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Maya Levin

Maya Levin

Akendi Alumnus

Insights from CanUX 2016

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the 7th annual CanUX conference here in Ottawa. After an inspiring experience last year, I was eager to hear this year’s line-up and have the opportunity to chat with local (and not so local) designers. Once again, the conference did not disappoint. Although some talks fell short of what I had anticipated, the sum was a passionate reminder that the design industry is made up of good people, doing good things.

Talking Toasters

There is behaviour baked into machines that are going to influence our lives. We need to understand these behaviours in order to design for the future of the Internet of Things. That is the insight I gathered from Simone Rebaudengo’s talk. A corky, eccentric exploration into the humanization through computerization of devices, Simone offered a change of pace in the conversation. Feedback I heard was subjectively split: some enjoyed the playfulness and related to his direction, while others were disconnected and found the whole thing a bit silly. However, I believe that any talk is good talk, and controversy, negativity and criticism spark conversation. Regardless of the reaction, Simone got people talking.

“Experience First. Work backwards.”

Watch the story of Brad the Toaster

2×2 Alignment

Getting your client on board with your methods and the amount of time involved in research is a tricky task. More often than not, stakeholders want quick, cheap solutions to their problems and do not want to be told that their real question is much larger than they thought. No one wants to hear that the solution starts with extensive and costly research. Working as a team (rather than paid help) gives the client perspective into the scope of work required to deliver what they truly want.  Meena Kothandaraman introduced her “Gift The Keeps On Giving”: the 2×2 method her company, Twig + Fish, uses. Working with the stakeholders, she has them write out their goals, needs, and purpose. Then , she places those elements on a grid where each quadrant represents a different phase of her design process. Where the client originally intends to place their query on the “Validation Research” quadrant, they often find themselves in the “Exploratory Research” or “Discovery Research” quadrants.


“Keep the process transparent.”

Ultimately, Meena’s advice was simple and clear: if you find yourself at an impasse, the answer HAS to be NO. She describes her strategy for approaching proposals on her company blog in a 4 part series. She described with intensity that there are many industry workers who run usability labs, quick and dirty experience mapping, and persona generation based on market trend analysis. If a client cannot align with your stance on starting with research to answer their question, they are more than welcome to solicit service with one of those companies. If you pride yourself in your research-based process, it is your duty as a design researcher to identify as such. Do not devalue your work and your worth because of misalignment and a stingy client. Say NO.

Stories and Citations

Stories are the best way for me to understand a context, a thing, a process. Intertwingling yourself (in reference to Peter Morville’s newest book “Intertwingled”) into a space allows sensory awareness and inspiration. This talk was one of my favourites, however, looking through my notes I was surprised at my lack of documentation. I was too occupied scribbling down references and now find myself with a substantial reading list. As a true librarian, Morville cited his insights with inspiring literature, which is exciting to me as I am now eager to delve into the content he described. The potential to be inspired more deeply is in itself inspiring.

“Find the right balance for the context in which you work.”


“Create places that can be many things to many people, over long periods of time. [UX designers] are the architects of understanding.”

Of UX for UX

“We work hard to build shit people want to use.”

It is shocking how many of the tools we use in the industry do not consider or involve the users, the designers. Andrew Mayfield, founder of Optimal Workshop, did just the opposite. He incorporates researchers, designers, and developers into his team, offering a peer like support service and friendship –like response to client feedback. He truly wants to help the trade, not profit from it. In return, he has created one of the leading tools in quantitative user experience research methodology and is now expanding into the qualitative realm. Drawing on stories where he expanded the creation of Optimal Workshop, Mayfield’s stance on maintaining quality over quick money resonated with the other presenters’ key messages to maintain integrity within the design industry.

Closing Remarks

Alan Cooper received a standing ovation. He talked about his transition to the country where he is learning farming, the problems with the modern agriculture industry, and the parallel to the roaring world of technology. Although his story wasn’t a completely new insight, it was poignant and full of passion. Woven into his beautifully recited story I collected some gems:

“The world will choose what you’ve done that’s worth a damn.”

Focus on the present, take nothing for granted, and don’t worry about the outcome. Things you thought were a Big Deal can turn out to be trivial, while seemingly trivial actions can turn into a Big Deal. As long as you are doing something prideful, the personal outcome will be positive and Big Deals will follow. If they don’t, at least you can cherish the happiness you created for yourself  and others along the way.

“Spend time with a person to know if they are good. They are complex systems.”


Invest the same amount of time learning about people as you do an unknown program. The relationships you make are just as important, if not more important, than the tools you use to accomplish your tasks.

“It’s not your fault. But it’s your responsibility. Be a keystone.”

As designers it is easy to take criticism personally. We have the power to solve complex problems. We can impact public health, services, and essentially touch any human experience imaginable. That concept is daunting and we can find ourselves putting the weight of the world on our shoulders.

In keeping perspective, we need to remind ourselves that we are not the cause of these problems, and by no fault of our own, sometimes the solutions do not come into being as quickly as is demanded or necessary. Often times, more problems come up. As challenging as these problems are to address, we are accountable as the instigators and the change makers.

As a keystone holds all the other stones of an arch in place, we must hold ourselves accountable to the role of leader, balance keeper, and sense talker. It is our duty to speak, challenge, and get comfortable being uncomfortable. Only then can we maintain balance and invoke positive action.

Maya Levin

Maya Levin

Akendi Alumnus


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About Akendi

Akendi is a human experience design firm, leveraging equal parts experience research and creative design excellence. We provide strategic insights and analysis about customer and user behaviour and combine this knowledge with inspired design. The results enable organizations to improve effectiveness, engage users and provide remarkable customer experiences to their audiences.