Sep 12, 2019 6 min read

How can a city design with diversity in mind? How can a city build streets for everyone — children learning to ride their bikes, seniors, people with disabilities, those who use public transit? How does the City of Kitchener design its bike paths?

How cities move people and build complete streets is one thread that will weave through Fluxible, Canada’s UX Festival, when it kicks off in Waterloo Region next week.

Darren Kropf, the City of Kitchener’s active transportation planning project manager, will talk about designing streets for all ages and abilities during Fluxible’s first-ever guided bike tour that meets at Catalyst 137 at 5:30 p.m. on September 16. He’ll also talk about how Kitchener is building complete streets — streets that are designed for all modes of transportation — at Fluxible Conference on September 22.

Designing how people move around a city comes with unique challenges and opportunities, said Kropf. Cities used to think about moving people in private vehicles, but now the shift is to a more “streets for all” mindset that considers children, the elderly, and people with different abilities, he said. 

“Designing for a user experience that broad is a challenge but it’s essential when we think about city building. We want to build a city that’s great for everyone, from the eight-year-old to the 80-year-old,” said Kropf. “If you can design a city that works for an eight-year-old and an 80-year-old then it’s great for everyone.”

Kropf isn’t the only city representative talking about the city’s design during Fluxible. Sarah-Beth Bianchi, Kitchener’s manager of digital transformation and strategy, will host a brown bag lunch as a part of Fluxible Meetups on September 18 at Communitech, talking about the challenges of designing city services for everyone, no matter their education, ability or income.

“We’re thinking about who is included and who is excluded when designing say, a website, or delivering services,” Bianchi said, of her work with the City of Kitchener. “We’re testing our blindspots so we don’t have blindspots and leave people out.”

The City of Kitchener has a website to communicate with citizens, but that’s only one channel, said Bianchi. The city also has front counter staff and a call centre. It’s all about making services accessible, despite language barriers, economic status or ability.

The focus on offering services in an inclusive way and inclusive streets comes as Kitchener city council recently approved a new urban design manual that will set the tone for how the city will design itself — from parks and new neighbourhoods to infill construction projects. Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said the manual connects to other city strategies, such as #lovemyhood, and speaks to the city’s need to focus on urban design and creating a livable city, resident Melissa Bowman tweeted from the September 9 council meeting, where the manual was unanimously approved.

How a city thinks about designing itself and its services is not far removed from user experience design.

That’s why Fluxible organizers bring in someone from a different discipline every year to talk about what they do, leveraging their expertise to think about user-friendly design outside of digital products. In its first year, Fluxible featured a maker of hand planes for woodworking. Last year, organizers brought in a bicycle designer from Denver. Kropf, who designs biking infrastructure on roads, is a natural extension of last year’s bicycle designer, said Zeitspace partner Mark Connolly, who co-founded and co-chairs Fluxible with Robert Barlow-Busch, the UX design lead on Stadia at Google.

“When people talk about UX design they often mean designing digital products, but people designing digital products are not the only ones thinking about users,” said Connolly. “We bring these folks in because we think the way they think about their worlds is relevant to what we do as digital product designers.” 

Zeitspace has been sponsoring Fluxible since 2017.

The festival starts with a week of Fluxible Meetups. University of Waterloo’s Shi Cao will host a brown bag lunch on September 16 about the impact of artificial intelligence on user experience and research at Area 151 in the Communitech Hub. There’s a brown bag lunch at noon every day leading into Fluxible Conference on the weekend, covering topics such as the science behind how people make decisions, designing cities with diversity in mind, bringing UX practices into a 3D world, and lifting the curtain on what product managers do.

The festival wraps up with Fluxible Conference September 21–22 at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), featuring speakers such as Tarek Loubani, an emergency physician in London, Ontario, who will talk about his work with the Glia Project, which brings low cost 3D-printed medical devices to harsh environments where seconds count, such as the Gaza Strip. And Nora Young will talk about creating Spark, CBC’s national radio show and podcast about technology and culture, at a time when the media found itself in a digital flux that changed its landscape.

Other highlights:

  • Fluxible Meetups features a panel discussion on finding your path in UX and growing a career in the industry, featuring Davis Neable, the UX director at Manulife, Jeff Kraemer, a staff designer at Shopify, and Janice de Jong, an independent foresight and design research consultant based in Kitchener. Zeitspace partner Jeff Fedor will moderate the session.
  • There are two Fluxible Workshops on September 20. In the first, experience strategist Meena Kothandaraman helps participants develop a tool to talk about what to expect from an organizational research study. Then, leadership coach Samantha Soma will run a workshop on how to get, give, and seek feedback.

This is Fluxible’s eighth year. Fluxible began as a conference in 2012. It’s grown into Canada’s UX Festival, with a week-long series of Fluxible Meetups, followed by the Fluxible Education Summit and Fluxible Workshops, culminating in Fluxible Conference September 21–22.

Check out the full schedule online.

Kelly Pedro

Written by Kelly Pedro

Kelly Pedro is a journalist at Zeitspace.