Squirrel shoes, yoga and spacesuits: My experience at CanUX 2017

4 min read Kat Hardisty

One of the great things about being in the UX field is the UX community. So many inspiring and generally all-round awesome people who are passionate about what they do. What happens when you get a big bunch of those fantastic people all in the one place? You can practically watch the enthusiasm and inspiration levels rise as people talk about ideas, experiences and challenges, and how they can help each other solve problems.

Luckily for us, there are lots of events dedicated to getting UX people together in one place to share, learn, grow, and connect. CanUX is one of those, and I was fortunate enough to be there in Ottawa to speak at this year’s event.

The crowd at CanUX settling in for the start of the conference.

CanUX is the annual big UX event for Canada. Started 8 years ago by volunteers who wanted to create an opportunity for the Canadian UX community to get together, it’s grown from a small event to a major conference with top speakers from around the world. Still run by two of the original volunteers, CanUX has kept its focus on community which comes through clearly in how it’s organized. From the day of the week and time of year it’s held, through to details such as a yoga class at the venue to kick off the second day of the conference, there are countless details, small and large, that encourage people to go along, to meet others, and to catch up with old friends from previous CanUX conferences.

Aware that there are natural energy lulls in conferences, as people’s brains fill up with inspiration and knowledge, the CanUX team have a regular MC, Rob Woodbridge. This is a man who bounds across the stage, encourages (and actually gets!) audience participation, swears, cracks jokes, and generally seems to have a lot of fun while being the most effective MC I have ever encountered. (Naturally, he’s a bit controversial — some people love to hate him because of that unbridled enthusiasm. But either way, he sets the tone for passionate, engaging presentations!)

The crowd at CanUX had a fair few chances to interact with speakers onstage.

With all the attention to detail around the rest of the conference, it’s not surprising that the same care is shown to the conference programme. All of the main presenters are seen ahead of time by one of the organizers, and then invited to be at CanUX. A very small number of short presentation times are set aside for an open call for submissions, to help encourage newer speakers. Presentations are chosen to cover research, design and IA topics, with both practical and inspirational talks in each.

The talks themselves were fantastic, covering everything from the challenges of designing spacesuits for NASA, tips for overcoming challenges of being the lone UX person in a company, to the future of robotics in services, and how to get design systems up and working in a large organization. Two of the themes that came through strongest for me this year were inclusivity and empathy — for all of the wonderfully diverse people in the world, and also for people we often forget to take the time to understand and empathize with: our peers and our colleagues.


I feel very privileged to have been able to be involved in a conference that was so full of passion and dedication to UX, and to share the stage with so many inspiring people. The topic for my presentation was a subset of the outcomes of qualitative research I have been doing into who UX people are; in particular, the different types of challenges we face depending on our roles, the type of team we are in, our experience level, and (if reasonably new to UX) where our UX knowledge comes from. My talk seemed to be well received (yay!) — although some of the enthusiasm may have been due to the shoes with squirrel heels I was wearing, which got a lot of attention!


Overall, CanUX was the best organized and most thoughtful conference I’ve ever attended. The passion that the volunteer organizers have for the UX field comes through clearly, and really helps build community. Here’s hoping I’m lucky enough to get back to Ottawa for another one!