Looking back as we move forward – how BitBakery got its start

“It’s always good to remember where you come from and celebrate it. To remember where you come from is part of where you’re going.” – Anthony Burgess

Celebrating our first customer; and, our first payment.

Going to career fairs has always been an interesting experience for our team. It’s inspiring to hear the pitches from other companies. We love learning about how their solutions solve problems for customers around the world. 

But our favourite part is always the origin story. How did the company’s founders come upon the problem they are now solving? Like BitBakery, many of these companies started on one path and ended up going down an entirely different one as they grew.

Vidyard started as a video production company who needed a way to securely host videos for business in a way YouTube couldn’t. Today, they’re a leading video marketing platform helping connect businesses and customers.

Shopify started because a couple people selling snownboards couldn’t find a good e-commerce solution. Now they’re competing with Amazon to help retailers and brands around the world sell directly to customers.

At BitBakery, our origin story and our pitch are intertwined. We’re a trusted outsourced development partner for clients across Canada and the US. Our team of developers, designers, and quality engineers work as embedded teams and full tech teams to deliver solutions. It’s important for us that our new team members understand where we came from – and how they’re playing a part on our continued journey. 

So how did we get here?

Before BitBakery, our founding team – Wes, Joe, Attila, and Ryan – worked at a mobile app development shop building apps and games for BlackBerry smartphones. Over the years, they discovered two things. 

First – they really liked working together. 

Second – more and more work was coming in from other companies looking for help. This ranged from mobile app to web development. Sometimes it was a project to build a full solution for a client. Other times it was near the end of a project and a client needed a full-stack developer for a two-month stint. The team also found themselves cleaning up projects that had been outsourced offshore and weren’t up to speck. 

In 2014, the team realized that building apps for themselves wasn’t what they wanted to do anymore. Helping clients deliver solutions had become what they wanted to do full-time – and that’s the beginning of BitBakery.

We don’t often tell this story at career fairs – but we do like to share why our team loves what they do at BitBakery. Edson joined us in October after moving to Canada from Brazil. For Edson, it’s the variety of work that is exciting. “We do like everything and that’s cool because we do software development for so many different sizes of clients.” Another advantage of working at BitBakery is the technology stacks we work with. “For me it’s just fun to learn new things. So for me it is a big plus,” said Edson.

Marcel, one of our full-stack developers, is currently working on an embedded developer project with a Kitchener-based innovation lab. “When a client is low on developers or just need advice from experienced developers, they talk to us,” said Marcel. “We can fit their needs and just figure out the best way to help.”

One of the people you’ll meet at the BitBakery booth is Nur, our Director, Customer Relations. “From React Native to Node JS to Angular, we develop in newer stacks so we can do things quickly for our clients,” said Nur. “Everything that we do is pretty nimble.” 

Contact us today to learn more about how our team can help you deliver amazing customer experiences.

Are you a developer or designer and BitBakery sounds like the place for you? Check out our career page to learn more about working at BitBakery and where you fit.

So fresh, so clean – Why we use Bootstrap utility classes to keep CSS slim

Developer coding CSS style sheet

When it comes to maintaining code on our projects, we adhere to the campground rule – “always leave it better than you found it”. If you’ve ever updated a web project, you may have found some less than stellar comments and code. 

One of the biggest challenges can be trying to read through undocumented CSS. You can lose valuable hours investigating design rules just so you can make a simple update and keep within the existing style guide. 

There’s always the temptation to write new classes. Sometimes time isn’t on your side and the change needs to be done now. We know CSS is forgiving with redundant classes, but there are downsides to writing new classes. This is especially true when you’re using a framework like Bootstrap that provides plenty of useful utility classes.

So why do we prefer Bootstrap utility classes? Here are two ways of dealing with a change – first, by writing new classes: 

Writing new classes

HTML
<table>
  <thead>
    <tr>
      <th scope="col">Engineering & Development</th>
      <th scope="col"><span class="sr-only">Position Location column header</span></th>
      <th scope="col"><span class="sr-only">Apply column header</span></th>
    </tr>
  </thead>
  <tbody>
    <tr class="posting">
      <td class="opportunity">React Native Developer</td>
      <td class="opportunity">Kitchener, ON</td>
      <td class="apply">
        <a class="btn btn-link" href="http://bit.ly/BitBakeryJobs" target="_blank">Apply</a>
      </td>
    </tr>
  </tbody>
</table>

CSS
.posting {
  box-sizing: border-box;
  display:table;
  border-bottom: 1px solid rgba(192,192,192,192);
  width:100%
}
.apply {
  text-align: right;
  padding: 50px 0 0 0
}
.department {
  padding: 50px 0 0 0;
}
.opportunity {
  padding: 25px 50px 25px 5px;
}

Using Bootstraps Utilities

HTML
<table class="table table-bordered">
  <thead>
    <tr>
      <th scope="col" class="pb-3">Engineering & Development</th>
      <th scope="col" class="pb-3"><span class="sr-only">Position Location column header</span></th>
      <th scope="col" class="pb-3"><span class="sr-only">Apply column header</span></th>
    </tr>
  </thead>
  <tbody>
    <tr class="border-bottom">
      <td class="py-3">React Native Developer</td>
      <td class="py-3">Kitchener, ON</td>
      <td class="text-right py-3">
        <a class="btn btn-link" href="http://bit.ly/BitBakeryJobs" target="_blank">Apply</a>
      </td>
    </tr>
  </tbody>
</table>

CSS
<!-- Nothing to see here -->

When you look at both examples, they’re not all that different. One change is that the custom classes from the first example are replaced with spacing utilities like .pb-3 and .py-3 in the second example.

There’s no major difference in how browsers render these examples either. So why do it using the Bootstrap utilities? 

Long term maintainability

Our Bootstrap Utility example doesn’t have any new CSS at all. This keeps your custom CSS file leaner and more maintainable over the long term. 

Site consistency

Because it’s derived from the base spacing, the padding is consistent with the rest of the site. The padding is defined in the Bootstrap variables file. This eliminates any guesswork for how much padding or margin you should use.

These alone aren’t a reason to use a framework such as Bootstrap. If you’ve already got a framework in your project. then using its built-in utilities will save you time now – and in the future. 

Want to learn more? I recommend reading through the Bootstrap documentation to see how else you can avoid rewriting CSS that’s already been written for you.

Photo by Fatos Bytyqi on Unsplash

Putting the user first

Understanding the user and what they’re trying to accomplish is at the core of our development process here at BitBakery.

Our clients trust us to provide complete tech teams to build their MVP – minimum viable product. When we tackle these projects, we put the user at the center of our process. This ensures we’ve got the right problems identified before we start designing. 

Whether you call it human-centred design or design thinking, it’s a straightforward way of doing discovery that we use on every project. 

In my intro post, I shared with you that I’m starting my journey to learn as much about user experience design as I can. My role as a Software QA Engineer gives me a chance to work with our head of design and our developers. I get to see the entire design and development process unfold – and help shape some of the decisions we make.

Here’s a few of my takeaways so far – 

Know who you’re designing for

One of the first steps in the discovery phase is creating personas. These are representations of users – and can include their education, family background, likes/dislikes and more. Personas are meant to represent groups of users. A great design will target the right users, most of the time, not the entire world. 

Research here is crucial. We want to get the most accurate and reliable representation of the users that will use the product. We take a look at the product market to get a better profile of what ideal users could be. 

We work with our clients in creating the personas. Together, we iterate potential personas until we have a good set to work with. This helps us optimize for the right users by using their insights into their business and industry.

Keep your user stories simple

Creating personas is the foundation. With well-developed personas, we can move on to researching and identifying the right problems. To do this, we start with larger problems called epics and then start to break those down using our personas.
When writing epics, it is important to keep them simple while still describing the core of the users’ needs. “You’re not describing a solution you are describing the need of the user”, said Attila Schmidt, our Director of User Experience and Interface. Here’s a look at the hierarchy we use when writing out epics:

Epics should be high-level so we can group similar tasks together to start identifying problems. These epics are then broken down into user stories. User stories focus more in-depth about why a user may have a certain need:

User stories must also be simple enough to allow for developer creativity. If you give too much detail, you are limiting the possible solutions. “We, as designers, may have an idea of how we would like to see a feature, but we would be taking away the possibility of getting a much better method thought out by developers,” Schmidt said. 

Our developers then take these stories and create sub-tasks. They describe specific features that will become the puzzle pieces of the product. This is typically where our developers come up with innovative and optimized solutions!

Never stop learning

The discovery process is more than just identifying the problems – and it doesn’t end when development begins. The process helps drive open and consistent communication between our clients and our team of developers, designers, and QA teams. At BitBakery we make it a priority to keep everyone up to date throughout the duration of the project.

I recently attended a talk about how design teams can leverage other teams to change design culture by Matt Rae. What stood out to me the most is having the entire team involved during the design iteration process. This is key, everyone involved in the tech team can give valuable feedback. Such feedback will not only serve well for the current project but for subsequent ones as well. 

Talks like these really stand out to me. They always push us to improve our tech team environment. Together, with our clients, we can always try to optimize our product development. 

If this sparked as much interest to you as it did for me, I suggest attending community talks. There are amazing UX community initiatives here in the Waterloo Region. Here are some of my regulars: 

UXWaterloo – by Communitech P2P 

UX Book Club

Terminal Talks

Shopify Tech Talks

So, say hello if you see me at one of these. Until next time! 

Keep updated on my journey here at BitBakery.

Say hello to our newest BitBaker – Diana Valdes

Our new Software QA Engineer Diana Valdes

For many of us, our time at university or college is where we discover what we want to do as our careers begin. It was in her fourth year studying civil engineering that our newest BitBaker, Diana Valdes, discovered her first career step would be into an entirely different area of study – user experience and interaction design.

Born in Colombia and raised right here in Kitchener, Valdes joined the BitBakery team in December as our Software QA Engineer. Even with her career change, Valdes continued her studies and earned her degree in civil engineering from the University of Waterloo in 2019. “I really liked studying civil engineering, but I wanted to work in something where I could make a more direct and dynamic impact on people’s life.”

After a well-deserved vacation touring South East Asia, Valdes returned to Kitchener and began her job search. In the fall, Valdes attended the Partnerships for Employment Career Fair organized by the University of Guelph, University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga College. Valdes stopped by our booth and made an impression on our team.

We were looking for someone with her enthusiasm and openness to learning for the Software QA Engineer role. For Valdes, it was a great opportunity as her previous co-ops had all been in civil engineering and construction. “This role helps me learn a lot about all aspects of software development,” Valdes said. “It’s like a bootcamp for tech!”

Valdes sees BitBakery’s focus on continuous learning as a way for her to start exploring user experience processes, tools, and theories. “UX can have a positive impact on people’s lives. I love digging into what users actually want and working to make it easier and better.” Valdes attended this month’s uWaterloo meetup to hear from Faire’s Robin Bigio and Davis Neable, UX Director at Manulife.

The discussion was perfect timing for Valdes. “What I remember the most about the talk was the discussion about leadership and management,” added Valdes. “Great leadership should be helping your team not just on the next project, but also to achieve the ‘next big thing’ in their career.” 

We’re excited to have Diana on our team and look forward to helping her achieve her next big thing. Interested in learning more about how we work at BitBakery? Check out our career page to learn more.

One browser engine to rule them all

Checking out the developer tools in Microsoft Edge

There was major news in the world of web browsers last week. Microsoft released a major update to their Microsoft Edge browser that replaces their own EdgeHTML engine with Google’s Chromium engine. It’s a massive shift for Microsoft and a significant increase in Google’s leadership of the web’s core technologies. 

Our team here at BitBakery has been putting this latest Chromium-based Microsoft Edge release through its paces over the last week. Here’s what we think so far.

Simplified development and QA testing

Developers and QA testers know one universal truth of building for the web – just because something works in one browser, doesn’t mean it will work in every browser. An awesome animation built with JQuery works great in Chrome but remains motionless in Internet Explorer – yes, we’ve all been there. Moving to Microsoft Edge to be Chromium-based means more consistency in how frameworks function. Developers will find the same level of support in Microsoft Edge as they do in Google Chrome when building web apps.

The built-in Developer Tools within Microsoft Edge are also very close to those provided in Google Chrome. This means there’s no additional time needed to get familiar with a new set of dev and debugging tools.

Browser deployment and security

Google Chrome has a whopping 69% share of the browser market. If you’re developing consumer websites and applications, the new Chromium-based Microsoft Edge could potentially reduce the complexity of your dev and QA processes since it shares its core engine with Google Chrome. 

Microsoft Edge is the successor to Microsoft Internet Explorer which dominated large enterprise companies for years. If your company still uses Microsoft Internet Explorer, well, Microsoft really wants you to stop. From a security and stability standpoint, Microsoft Internet Explorer has not been updated in a few years, potentially exposing your systems and data to malicious attacks. If you have internal web apps that require Microsoft Internet Explorer, Edge offers an IE11 compatibility mode for Windows that should allow those internal web apps to function. This feature isn’t available in Microsoft Edge on macOS.

The future of the world wide web

While the move to Chromium is great for developers, it does continue to solidify Google’s dominance when it comes to web standards. This increased market share means Google has an even stronger hand in directing which frameworks and tools have support. 

Apple’s Safari browser and Mozilla’s Firefox are now the only two major non-Chromium browsers on the market. For developers and testers, there’s still a need to include these in your planning. There have been rumors of a switch to Chromium for Apple’s Safari, but for now the company has said they have no plans in the works.

As a trusted source for outsourced development, BitBakery is adding the latest Microsoft Edge releases to our testing plans. We’re here to answer any questions you have about this or any other outsourced development question.

Balance, learning, and scaling. Our thoughts on the Future of Work and Learning

Our office in downtown Kitchener sits next to 100-year-old industrial buildings. Decades ago, they were rubber plants, banks, tanneries, and tire makers. Today they’re apartments, retail, and office spaces. Companies like Vidyard, Google, Encircle, and Shopify make their homes in these landmarks. These brick and beam office space tend to remind us of the change in our community.

We’re accustomed to change. Changes in industry, markets, and the ways we work and learn.

This adaption to change in the ways we work and learn was a key theme of a recent event here. The Communitech Breakfast series brought economist Linda Nazarath to town for a talk. Local leaders and change makers were there to learn about these coming changes and how to act on them. “We’re at a turning point. But unlike other times, we have an opportunity to control it,” said Nazarath.

Wes Worsfold, our CEO, and Nur Ipek, our Director, Customer Relations were in attendance. Here’s their key take-aways:

Balance
We’re seeing a change in where and when we work — and the importance of a balanced life.

Before the 1700s, early gig workers like millers, bakers, and coopers moved from project to project. The Industrial Revolution and mass manufacturing created the need for an in-house workforce.

Today, we’re seeing a return to gig working. People choose when and where they want to work. This results in a ‘hustle’ culture.

“Clock watching doesn’t get a project completed on schedule. And, creative, productive work is not defined by a 9–5 workday,” said Wes. “At BitBakery, we strive to create real harmony between work and life. To do this, we provide our team with the most flexibility to achieve what they want to do — both professionally and personally.”

Our office has core hours for standups and meetings. But outside of those core hours, our team can work when they need to explained Wes. Have school drop off in the morning? Gym class at 4? Some of our team also work from home when they need or want to. Using tech like Slack, Zoom and JIRA allows us to stay connected even when we’re not in the office together.

We let our employees take care of their personal needs so when they’re working, they’re 100% focused.

Workforce management
Working with BitBakery gives our customers the opportunity to flex the size of their team based on project demands.

Most projects have a natural ebb and flow of development. But this can be difficult to manage when you have full-time workforce and overhead. According to Nazareth, only 50% of a full-time employee’s cost is their salary. The rest is benefits, equipment, training, software licensing and other soft costs.

Businesses are also limited when managing these teams. You can’t add team members when you need to and it is difficult to manage when you need to reduce the size of your team.

Beyond team management, we find that many of the projects we work on looked at as special initiative. These are projects outside the core skill sets of our customers’ current teams. At BitBakery, we act as a one-stop shop for ideation, design, building, testing, and go-to-market needs. Using BitBakery as your trusted outsourced development provider means we can handle the coordination and procurement of the talent your project needs. We provide the entire scope of services — our customers get the project done without extra management headaches.

We’re always learning
Our final take-away from Nazareth’s talk was on the importance of continuous learning. The rapid change in technology means workplaces can’t rely on traditional professional development.

At BitBakery, we know that courses and conferences can be valuable. Our team has budget to attend learning events, workshops, conferences and courses. It’s a valuable benefit and a great recognition of the importance of learning.

Beyond that though, we find that there’s great value in experiential, in-the-moment learning. BitBakers spend an average of an hour a day in learning activities. We focus on documenting and sharing our learnings as we work.

We also make time to work on individual and team projects to learn new technologies. Earlier this year, we set aside Friday afternoons for a month to work on a smart contract project. We designed and developed a smart contract app for charities. It was a great learning experience for us on smart contracts, blockchain (Etherum and Solidity), and cryptocurrency. Everyone on our team had a hand in developing the solution from ideation to wireframes to coding and testing.

What’s next?
Contact us today to learn more about the ways we can help you with trusted outsourced development.

Functional programming — A BitBakery Knowledge Nibble

Continuous learning is one of our core values. Every BitBaker brings their own unique experience to deliver for our customers’ projects.

Once a month, we get the team together for a lunch and learn series we call Knowledge Nibbles. We bring in catering from one of our favourite locals and take turns presenting a subject to the team.

The October learning session was lead by BitBakers Marcel Rusu and Pablo Morales. They presented an intro to functional programming with lunch from the Lancaster Smokehouse.

As a provider of outsourced software development, we work with a lot of different stacks. Two different customers might even use the same framework, but use different versions. We use continuous learning to build a deep understanding of the frameworks we use.

“You can learn a lot more by developing an understanding of the technology first.” said Pablo. “If you’re just running around asking questions because you don’t know the answers and not making time to learn, you’re not growing as much as you could be.”

Marcel has been following the concept of functional programming for a few years now. Both Marcel and Pablo studied computer science at Wilfrid Laurier University. “He kept talking to me about functional programming in second year and I didn’t really get it until I finally had the chance to work with React.” said Pablo.

Their talk focused on two principles of functional programming: declarative programming and immutability. Declarative programming is a shift from telling the program “what to do” instead of “how to do it”. You focus on the flow and structure of data before you type in your first line of code. Declarative programming makes it easier to see how data flows through your code. You’re also less likely to make simple errors that occur when you swap variables.

Immutability builds on the idea that state changes are the cause of most bugs. These changes can be implicit or accidental. An immutable date type is one that is never changed. Using immutable data types reduces and even eliminates these bugs. What can be an immutable data type? In Javascript, primitives like numbers, strings, and booleans all can be immutable. Other languages differ in the mutability of their standard types. Some allow for immutable arrays, others allow for mutable strings.

Marcel and Pablo chose the topic because of its rapid adoption in the industry. “What’s interesting is that web is leading this. It’s almost a decade ahead of mobile for moving into declarative.” Marcel feels that many people still have trouble explaining functional programming. “Many people use functional programming in frameworks like Angular and React, but I think it’s still hard for many front end devs to easily answer ‘what is functional programming?’”

Before diving into functional programming, Marcel recommends asking why are you using it. What benefits does it offer your development team?

“It’s really important to understand the technologies we use,” said Pablo. “We use a lot of different frameworks, and it’s important to build a deep understanding of them. Three months ago, I wouldn’t be comfortable explaining things to the team. Now I feel like I can really help Marcel and Edson.”

Marcel and Pablo both agreed that getting a chance to present was rewarding. “We’re both pretty passionate about talking and sharing. It’s exciting to do that here at BitBakery.” said Marcel.

When a device change breaks your app experience

While we all know change is a constant, it can still be jarring when it happens. As a business. you want to minimize the impact of that change on your customers as much as possible. A consistent app experience — whether on mobile or on the web — is paramount for keeping your customers happy and your customer service calls down.

When your customer upgrades to the latest phone, they expect all their apps to work the same. Unfortunately, there are times where the manufacturer makes a change that impacts your app experience. The most recent example of this is with a change in the Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. Previous versions of Google’s flagship phone included a fingerprint scanner for biometric security. With the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, Google replaced the fingerprint scanner with a facial recognition scanner.

As reported in Digital Trends, this caught many financial institutions off guard. Customers who have come to depend on the security of fingerprint scanning now found themselves only able to login to secure services with a traditional password. Those once biometric-secure applications were now back to using a system many customers were not comfortable using.

As a trusted partner for outsourced development, BitBakery is constantly monitoring device, browser, and operating system developments to ensure your solutions work consistently for your customers. In the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL example, we let our customers whose apps relied on fingerprint scanning know about the potential impact. We’re also already working on getting client apps ready for the next Android update that adds in seamless support for devices that use either fingerprint or facial biometrics.

Whether it’s a full MVP or support for a project with a virtually embedded team, BitBakery works with you to make sure you continue to provide an amazing experience for your customers.

Photo by Julia Joppien on Unsplash

Our newest BitBaker traded Avenida Atlântica for King Street West

Edson standing on King Street in Kitchener

Finding and hiring great tech talent isn’t just a problem in Silicon Valley. It’s an issue wherever your company is located – and it’s one companies here in Waterloo Region struggle with every day. 

Sometimes you have to go looking for talent outside your postal code – Toronto, Hamilton- even Ottawa. There are times when you have to search a little farther – and it was one of these searches that lead us to Indaiatuba, Brazil and our newest BitBaker – Edson Mesquita.

Earlier this year, we participated in a recruiting event run by Vancouver-based VanHack called VanHack Leap. Hosted at the Communitech Hub, VanHack Leap brought 15 developers from around the world to meet Waterloo Region tech companies. It was a great way to meet developers who we would never normally get a chance to meet. Once a connection is made, VanHack works to arrange for the necessary visas and helps with moving arrangements. 

Edson, his wife, and his cat landed in Canada in late September and they’re getting settled in to life in Kitchener. Edson is from Indaiatuba which is located outside São Paulo. If you’re like me, you’re asking why someone would move from warm Brazil to soon to be winter Canada. “Well, Canada is a first world country, it’s polite and chill and I feel I am the same way,” said Edson. 

Edson brought us these delicious snacks from back home in Brazil. Pé de Moleque, Paçoquita, and doce de leite. They did not make it past the first day.

Edson also was looking to work with a smaller company that worked on big projects – and that’s just what BitBakery is. “I prefer smaller companies where you can get to know everyone you work with,” added Edson.

It wasn’t just our team size either – it was our taste in burgers, specifically Union Burger in Downtown Kitchener. “It felt like destiny,” said Edson, “it was one of the first places I ate at here in Kitchener and then I find out that the team orders from there weekly.”

Moving to a new city can be difficult – moving to a new country is an entire order of magnitude harder – but Edson has a plan on how to meet people. “I love board games, they are great ways to meet people.” He’s picked a good place too – with our local board game cafes like Games on Tap, The Adventurers Guild, and The Round Table.

While education and healthcare are important for Edson and his wife, the quality of living and proximity to Toronto were also factors in deciding on Kitchener. “Indaiatuba is the same distance to São Paulo as Kitchener is to Toronto,” added Edson, “I’d rather live in a small, tight community that’s close to big events and sports.”

As for why Canada over other international destinations, “…you go to other places to be rich, you go to Canada to be happy.”

Welcome to Canada (and to BitBakery) Edson!

The end of “you’re not using it right. . . ” and other lessons in UX and design from Fluxible 2019

Have you ever had that experience where you’re looking at buying a new car (or any major purchase really) and you start to see that car everywhere you go? 

Over the weekend, Attila Schmidt, our Director of User Experience, and I attended Fluxible 2019 here in Waterloo. Over the two days of the conference, we couldn’t help but to see the impact user experience has on our daily lives. 

Alex and Attila at Fluxible 2019
Alex and Attila at Fluxible 2019.

Fluxible is celebrating eight years of bringing user experience professionals together to look at the present and future of user interaction design. Fluxible isn’t just a conference – it’s a week long series of brown bag lunch meetups and site tours around Waterloo Region that leads up to two days of speakers from around the world at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) building in Waterloo. 

Fluxible attendees inside the beautiful CIGI campus in Uptown Waterloo.
Fluxible attendees inside the beautiful CIGI campus in Uptown Waterloo.

Fluxible is a unique conference. It’s a user experience conference organized and run by user experience practitioners – including conference founders Mark Connolly and Robert Barlow-Busch. While the conference is a paid ticket, they offer free daily brown bag lunch meetups and evening activities during the week to bring more people into the conversations. 

Here’s our top three takeaways from our time at Fluxible 2019 – 

Stop saying “you’re not using it right”. You designed it wrong.

Setting the stage for one of our favourite talks, Fluxible organizers gave the conference’s first content warning before a talk. Based in London, Ontario, emergency physician Tarek Loubani works with the Glia Project who design high-quality, low-cost, open source medical hardware that can be manufactured anywhere.

Loubani talked about the harrowing work he and others do as volunteer emergency physicians in Gaza. Tools we take for granted, such as stethoscopes and tourniquets, are the difference between life and death in areas like Gaza. The Glia Project has produced a $3 version of the world’s best selling $300 stethoscope that can be 3D printed that works just as well (and in some cases better) than the $300 model.

Loubani’s talk focused on design problems with the tourniquet. One of the problems was the packaging. Based on price, a bag was chosen that opened at the bottom instead of at the top by the cardboard product tag. This confused physicians in the field whose cognitive memory of consumer packaging has you always try to open at the top. This added a five-second delay to the time it took to open the package – critical time when trying to treat a patient. We see unintended problems like this often when startups design MVPs using the Lean Startup method.

There was also feedback from the field that tourniquets were breaking – but the response was that they were not being used right. Loubani experience three out of four tourniquets breaking during his last time working in Gaza and was able to get the tourniquets re-designed. The original design had them working at four turns and breaking at five – but in the field under gunfire, physicians and volunteer EMTs were not counting. The re-engineered tourniquets can now support five times the force that is needed to work correctly.

Everything that is going to be invented will need design.

Fifteen years ago, no one specialized in designing interfaces for a five inch piece of glass that your touched with your finger. Ten years ago, interaction designers hadn’t begun to get into the intricacies of designing voice interactions for a cylinder that sits next to your couch. 

Zendesk’s Principal Designer Bill DeRouchey opened his talk with a look at how much technology can change during our careers. For those at their mid-career (~45 year-olds), technologies like the world wide web, mobile phones, and cloud computing hadn’t been invented when they began their careers. Over the last 20 years, these technologies have become commonplace – and user experience design has played a major role in how we use them every day. 

He then went through a laundry list of technologies emerging today; synthetic reality, deep fakes, autonomous vehicles, drones, 3D printing, nanotechnology, and material science to name a few. These are all technologies that will need to be designed – and the user experience professionals at their early-career (~25 year-olds) will be the ones who shape these interactions. 

Bill DeRouchey gave examples of what topics you could use for future tech topic book club.
Bill DeRouchey gave examples of what topics you could use for future tech topic book club.

DeRouchey’s advice: learn one new topic every month. His suggestion is to omit July and December for holidays and focus on ten topics a year. We’re going to start a “tech topic book club” and meet once a month to discuss our own deep dives into a new topic.

There’s no “right question”.

If you’ve ever done a user research session, you’ve most likely spent more time than you’d like to admit coming up with the perfect questions. Meena Kothandaraman, a senior strategist at Boston-based twig+fish, challenged attendees to stop doing that – and instead focus on how we can get people to open up and share all the interesting nuggets, experiences, and insights that are what we really need.

Kothandaraman shared a few great ways that we can provide participants with platforms to help them articulate their thoughts – and create a fun and engaging space for them to do it.

“It’s your job as a researcher to get people comfortable to start talking,” said Kothandaraman, “the right question is ‘share your answer’”.

Meena Kothandaraman presents on stage at Fluxible.
Meena Kothandaraman presents on stage at Fluxible.

One way is by giving the user an empathy map and letting them take the time to complete it. Instead of starting with what you are interested in, let them start from whatever point they feel is important to them. An empathy map can also become a great shared artifact for both you and the user to continue to write on during the interview.

Later in the day, Carolyn MacGregor took the stage to share her favourite research tool – “the fly on the wall”. MacGregor is the Associate Chair Undergraduate Studies, Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo and identifies herself as an introvert. For her, “the fly on the wall” is her way of observing users to get their full, honest experience. Like Kothandaraman, MacGregor wants to give the user the freedom to express their feedback without judgement. 

Being a fly on the wall with Carolyn MacGregor
Being a fly on the wall with Carolyn MacGregor

Fluxible is not a conference where you come out with new tools to apply in daily practice. Instead, the speakers at Fluxible ask you to look at the emerging patterns in user experience design – and what those changes mean to the ethos of user experience.

We’d love to hear what your takeaways from Fluxible were – let us know in the comments.