Design + Business Conference

Saturday, march 2, 2024

Creative people

Meaningful connections

Innovative ideas

The best design party around.
BLEND is an interactive connection, highlighting how the power of design has become the secret advantage to business success.

Surrounded by creative, passionate people and with the best tools and approaches at your disposal, you’ll have what it takes to lead change and create better business outcomes with design.

Sponsored by

Sun Life LogoUniversity of Waterloo Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business Logo

"the perfect mix of theoretical
and practical knowledge that
I could apply to my work"

- BLEND attendee

2024 speakers

BLEND brings experts in UX research, product design, creative strategy, and much more. 2024's incredible lineup will excite and inspire all to face the future and reimagine our realities.

Steve Portigal

Steve
Portigal

Founder
Portigal Consulting
(he/him)

Steve Portigal (he/him)

Steve Portigal is an experienced user researcher who helps organizations to build mature user research practices. Based outside of San Francisco, he is principal of Portigal Consulting, and has conducted research with thoracic surgeons, families eating breakfast, rock musicians, home-automation enthusiasts, credit-default swap traders, and real estate agents. His work has informed the development of professional audio gear, wine packaging, medical information systems, design systems, video-conferencing technology, and music streaming services.

He is the author of the classic Interviewing Users: How To Uncover Compelling Insights (now in a second edition) and Doorbells, Danger, and Dead Batteries: User Research War Stories. He’s also the host of the Dollars to Donuts podcast, where he interviews people who lead user research in their organizations.

Albert Shum

Albert
Shum

Ex-Microsoft, Ex-Nike
(he/him)

Albert Shum (he/him)

Albert Shum is a career design leader recently retired from at Microsoft a Corporate Vice President of Design. With over 25 years of global consumer brand and design development expertise, Albert has led strategic initiatives across multidisciplinary teams at Nike and Microsoft, scaling design thinking and launching products that influence millions. He led the recent efforts to reimagine Microsoft’s web experiences, including search, browser and services across a suite of products that reached over a billion customers at work, home, and school. He had previously led Windows, Windows Mobile, Xbox, HoloLens and device experiences.

Albert’s design ethos lies at the intersection of business, experience, and technology (BXT), with a focus on responsible design. He believes that the most successful user interactions are those that respect the human need and fully consider their impact at scale. He has spoken on the responsibility of design to audiences at AdobeMAX, Innovation Forum in London, 99U Conference, Fast Company Innovation Festival, MIT IDM Master’s program, School of Visual Arts and currently is Class Advisor at Institute of Design in Chicago.

Albert’s work in design leadership has helped shape conversations on diversity & inclusion throughout the industry. Albert has served as a mentor, partner, and leader in programs like the Adobe Design Circle and its Scholarship Fund, the Design for Inclusivity Industry Summit, the LEAP apprenticeship program at Microsoft, and in student design challenges in partnership IxDA, AIGA, and Emily Carr University of Art & Design.

He holds a Master’s degree in Product Design from Stanford and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from University of Waterloo.

Geordie Graham

Geordie
Graham

Sr. Manager, User Research
Simplii Financial
(he/him)

Geordie Graham (he/him)

Geordie is a 2X former co-founder and YCominator Alumni (S21) who is currently a Senior Manager of User Research at Simplii Financial. His breadth of experience includes Product Leadership at startups and User Research in several industries (healthcare, fintech, education, wellness, e-commerce and SmartHome technology). His passions include utilizing user research for product growth as well as Generative AI for User Research.

Mackenzie Derival

Mackenzie
Derival

Co-Founder of Node App
(he/him)

Mackenzie Derival (he/him)

Mackenzie is a startup founder and product designer based in Toronto. As a UW student in 2018, he co-founded Node App, a platform that connects brands with influencers. Under his leadership, the company secured over $1 million in investment, participated in Techstars and Google Accelerator, and worked with over 1500 brands.

Beyond his startup journey, Mackenzie has served as a designer for companies including Google and Overlap Associates, and has worked with startups in GenAI, EdTech, and other spaces. He also enjoys mentoring and hosting workshops, having conducted sessions at universities such as UofT, UWaterloo, UCD, UCSB, and more.

Mallory O'Connor headshot

Mallory
O'Connor

Practice Lead, Culture and Transformation
Habanero Consulting Group
(she/her)

Mallory O'Connor (she/her)

Mallory has crafted a thirty year career made up of many transitions and roles. Currently, as the Practice Lead, Culture and Transformation at Habanero, she focuses her skillset in empathy, facilitation and relationship-building on shaping and delivering compelling changes to organizational culture, purpose, values and vision, customer and employee experiences and the digital landscape.

Markus Grupp headshot

Markus
Grupp

blend host
Design Leader, Educator, Coach & Mentor
(he/him)

Markus Grupp (he/him)

Bio coming soon!

Greg McIntyre

Greg
McIntyre

blend host
Digital Media Manager
University of Waterloo
(he/him)

Patrick Bach

Patrick
Bach

Director, Service & Experience Design
Accenture Song
(he/him)

Patrick Bach (he/him)

Patrick is an experienced design leader specializing in building and scaling multi-disciplinary teams that leverage Human-Centered Design and Behavioral Sciences to solve complex customer and business problems. Patrick has worked across industries (Healthcare, Telco, Insurance, Banking) to deliver on large-scale strategic transformation projects, drive meaningful culture change, and build new capabilities within organizations.  Over the last 10+ years, he's held various leadership roles in product & service design/transformation, customer experience strategy, and product development. Beyond his day job, he teaches part-time at Humber College and Wilfrid Laurier University, actively contributing to the community through mentorships, conferences & events.

Eldrin Banares

Eldrin
Banares

Designer
TEALEAVES
(he/him)

Eldrin Banares

Eldrin is a passionate multi-disciplinary designer dedicated to creating impactful experiences and spreading positivity through design. As a proud Graphic Design graduate of OCAD University, his diverse skills focus on creating meaningful stories, leaving a lasting impression, and making the world brighter one design at a time.

As a Creative Designer at TEALEAVES, he collaborates with a team equally dedicated to producing positive impact. Together, they've spearheaded projects like the Biodiversity Design Hub on Nature X Design, Color of Biodiversity with PANTONE, and the Biodiversity+ Design Toolkit as amplifiers and educational tools to share the plan for healing and protecting nature.

Elizabeth Creighton

Elizabeth
Creighton

Founder & Principal
Brazen
(she/her)

Elizabeth Creighton (she/her)

With 16 years of experience conducting impactful research, Elizabeth has shaped the design of hundreds of websites, apps, services, and physical products. Her experience is complemented by a PhD in Cognitive Psychology, which gives her a deep understanding of how users think, behave, learn, and remember.

Elizabeth runs a consultancy called Brazen, where she specializes in conducting UX research and training product teams onUX research methods. She also loves to speak on a wide range of topics at UX conferences and events -- she gets pumped to share her experiences with anything from chatbots to colour science to consultancy management.

Chase Denomme

Chase
Denomme

Head of Product Design
Disco
(he/him)

Chase Denomme (he/him)

Bio coming soon!

Adrianna deVries

Adrianna
deVries

Senior Product Designer
Loblaw Digital
(she/her)

Adrianna deVries (she/her)

Adrianna is a Senior Product Designer at Loblaw Digital, where she focuses on enhancing the experience of in-store employees. Outside of her professional life, she is an avid explorer of new locations and has a deep passion for all aspects of art and design.

Jacob Hanania

Jacob
Hanania

Product Designer
Loblaw Digital
(he/him)

Jacob Hanania (he/him)

Jacob is a Product Design Lead at Loblaw Digital, focusing on online grocery fulfillment. His team’s mission is to ensure customers receive what they want, when they want it. Jacob has nearly a decade of experience in resolving complex service challenges at two notable Canadian brands: Indigo and Loblaws. When he’s not at work, Jacob spends his time curling or watching movies.

Ashley Hui

Ashley
Hui

Service Design Manager, Design & Digital Products
Accenture Song
(she/her)

Ashley Hui (she/her)

Hailing from Vancouver, Ashley is a design leader with a blended specialty in Service, Experience, and Product Design. She works closely with clients and cross-functional teams to drive meaningful transformation work leveraging human-centred design; her design experience spans across multiple industries — including pharma, healthcare, telco, financial services, and government. Ashley is especially interested in leading and designing solutions that embrace accessibility, sustainability, and digital equity — all while pushing the creative envelope for innovation.

Joshua Kwok

Joshua
Kwok

Product Designer
Loblaw Digital
(he/him)

Joshua Kwok (he/him)

Joshua is a Product Designer at Loblaw Digital, building systems for online grocery order fulfillment. As a University of Waterloo Systems Design Engineering grad, he applies his background in human-computer interaction to create efficient and ergonomic workflows for employees. You’ll find Josh at every new restaurant, cafe, or tea shop eating and drinking his way through life.

Elizabeth Lane

Elizabeth
Lane

Product Lead
MetaLab
(she/her)

Elizabeth Lane (she/her)

Elizabeth Lane is a Toronto-based designer, technology ethicist, strategic futurist, and storyteller. She is currently envisioning and building meaningful digital products that transcend the status quo at Metalab, a design and product company, and previously was at Deloittte Digital solving complex problems for startups to enterprises. She is the creator of Future Stories of Community, an exhibit that explores the possible futures of communities driven by digital technology, and imagines how we might co-create healthy communities now and in the future.

Website: elizabethlane.ca
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/laneelizabeth

Kalil Magtoto

Kalil
Magtoto

AI Content Specialist
Sanofi
(he/him)

Kalil Magtoto (he/him)

Kalil is the creative mind behind KALIL.CO where he and his team craft compelling narratives for audiences big and small. Currently he is steering the content strategy for his client, Sanofi, and their Responsible AI rollout. He's as committed to ethical tech as he is to his craft. When he's not making content, you'll find him championing men's mental health through Movember and CMHA Toronto and speaking up for orphans at Generations-Home. An avid runner, Kalil parties through the streets of Toronto with the Midnight Runners and has completed the Toronto and Waterfront marathons.

Jessica Matson headshot

Jessica
Matson

Design Operations Lead
Sun Life
(she/her)

Jessica Matson (she/her)

Jessica is he Design Operations Lead at Sun Life Financial and was employee #1 on Sun Life's User Experience Team in 2014. After spending several years as a UX generalist and UX researcher, she recently transitioned to lead the new Design operations practice, focusing on streamlining and maturing the overall design practice at Sun Life. Outside of work, you can usually find her hanging with her toddlers, watching baseball or running.

Kristina Miller headshot

Kristina
Miller

Senior Journey Design Researcher
Sun Life
(she/her)

Kristina Miller (she/her)

Kristina is a Senior Journey Design Researcher at Sun Life Financial. Before becoming a design researcher, she spent 8 years in academic health services research specializing in patient and caregiver experience research. She holds a Master's in Gerontology from Western University and is a committee member of Ladies that UX London ON.

Craig Moore headshot

Craig
Moore

Director, Design Operations
Sun Life
(he/him)

Craig Moore (he/him)

Craig has been growing, leading and mentoring teams of creative people for essentially his entire career. Craig thrives in organizaitons undergoing transformation, and has specialized in the skills, tools and processes needed to level up a design practice at an organizational level.

Jessica Nancoo

Jessica
Nancoo

Product Designer
Loblaw Digital
(she/her)

Jessica Nancoo (she/her)

Jess is a Senior Product Designer at Loblaw Digital and a graduate of the GBDA program at the University of Waterloo. She specializes in designing for intricate systems and services in the fulfillment space. She thrives on unraveling mysteries and strategically identifying opportunities by considering the broader context.

Karri Ojanen

Karri
Ojanen

Director, Design Coach
Sun Life
(he/him)

Karri Ojanen (he/him)

Karri Ojanen is a seasoned design leader with 25 years of international experience under his belt. His journey began in Finland, where he honed his skills at some of the top digital agencies in Scandinavia. From there, he set out to explore new horizons in the Middle East, the United States and Canada, lending his expertise in user experience, design thinking and service design to a diverse range of organizations.

Today, Karri brings his knowledge to his role as a Design Coach at Sun Life, where he helps bridge the gap between design aspirations and practical implementation. He also shares his expertise as an instructor of user experience and service design programs at the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Studies.

When he's not busy shaping the future of design in the corporate world, you can find Karri kicking off his shoes and going for a barefoot run, creating music or spending quality time with his wife and kids.

Aghavni Vardanyan

Aghavni
Vardanyan

Designer
TEALEAVES
(she/her)

Aghavni Vardanyan (she/her)

Aghavni is a designer passionate about strategic thinking and artistic storytelling. Driven by her purpose to protect biodiversity, in both her professional and personal journey, she is excited about creating work that seamlessly blends human and nature centered design.

Carly Williams

Carly
Williams

Filmmaker, Digital Content Strategist
TEALEAVES
(she/her)

Carly Williams (she/her)

Carly is a storyteller working in film and digital media. Her documentaries on the
environment and design have screened at Design Festivals and institutions including
Cooper Hewitt's Smithsonian Museum, Columbia University, NYCxDesign and many more.

Will Zhao headshot

Will
zhao

Professor
University of Waterloo
Stratford School
(he/him)

Will Zhao

Will Zhao is an Assistant Professor in Organization and Human Behaviour at the Stratford School, University of Waterloo. His PhD is from the French Grande Ecole Emlyon Business School, and he conducted his postdoctoral research as a SCANCOR scholar at Stanford University. Prior to Waterloo, Will was an award-winning faculty member at an AACSB-accredited Canadian business school, where he received his first promotion to tenured associate professor. 

As an interdisciplinary researcher, he studies innovation from organizational, educational, and engineering perspectives, using multimodal methods that draw on semiotics, rhetoric, and artificial intelligence perspectives. He publishes in business, education, engineering, and interdisciplinary journals.

2024 Schedule

Here's what you can expect from the day. Our lineup of speakers features an incredible group of design and business leaders ready to inspire. Sessions include a live QA session. Schedule is currently being finalized, subject to change.

SATURDAY, March 2, 2024

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8:15 AM

Bus Departure from Waterloo

For those coming from Kitchener-Waterloo, the buses will be departing from Hagey Hall at the University of Waterloo, Waterloo Campus at 8:15 AM to arrive at the University of Waterloo Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business for 9:00 AM.

8:45 AM

Registration

Welcome! Upon arriving to the University of Waterloo Stratford Campus, pick-up your name tag at the front desk. Breakfast and beverages will be served to kick-off the event.

9:05 AM

Opening Remarks and Housekeeping

9:10 AM

The Power of Bad Ideas - Keynote (Atrium)

Steve Portigal (he/him)
Founder, Portigal Consulting

9:55 AM

Designing Responsible AI - Keynote (Atrium)

Albert Shum (he/him)
Ex-Microsoft, Ex-Nike

11:00 AM

Morning Workshops: Select one to participate in!

#1: Designing with Purpose: Be a Boulder, Not a Pebble (Room 2022)
Ever wondered how to infuse initiatives with strategic insight, actionability, and inclusivity from the get-go?

Effective design hinges on robust research. However, all too often, research efforts may be steered towards evaluation or predefined priorities, potentially skewing the entire outcome. Instead, the focus needs to be on understanding the ‘why’ behind the design, not merely validating preconceived notions.

Join us in this workshop as we delve into the criticality of strategic research and its transformative impact on the way we work. Through real-world examples, we’ll unravel the essence of strategic research, demonstrating its execution, and profound implications for designing impactful solutions.

Karri Ojanen (he/him)
Director, Design Coach, Sun Life

Kristina Miller (she/her)
Senior Journey Design Researcher, Sun Life

Timothy Hong (he/him)
Director & Design Coach, Sun Life

----------

#2: Biodiversity+ Design Toolkit (Room 2024)
This session will introduce you to the Biodiversity+ Design Toolkit and will speak to the value of design inspired by the natural world, how the interconnected web of biodiversity can inform various aspects of design, and contribute to the betterment of humanity and a greener future.

The toolkit has been crafted and continues to be developed by designers from Harvard, Microsoft, IBM, RISD, OCAD U and more, advised by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

Carly Williams (she/her)
Filmmaker/ Producer, TEALEAVES

Aghavni Vardanyan (she/her)
Designer, TEALEAVES

Eldrin Banares (he/him)
Designer, TEALEAVES

----------

#3: Growth Design (Room 2129)

Join the Growth Design Workshop to master the art and science of aligning business goals with user experience for measurable, sustainable impact. In this interactive session, learn from real-world case studies and interactive activities how to apply a scientific design process across the growth design flywheel to enhance user engagement, satisfaction, and advocacy in a way that smashes your business goals.

Chase Denomme (he/him)

Head of Product Design, Disco
Community Lead & Instructor, GrowthDesigners

----------

#4: From Mess to Success: Harnessing the Power of Service Blueprints (Room 3022)

“From Mess to Success” is a workshop designed to help participants understand the use of Service Blueprints in untangling complex problems. The focus will be on demonstrating the functionality of a Blueprint rather than its creation process. 

This workshop is ideal for students, aspiring Service Designers, and anyone interested in practical applications of Service Design. 

Adrianna deVries (she/her)
Senior Product Designer, Loblaw Digital

Jessica Nancoo (she/her)
Product Designer, Loblaw Digital

Jacob Hanania (he/him)
Product Design Lead, Filmmaker, Loblaw Digital

Joshua Kwok (he/him)
Product Designer, Loblaw Digital

----------

#5: Business Model Innovation, a Reversed Approach (Room 3024)

Join Dr. Will Zhao, UW Stratford School's expert in innovation research for a refreshed look at business model innovation from a reversed perspective. This session, which garnered significant interest last year at the BLEND conference, has been updated to dive deeper into the backbone of successful business models. Through a reversed technique, attendees will gain hands-on experience with some of the fundamental logic shared by diverse, impactful business models and learn how to easily reverse it to foster innovation in businesses.

Will Zhao (he/him)
Professor, University of Waterloo Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business

11:50 PM

Lunch

Your brain needs energy, eat some food! Enjoy a catered lunch.

1:00 PM

Afternoon Workshops: Select one to participate in!

#1: Your AI Research Assistant (Room 2022)

Learn to use ChatGPT and other AI-based tools to cut tedious tasks from every stage of the user research process, saving you time and enabling you to reserve your precious mental energy for the important stuff — learning from your users and applying those insights to product and design decisions.

Throughout this workshop, we’ll discuss the ethical considerations of using AI in user research, as well as the many limitations of the tools that are currently available — don’t worry, the robots aren’t stealing our jobs yet!

Elizabeth Creighton (she/her)
Founder & Principal, Brazen
----------

#2: Creating Space: Balancing Design and Business Objectives (Room 2024)
Operating in an industry where our core values can often seem at odds with the objectives of our stakeholders can often lead to friction, burnout, and struggling to find a voice in the product development lifecycle. Macro-level market changes are forcing us to evolve as practitioners, and the future can feel a bit uncertain as we learn to adapt. Join us for a candid discussion on the current state of UX, and the skills and mindset required to stand out from the crowd, and thrive, in a rapidly changing marketplace.

Craig Moore (he/him)
Director, Design Operations, Sun Life

Jessica Matson (she/her)
Design Operations Lead, Sun Life

--------------------

#3: Pixel Quest: Level up your product requirements through journey mapping (Room 2129)

Welcome to Pixel Quest: where you'll embark on a retro-gaming adventure and unlock your ability to translate journeys to product features and requirements. In this workshop, you'll be equipped with the tools, techniques, (& cheat codes) to level up your product journey mapping game!

Patrick Bach (he/him)
Director, Service & Experience Design, Accenture Song

Ashley Hui (she/her)
Service Design Manager, Design & Digital Products, Accenture Song

----------

#4: Future Stories of Community (Room 3022)

Future Stories of Community is an interactive physical adaptation of Elizabeth Lane's graduate research conducted during her Master of Design studies at OCAD University. Elizabeth investigated: What is community, how has community evolved driven by emerging digital technology, and how might digital technology be designed to build healthy community? The full report is accessible online.

Communities play a crucial role in individual and societal wellbeing, serving as a foundation for belonging and democracy.

Communities are evolving, expedited in today's world by the abundance and rapid advancement of digital technology.

The impacts of digital technology in communities can be both positive, such as enabling global connections and support, and negative, such as heightening social fragmentation and polarization.

As digital technology continues its proliferation, it is important to understand how community health, and therefore societal health, could be impacted in the possible futures to come.

Future Stories of Community invites us to explore possible future worlds shaped by digital technology through the stories of fictional community members, and imagine how we might preserve what is important for communities today in order to co-create healthy communities for the future amidst ever-changing environments.

Workshop participants will immerse themselves in the year 2043, exploring the intersection of community and digital technology through storytelling. Participants will have the opportunity to co-create alternate futures of communities and possible interventions for today to move us towards healthy communities for the futures to come.

Elizabeth Lane (she/her)
Product Lead, MetaLab

--------------------

#5: Content Creating with AI (Room 3024)

Kalil Magtoto (he/him)
AI Content Specialist, Sanofi

2:15 PM

The Startup Journey: Using User Research as your Compass - Keynote (Atrium)

Geordie Graham will talk about his experience as both a start up co-founder and how to best use user research to unlock human insights to create products from the ground up in a resource constrained environment.

Geordie Graham (he/him)

Sr. UX Research Manager, Simplii Financial

3:00 PM

Keynote (Atrium)

Mackenzie Derival (he/him)
Co-Founder of Node App

3:30 PM

Crafting an Age-Proof Career with Longevity and Purpose - Keynote (Atrium)

Mallory has made career crafting a conscious part of her work journey. From early experiments in a law firm to stints in psychology and eventually finding her emotional home in experience design for the workplace, her professional longevity lies in understanding her core principles and using them to reset, reskill and craft her career through several transitions. With even more change on the horizon – from evolving technology to aging to family – the need to intentionally shape her own experience, stay relevant and thrive will become even more important.

In this talk, Mallory will:
- Share insights about her own experience in maturing her career focus in an always changing industry
- Dig into the shifting demographic landscape in Canada and the career opportunities it creates
- Share ideas for how we all can benefit from an aging workforce

Mallory O'Connor (she/her)
Practice Lead, Culture and Transformation, Habanero Consulting Group

4:00 PM

Closing Remarks

4:10 PM

Networking & Social Hour

Connect and socialize with speakers, sponsors and attendees over light snacks and refreshments!

6:00 PM

Bus Departure from Stratford

Bus departs the University of Waterloo Stratford School to return to the University of Waterloo, Waterloo Campus at Hagey Hall. Buses expected to arrive at approximately 6:45 PM at Waterloo campus.

2024 Details

Pricing:
Students: $20/person
Alumni: $30/person
Industry: $50/person

Fill out the form to join our waitlist!