What’s Changed [or Not] Since our First Ari Agency UX Mixer

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We hosted our first Ari Agency UX Mixer back in 2013. And we’ve sure come a long way…

iPhone5S. UBER on the verge of hitting the mainstream. Twitter about to hit its peak market cap. Mobile banking apps still relatively new. It was a time when Internet Web 2.0 was delightfully manifesting big time. Wikipedia says, “Web 2.0 emphasizes user-generated content, usability (ease of use, even by non-experts), participatory culture and interoperability (this means that a website can work well with other products, systems, and devices) for end users.” All the must-haves in creating effective UX use-cases, right?

When we hosted our first Ari Agency UX Mixer our aim was to bring together designers and user experience professionals for an evening of networking and education. As one of the few events dedicated for this community, it was a chance for anyone working in the discipline of UX, from agencies to corporate brands, to come together to network and discuss all things related to experience and product design.

So each year we’ve taken a deep dive into a new dimension within UX. It’s always fascinating to hear panellists share their insights and stories. From building stellar UX teams and bridging corporate collaboration, to creating relevance to the art and science of the Experience Design role.

It’s been amazing to see how our UX Mixer has evolved and continues to be sold out every year. Attendees have said they go back to work with fresh ideas, stories, and insights inspired by the panellists, all of whom are very much UX pioneers, designing and building consumer-friendly technology before most companies gave it a second thought. It’s events like these that bring like-minded professionals together to share, learn, and network, which ultimately raises the profile of UX within an organization and across the industry.”

Six years later, after hearing from dozens of panelists and 500 attendees, what have we learned? What’s changed and what hasn’t?  


A lack of understanding can impede UX design or, even worse, turn progress into regress when more “established” functions within the company (we’re looking at you finance) resist the UX vision because, let’s be honest, they have no idea what UX is.

Over the years, we’ve seen companies invest in stacking a functional in-house UX team. And it’s a design discipline that’s much more than making things pretty or as 2017’s Making the Pivot Panelist Tonja Launen (Director UX/Design, Rogers) said, “Most companies realize now that it’s not about creating the shiny objects. Not everyone has my passion for design. So we’ve done roadshows to communicate what we do. We’ve been running meetings differently, involving people in the learning and the ‘doing’ process.”


2017 panelist Jaime Hopkins (AVP, TD Bank) shared, “A huge part of one’s success in Experience Design is the ability to influence stakeholders within their company. We’re in a digital transformation in so many organizations and we’re in a unique position to drive a lot of that change.”


Back in 2016’s The UXPreneur, panelist Valerie Fox (Chief Consultant, Pivotal Point and CoFounder, DMZ Ryerson) voiced the need to build trust and credibility across the organization. “Listen carefully and try hard to understand what they really need even if they aren’t able to articulate it well—or they’re completely unrealistic. Ask them to bring articles or examples of what they like, and have an open mind about trying to give that to them even if what they want isn’t entirely possible; make the effort to go as far as possible and then explain why the rest just couldn’t be done.”


Fox continues, “After all, UX professionals should be pushing for the best experience instead of what is technically possible. If you limit yourself to technical limitations, you limit the potential experience.”


2014’s conversation, “UX and Corporate Culture,” honed in on how UX’ers can influence cross-functionally. Panellist Gail Leija (Director, Digital Experience Design, RBC)  shared, “When our design solutions are not adopted by our clients, or when they are modified in ways that we never intended, we have to remember that this is not a failure on our part, nor are our clients even wrong. Renee [Racine] cracked me up with her “Suck it up, buttercup” line. She’s right – this is business, not art. That said, I still think we need to do a better job of helping our teams to cope with what can sometimes seem like boneheaded decisions. They have to care to do great work, but they have to detach to stay sane. A tricky balance for all of us.”




2013’s event, “The Future of User Experience” included a great conversation on wearable technology. The ideas were limitless and companies were testing and learning what products could reach the tipping point of adoption. Panellist Matthew Milan (CEO, Normative) illustrated this by bringing in a project his team is working on – smart skis with sensors that collect data and algorithms. Milan acknowledged that the information they are receiving is useful, but the hurdle remains how to leverage that data and make a product that can most benefit skiers.


How do you best convey data to the user quickly and visibly? What is the exact moment in an interaction that a user will require the feedback that wearable tech can provide?


Nowadays UX is front and centre when it comes to creating an environment that fosters a positive and seamless experience no matter how the consumer or client engages. 2017 panellist Jesús Gorriti (Head of Digital Customer Experience & Design, RBC) shared that “We like to see where products perform based on testing, constantly improving conversion rate. Mistakes can happen and we have a process in place to fix them appropriately.”


The most popular word discussed every year is no surprise to UX professionals: EMPATHY. It’s a tried and true mindset that just about every UX practitioner puts to use. 2015 Panelist Andrew Chak (Head of Design, Wattpad)shared, “A critical element of our UX toolkit is empathy and there are two primary ways for us to use it. When it comes to design, it is important for us to directly empathize with our users such that we’re willing to design an experience that we may not necessarily like but is one that will work with our target users. When it comes to implementation, it is important for us to empathize with our stakeholders in order to open up the dialogue in aspiring to deliver a better experience than what may have been originally scoped.”

Thanks to everyone who came out the past five years and all our panellists who generously shared their stories and insights. We couldn’t agree more with 2014 panellist Renee Racine (Director, Digital Experience Design, RBC),“It’s always worthwhile to be in the same room as your peers. Stories compared, projects dissected, strategies validated or torn down and rebuilt. I loved hearing my fellow panellists passionately argue the validity of empathy and remember thinking “only in this room, tonight, would this battle of viewpoints happen.”

Ari Aronson