The Official OpenRoad Blog


Fun Times & Moving Memories at our Gastown Grand Prix Event


Thanks to everyone who came out to our 2014 Gastown Grand Prix event! We’re honoured to have such charming, fun, and interesting people as clients, partners, and friends and we hope you enjoyed the event as much as we did. Also, a big thank you to Global Relay for bringing such a high-quality cycling event to Vancouver, we definitely enjoy our front-row seats.

This year, in addition to candid photos of our guests and the race, we created unique moving images (called cinemagraphs) of the event. Be sure to have a look at the gallery and check them out—you won’t be disappointed. We hope you can make it out next year.

Have a wonderful summer and feel free to get in touch with us at if you’re starting up any projects in the fall (or would just like to grab a coffee!)

>>View the Gallery


Imagineering the Omni-Channel Experience


At the start of 2014, we called cross channel experiences a major trend to watch. While cross channel remains important, we are seeing an evolution to omni-channel experiences. Omni-channel focuses on creating a consistent experience across all customer touch-points, where cross-channel is often limited to only a portion of the experience. Disney is a great example of the “magic” that happens when a true omni-channel experience is delivered.

Historical Limitations of Cross-channel

One cross-channel strategy may focus only on the digital channel. It ensures the digital experience works across all browser and operating system platforms, various screen sizes, and device types. While this is a worthy effort, it leaves out all of the other channels a customer may come in contact with such as in-store and call centres. Another cross-channel strategy tries to ensure a consistent experience via branding and information provided across all physical and digital touch points. Again a worthy and important effort, but still short of a truly omni-channel experience.


Omni-channel concentrates on delivering seamless experiences through all available touch points with a product or service via mobile internet devices, computers, brick-and-mortar locations, television, radio, direct mail, catalog and so on. Customers expect every interaction with a brand to be integrated through their journey of discovery, research, purchase and support. Planning and executing an omni-channel strategy is a way to meet or exceed customer expectations.

Omni-channel experiences strive to seamlessly weave digital and physical touch points together across all channels, allowing customers to achieve their goals whenever and however best suits them. Omni-channel experiences are frictionless in that they can start on one device or channel and be quickly and easily completed on another channel or device without having to start over or backtrack. Omni-channel strategies strive to enhance physical channels with digital augmentation and ensure digital experiences have appropriate physical analogues so no digital divides exist and so customers can operate in their channel of choice.

Disney’s Omni-Channel User Experience

Disney's website at desktop, tablet and mobile phone sizes

Disney’s website at desktop, tablet and mobile phone sizes

Lets look at how Disney is delivering omni-channel experiences for visitors to Walt Disney World. The experience typically starts at, a responsive website that works across device types: computer, tablet and smartphone. Even their trip planning site is optimized for the mobile device.

Once a trip is booked to Walt Disney World Florida, guests can use My Disney Experience to book in-park dining reservations and plan FastPass experiences. FastPass allows park guests to skip lines for three attractions per day. Using the My Disney Experience smartphone app in the park, guests can check and change their FastPass choices and check other attraction wait times while on the go.

These innovations make for fun trip planning and theme park experiences, but Disney is truly forging new omni-channel experiences with their MagicBand program. The MagicBand is a wristband embedded with short-range RFID and long range Bluetooth technologies. It’s an opt-in system so guests control how much personal information they share with the park. The more information guests share, the more customized theme park experience they receive. For example, in Disney resort hotels, MagicBands are used as room keys. Just tapping your wristband unlocks the door. Guests can also order food with their wristbands at Disney restaurants and food carts.

MagicBand RFID wristbands

MagicBand RFID wristbands

MagicBands also integrate with FastPass and PhotoPass systems. Once set up, you can walk to the front of an attraction line, tap your wrist, and on you go. If your picture is taken with a Disney character by a park photographer, they will scan your MagicBand and your photos will be available online for purchase later. The old PhotoPass system for purchasing photos online involved manual data entry by the user, whereas the new experience is virtually seamless.

The park experience feels “frictionless” with the use of MagicBands, My Experience apps and FastPass. The best parts of the Disney park experience are made better via subtle digital enhancement. There is something magical about skipping to the front of the line to have your child’s picture taken with a beloved Disney character and then conveniently ordering the photos online later.

This is both an example of an existing omni-channel experience, as well as the current high water mark for experiences that move between the physical and digital.

MagicBand integration with Disney's PhotoPass system

MagicBand integration with Disney’s PhotoPass system


When relentlessly focusing on the quality of the experience you are delivering, you have to look at all of your customer touch points to deliver seamless experiences choreographed between all channels, physical and digital.

The first step to creating omni-channel experiences is to create a strong strategy focused on customer needs. This is accomplished through research, culminating in a Customer Journey Map. A journey map depicts the step-by-step interactions a user has through all of the touch points with your product or service. Once completed, this design artifact helps key decision makers identify opportunities for improvement or differentiation that can help drive the strategy.

Once identified, opportunities can be worked out through storyboarding and refined via service or experience prototypes; these prototyping methods involve users in simulations so the end experience can be evaluated and modified if necessary before actually launching the enhancements. Simulations can be done in a lab-like environment but it is strongly encouraged to do a limited live run to verify what impact external factors not possible to verify in the laboratory have on user perception and experience. This was the approach taken by Disney with their MagicBands: look at the customer journey; identify pain points and opportunities; design, test and iterate.

OpenRoad's Trevor Allen and his family gave MagicBands a spin

OpenRoad’s Trevor Allen and his family gave MagicBands a spin

Emily Carr’s Big Idea Gala: Supporting the Future of Design in BC

Congratulations to Emily Carr University of Art and Design on their launch of The Big Idea capital campaign!

The campaign aims to raise the $25 million needed for the construction of a new, state-of-the-art Emily Carr University campus at Great Northern Way. Creativity is a vital resource to the British Columbia economy, and Emily Carr University hopes that the new campus will become part of the province’s economic, social, cultural, and educational engine.


From left to right: Wil Arndt, Creative Director; Darren Gibbons, President; Gordon Ross, Vice President

As supporters of BC’s design community, we were honoured to attend and sponsor their Red Carpet Gala to kick off the campaign. The high-profile evening included red carpet photos, an opportunity to learn more about the project, yum-mazing oysters, and a sneak peek of the freshest art and design projects at The Show (Emily Carr’s annual grad celebration).

Our Creative Director, Wil Arndt—an Emily Carr University graduate, former design program teacher, and current alumni board member—says, “The creative industry is flourishing in Vancouver thanks to institutions like Emily Carr. As usual, I was impressed with the high levels of sophistication and insight at the design show this year. These students are bringing innovation, creative thinking, and determination to some big design problems.”

Congrats to Emily Carr University and a shout out to Reliance Properties for donating a generous $7 million to kick off the campaign. We encourage you to get involved by donating to their FundRazr Campaign (donations start as low as $5).

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