The Official OpenRoad Blog


Filling in User Experience Potholes: Connecting Applications for a Smoother Experience

We’ve all seen it. We’ve watched as user research participants struggle through what should be a simple task. We’ve witnessed them work across multiple off-the-shelf applications, each with their own idiosyncrasies and learning curves. The sum of these disjointed experiences are like driving over a paved, prairie road after the winter thaw: bumpy, unforgiving, and frustrating. But, each pothole is actually an incredible opportunity to address serious user experience challenges within organizations that purchase 3rd party software applications.

Companies will often work with multiple vendors to assist with various parts of their business. There are obvious cost savings rationale associated with purchasing an off-the-shelf product as opposed to developing software in-house. Some examples of this are: purchasing accounting software to track expense claims and purchasing issue-tracking software to organize the triage and resolution of calls to the call centre.

The unfortunate side effect of this is that their employees will now have to deal with several user interfaces throughout their day, each with varying level of usability, each possibly with a different login. This can lead to a very frustrating experience for users when you take into account each user’s unique needs and that each product is usually not designed with the other applications in mind. Over the years I’ve seen the full spectrum of experiences that accompany using 3rd party applications to assist with critical business processes. Some of these applications are just plain painful, some are a pleasure to work with, and some are merely ok  — they get the job done with relatively few headaches and grey hairs. However, “3rd Party Software” doesn’t have to be a dirty phrase. With thoughtful attention to the user’s experience across applications, we can design solutions to fill in those potholes, smoothing out the user’s experience along the way.

Can’t We Just All Get Along?

I recently listened to James Robertson (@s2d_jamesr) give a talk at VanUE on Designing Behind the Firewall, where he showed many different applications of beautifully designed intranets for many enterprise clients. (more…)

UX Book Review: Designing Together by Dan Brown


Designing Together by Dan Brown

I first discovered Dan Brown when I saw him speak at the 2012 IA Summit in New Orleans on “Managing Difficult Situations on Design Projects”. His presentation laid out the basis of what contributes to common interpersonal conflicts and described a toolbox of strategies for handling difficult situations that keep projects moving forward.

In addition to his presentation Dan put together a card game called “Surviving Design Projects” that is extremely helpful to play with your team as a team-building exercise (I have played this with my fellow designers) or to have on your desk as a reference when faced with a difficult situation.

The workshop and the card game set the foundation for his new book “Designing Together“. The book pairs his conflict management concepts with the fundamentals of strong collaboration, which we as designers thrive on in our day-to-day work. (more…)

Design Trends We’re Watching in 2014

As a follow-up to our Top Interaction Design Trends 2013 post in December, the design team here at OpenRoad considered some of the trends and buzzwords that might give us a glimpse into what design and technology has in store for us in 2014. Now, we’re not claiming that these are the design trends for 2014, but merely a few of the ones that we find particularly interesting at the moment. So let’s dig in…

Connected Everything


Some say it started a few years ago with Nest, who introduced a smart, self-learning thermostat for your home. Soon, we saw an explosion of connected products and product ideas for home automation, including lighting and security systems. But this year, things seem to be moving into overdrive. Clearly, Google thinks so too with their recent $3.2 billion acquisition of Nest, only last week. Wolfram even announced the launch of their new Connected Devices Project, which boasted “a couple of thousand devices” at launch. (more…)

Top 3 Interaction Design Trends We Loved in 2013

In 2013, the web got flatter, simpler, and more mobile-ier. Here’s our round-up of three things that really had us singing happy songs as interaction designers this year:

Responsive Web Design entered the public consciousness

Responsive Design

Responsive Design was something that had us excited for some time now, both in terms of what it could do for the user experience and for our clients’ bottom-lines. But it took a bit of time for the concept to gain traction, mainly because it’s a bit of a difficult concept to grasp. So when an entire TV commercial is tooled up to show off Sportsnet’s responsive website, you know RWD has become more than an obscure philosophical approach debated within the web design community. In fact, by some estimates, roughly 1 in 8 websites are now responsive. And we couldn’t be more thrilled. It means more and more sites are accessible to more and more people, devices, and contexts. That’s why we declare 2013 as “The Year Responsive Design Went Mainstream”.

Everything’s “flat” now

Flat Design Flat Design

In 2012, the Interwebs were abuzz with the idea of “flat design”—design that scorned unnecessary ornamentation and dubious visual metaphor. Suddenly everyone was an expert interface designer simply because they could use the word “skeuomorphism” in intelligent debate. Fast-forward to 2013, and Apple now led the charge with their much maligned/anticipated iOS 7 redesign. Gone are the gaudy leather trims and faux-distressed metal surfaces. And while we certainly think there’s always room for the affordances inherent in referencing physical objects in screen-based interactive design, we feel the dominant trend towards clean, open, and simple interfaces is generally a pretty good thing.

Hamburgers to go

Hamburger Icon Hamburger Icon

The surge of mobile introduced a new iconography into the broader interaction design lexicon, leading many sites to behave more like apps (especially when viewed on mobile devices). The most notable newcomer was the three-bar symbol affectionally referred to as “the hamburger menu icon”. In 2013, we saw many responsive sites adopt this shorthand to let users know that, hey! there’s a menu under there somewhere. And users responded with a unanimous “OK, I get it!” This allowed designers to hide the navigation until needed, clearing space on small screens for the important stuff, like actual content. Because no one wants to visit a site on their smartphone only to wade through screens of navigation options, right? We’ll take that hamburger to go, please.

The impact of mobile on interaction design was unmistakable this year, setting new standards and influencing users’ behaviour and experiences. Moving into 2014, we’re looking forward to seeing that line between “mobile” and “desktop” disappear altogether, giving rise to a “multi-screen” approach to design that lets users get the content they want—anytime, anywhere. Soon, they’ll be singing happy songs along with us, too.

OpenRoad Acquires Creative Agency Mod7

OpenRoad+mod7Today is a big day for OpenRoad. I am excited to announce our acquisition of Mod7 Communications Inc. We’ve partnered with Mod7 on many projects over the years and now they’re part of the OpenRoad team. You could say that we’ve been dating for a long time, and now it’s time to get married.

Wil Arndt will be joining OpenRoad as our new Creative Director. I’ve known Wil for many years and have worked alongside him on projects for clients such as Pokémon, The World Bank, Electronic Arts, and TReO. There are very few people that bring together a great sense of design, the ability to articulate a creative vision, and empathy for the user like he can.

For OpenRoad, this means we now have a lot more creative brain power. We can now provide a complete end-to-end experience, covering all aspects of strategy, user experience, visual design, development, and ongoing continuous improvement under one roof. This means digital experiences that are well built, easy to use, and visually stunning. It also means we have more awards than we know what to do with (seriously – over 150! Where are we going to put them all?)

For ThoughtFarmer it means an increased focus on visual design for our clients. Beautiful intranets are just as important as compelling public websites and this will allow us to improve the product and continue to deliver stunning custom designs for our clients.

Please join me in welcoming our new Creative Director Wil Arndt, designer Daryl Claudio and developer Tyler Egeto. I have the utmost respect for the business and the team Wil has built, and I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish together. I’m looking forward to introducing you to Wil and his team and letting you see them in action on your next project.

Here’s to the future!

Darren Gibbons, President


Celebrating 40 years with SFU’s School of Communication

cmns_40_poster It’s hard to believe it was 20 years ago that I nervously attended my first university lecture at Simon Fraser University – a life changing moment to be sure. My alma mater just turned 40 this fall – SFU’s School of Communication, now part of the Faculty of Communication, Art, and Technology – and they celebrated in style last night at the elegant downtown Segal Graduate School of Business.

I was asked to speak and share my thoughts on their theme of Staying Relevant, something that not only plagues middle-aged graduates, but post-secondary institutions themselves in challenging economic times.

I joined other alum Aaron Cruikshank who runs the Hive co-working space just up the block from us here and Shannon Ward of Babyproofing Your Business fame. It was great to catch up with some familiar (if not slightly older looking) faces and meet some new ones as well.

Thanks again to all of the outstanding alumni who attended last night, Dean of FCAT Cheryl Geisler, Director Alison Beale, event organizer Ovey Yeung, and to the professors who left an indelible mark on an impressionable mind. (more…)

Mobile Website Design: 3 Anti-Patterns to Avoid

While it’s good to know what the mobile website design best practices are, it’s just as important to be able to identify bad patterns when you see them.

More than ever before, we’re accessing the web from a variety of mobile devices and it’s not just when we’re on the go anymore. We’re starting to use it when there are computers readily available to us because it’s more convenient.

It’s been great to see how much the mobile web has been growing over the last couple of years. However, we’re finding the user experience of a good portion of these sites isn’t optimized for mobile users. Websites have been being built for a long time now, where as the mobile web is still relatively new.

So let’s consider a few mobile web anti-patterns.

#1 Not Having a Mobile Site



This post originally appeared on Mod7 is now a part of OpenRoad Communications. Please see the official press release for more information about the acquisition.



Creativity, and a lot of duct tape​

So this year we finally decided to make a “real” website for ourselves. You know, one that wasn’t thrown together in 2 days. And we’re pretty happy with how it came out. Like everything online, it’s still a work-in-progress, but it’s nice to finally be able to point to our web address and say, “check out our site” and not preface that with a bunch of lame excuses. Here’s some behind-the-scenes documentation of the process and technology used. (more…)

Introducing the Better Together Website Reboot

This post originally appeared on Mod7 is now a part of OpenRoad Communications. Please see the official press release for more information about the acquisition.


Ready to experience the joys of cooking and eating together?

We are pleased to introduce a fresh reboot for the Better Together website! We’ve been involved in the Better Together project since 2009, so we’re really excited about the new features this latest update brings to the Better Together audience:

  • It’s “responsive”. View Better Together content on any device—your PC, smartphone, or tablet—and it’ll look great!
  • Create, save, and print your own personalized cookbooks!
  • A new interface for browsing and saving kid-friendly recipes.
  • A comprehensive and easy-to-browse learning section.
  • Explore and share site content on TwitterFacebook, or Pinterest.
  • Create a personalized Better Together account so you can save recipes, create cookbooks, and even manage your entries for the ever-popular annual video contest.
  • Save paper by using the new and nifty “kitchen-friendly mode” for recipes. Read and follow the recipe on your tablet as you cook. (Here’s a sample).
  • And, as always, browse the all the great tips, inspiration, and stories on the Better Together blog.

Check it out today:

Your Own Private Cloud (PaaS) – Part II: Converting an existing Django App to run on Stackato

Note: If you haven’t read it already, see Part I: Understanding PaaS for some background on private PaaS solutions.

What is Stackato?

As mentioned in Part I, Stackato is based off the Open Source project Stackato provides free images for VirtualBox, VMWare, AWS and KVM.  I have heard they may be making a Vagrant box as well but until then it shouldn’t be too hard to convert the VirtualBox image into your own Vagrant box.  Along side the VM image Stackato provides a command line tool called kato in order to interact with your environment and deploy your apps.


Deploying Django to Stackato

How easy is it to take an existing Django application that was not architected for a PaaS environment, and port it to run on Stackato?  Thankfully, it is actually pretty easy. This post details the required steps.