Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sharing a product with the world

Primal FusionI've written previously about Primal Fusion and the successful launch of our product at the DEMO 09 conference. In the days since then we've been busily fixing issues that have popped up and adding enhancements. We're in a closed alpha period right now, which means that we're controlling the number of users that get active accounts. There are many reasons for this, but it really all boils down to making sure that all is working well and that Primal Fusion provides a reliable service. We've had a lot of people register for accounts, many of whom have been waiting patiently for access. The most satisfying activity following the launch has been activating accounts and getting feedback from our users. There are certainly issues, and we're addressing them, but what we've been hearing has been generally positive. Visit Primal Fusion and get yourself an account. I'd love to hear what you think.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Field research: How do UX folks behave in a pub?

Speaking of events that well worth attending, the next monthly meeting of User Experience Group of Waterloo Region happens this coming Thursday March 19. The great thing about this group is that the meetings are mix of engaging speakers (like last month's Scott Berkun event) and more low key design discussions. This month's Books and Brewskies event is definitely in the low key design discussion category, with the added bonus of a relaxed pub environment.

Do you have a question about how to do guerrilla testing? Are you wondering how to do UX in an agile environment? Are you trying to cope with a strategy for rolling out UX in your company? Do you long to become a UX designer? Do you have a movie metaphor you want to share?

Do come out and connect with your fellow UX folks and help build a thriving UX community in Waterloo region.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Hello, my name is Mark

The audience at the UX forumAs I previously wrote, I was a panelist at a Digital Design and User Experience Forum at the University of Waterloo last week. The event was every bit as energizing and engaging as I hoped it would be. My fellow panelists, a diverse group with a shared passion for design, were thoughtful and articulate, and the questions from the crowd were great.

Even better than the panel discussion was the series of presentations made by teams of students showcasing UX-related projects that they have been working on. There were some great idea on display, as well as effective communication of those ideas.

There was also time to mingle and meet people, sharing stories and interests, which brings me to the point of this post.

For me a satisfying and rewarding career is a gift, one that really ought to be shared. Whenever an opportunity to participate in an event like this presents itself, I make an effort attend. I get a chance to meet interesting people, and share whatever I have with whomever might be interested. An event like this is, in its best form, all about giving, whether it's time or knowledge or introductions or whatever else we have. The conversations and shared experiences can be wonderful.

There's occasionally a further benefit. As it turns out, a perfect alignment of the stars has led to one of the student presenters at this UX Forum coming on board at Primal Fusion for a summer position with our UX team. This outcome obviously can't happen on a regular basis, but it did on this occasion. Students and industry practitioners, do take note!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Digital Design and User Experience Forum

I'll be a panelist at next Wednesday's Digital Design and User Experience Forum, hosted by Infusion Angels Innovation Centre and Design Exchange Waterloo at the University of Waterloo. I'm sure it will be a fun event and I'm looking forward to some lively discussions.

Here are some more details from the organizers:
  • Listen to guest speaker's discuss User Experience Design and Interaction Design related topics
  • Network with leading industry experts
  • Showcase your work
  • Get feedback from industry experts
  • Connect with fellow digital design enthusiasts
  • Learn more about Microsoft Windows 7
  • Learn more about becoming a User Experience designer
  • Showcase your 4th year design project, or even your own pet project
Guest speakers from Microsoft Canada, Infusion Development and the Waterloo User Experience Group will discuss Microsoft Windows 7, becoming a User Experience designer and other Interaction Design and Experience Design related topics. The forum will also be opened up to interested participants to present projects and receive feedback from peers and industry experts.

March 11, 2009 from 5:00 – 8:00 pm
Tatham Centre, Room 2218, University of Waterloo

To attend this free event, RSVP via email to or by visiting

If you’re interested in presenting there will be cash prizes of $250.00 awarded to the most innovative project and to the best presentation. For more information or to sign up as a presenter please contact Monica Tsang.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Art and technology at Pixar

Last night I attended a public lecture by Rob Cook, vice president of software engineering at Pixar Animation Studios. The lecture was organized by the Perimeter Institute as part of their public outreach program. Rob talked about how Pixar makes movies, with a bit of a spotlight on how physics (of the classical, not quantum, kind) is introduced to a cartoon world.

I'm a big Pixar fan, and recognized many of the processes and methods that Bob presented from my close scrutiny of the special features on various Pixar DVDs. He had a couple of striking ideas that I hadn’t previously encountered, though, that to me feel as relevant to user experience designers as to film makers.

The first is his take on John Lasseter’s assertion that “Art challenges technology but technology inspires the art”, which is a comment on how the artists and technologists work together at Pixar. Rob’s spin on this was, roughly, that the artists don’t know that it’s impossible, and the technologists are too proud to admit that it is and so deliver it. What user experience designer hasn't been told by a developer that a design is just not possible, only to see it delivered? Conversely, what developer hasn't been given an 'impossible' design but then found a way to make it work?

The other idea relates to describing what Pixar does as a movie making enterprise and how it related to traditional artistic endeavors (again, paraphrasing from memory here): the team is the artist, and the technology is the brush. This one seems like it has an even more obvious parallel to the creative tension between UX designers and developers, and to the often collaborative nature of creating software products. I really do like this analogy.

I feel like watching Ratatouille or The Incredibles now!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Demonstration derby / Alpha beta soup

I'm pretty excited that the product that I've been working on at Primal Fusion is in alpha release and that we revealed oursleves to the wider world at the Demo 09 conference in Palm Desert today. We're all about "thought networking" and with these initial steps we're laying the groundwork for more great products in the future.

What does it mean for a software product to be in alpha release? My initial answer is another question. What does it mean for a software product to be in beta release? Beta used to mean, roughly, a software release that is essentially complete but is being put into wider distribution for final testing in anticipation of a final release. Google's Gmail, though, has been in beta since, what, the end of the last ice age? That has undoubtedly had an effect on what people think "beta" means.

Where does that leave alpha? It's got to be at least somewhat less finished than beta, but beyond that...?

At Primal Fusion, it means that we have a new product that we're proud of, that we know we have more work to do, that we're letting users join us in a measured way, and that we're watching what happens closely. We want to be sure that everything is working as expected, and we want to learn as much as we can while our user base grows.

Creating something new is invigourating, exhausting, illuminating, and certainly a few more "tings" beyond those. We're still early in our journey at Primal Fusion, and we have a lot more work to do to make our product even better. What we have now, though, is something that we're all proud of, and it's time to get out in the world with it.

Please come and try it out and let us know what you think.