look back at blend 2023

March 25, 2023

Stratford, ON

2023 speakers

David Dame headshot


Director of Accessibility

David Dame (he/him)

In his role as Director of Accessibility, Dave is leading the accessibility portfolio for Surface Products aligning with Windows and product innovation roadmaps to empower users of all abilities. Dave is a leadership coach, enterprise agile product leader and trainer with over 20 years of experience, which he leverages to drive large-scale transformation in complex organizations. Focusing on building high performing teams, he has trained over 600 professionals in product management, leadership and agile delivery practices. Dave has worked with technology companies such as OpenText, PTC, and MCAP; in many cases improving delivery times by over 150%.

Deepika Malik headshot


AVP Enterprise Design Coach
Sun Life

Deepika Malik (she/her)

Deepika is a seasoned design leader with deep roots in experience & product design. She has built and led practice and method-based design teams for brands including Cineplex Entertainment, Home Depot Canada, Canada Post and Rogers Communications.

Most of her career has been spent on challenging and changing conventions in the corporate workplace — with a focus on how human-centred design can not only improve the customer experience, but internal collaboration, problem framing and decision making. Deepika is currently AVP, Global Enterprise Design Coach at Sun Life where she spends her time advocating for the advancement of experience design practices globally.

Anthony Morgan headshot


Freestyle Socials
PhD Researcher, Entrepreneur

Anthony Morgan (he/him)

Anthony develops, creates and hosts engaging live experiences & media to foster critical thinking. Anthony has spent nearly 20 years studying and working in psychology and science communication, thinking deeply about the most common individual and societal barriers to critical thinking. As an entrepreneur, Anthony leads a team to create, develop and deploy cultural tools designed to address those barriers. As a researcher Anthony studies what we can do to reduce polarization around science.

Rob Williams headshot


AVP, User Experience Design
Sun Life

Rob Williams (he/him)

Rob is the AVP of User Experience Design at Sun Life and leads the UX Design practice for Sun Life Canada. Prior to joining Sun Life, he led product design and development teams at several large tech firms and financial services organizations. Rob holds a Master's in Rhetoric and Communication Design from the University of Waterloo ('13), where his graduate research focused on digital ideation and product co-creation for online brand communities.

Karri Ojanen headshot


Director/Design Coach
Sun Life

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.

Karel Vredenburg headshot


Global Vice President

Karel Vredenburg (he/him)

Karel leads the company's worldwide team of researchers and the insights they provide to product, services, and executive teams. Karel introduced and implemented IBM's new design system, including Enterprise Design Thinking, into software, services, systems and sales business units of IBM globally, as well as hundreds of other companies, typically working with their C-suite level executives and boards.

Karel serves as the head of IBM Studios Canada, is the IBM Innovation Corps executive for Canada, and is Industry Professor at McMaster University. He co-founded the Future of Design Education initiative with Don Norman which is developing design curricula for the 21st Century for academic institutions worldwide.

Follow him at karelvredenburg.com

Markus Grupp headshot


blend host
VP, Head of UX, Design & Innovation
Sirion Labs

Markus Grupp (he/him)

Bio coming soon!

Greg McIntyre

Greg  McIntyre

blend host
Digital Media Manager
University of Waterloo

Greg McIntyre (he/him)

Bio coming soon!

Katherine Alexander headshot


Digital Marketing Specialist

Katherine Alexander (she/her)

Katherine is an experienced digital marketer with Canadian CPG and B2B SaaS companies. She has worked on SEO, SEM, email marketing, social media, and content strategy initiatives over the past decade. After finishing her Bachelor of commerce at Memorial University and MDEI at the University of Waterloo, Kathein made her way into the first Digital Marketing Specialist role at Corby Spirit and Wine working on iconic spirit brands such as J.P. Wiser's, Jameson, Absolut and more. After a turbulent 2020/2021, she made the switch into SaaS at Milk Moovement as the Digital Marketing Lead, and the company's first marketing hire. Unfortunately due to market conditions in January 2023, Katherine was a part of a round of layoffs that have been happening industry-wide across tech. Most recently, she has started a new role as Digital Marketer at Techo-Bloc and is working remotely in London, Ontario.

Daniel Chan headshot


Global Design Op Director
Sun Life

Daniel Chan (he/him)

Bio coming soon!

Dana Gougeon headshot

Dana Gougeon

Senior User Experience Research Lead
Sun Life

Dana Gougeon (she/her)

A veteran in the UX field, Dana has spent her career understanding people, helping them achieve their goals, and adding value to their lives through great research, design, and writing. Senior UX Research Lead at Sun Life, CUA, UW alumna, foster cat mama, and fiber arts enthusiast.

Emily Hutnik headshot


Sr. Service Designer

Emily Hutnik (she/her)

Emily is a Sr Service Designer at Tangerine and a proud GBDA class of 2018 graduate. At the Official Bank of the Toronto Raptors, Emily aims to improve the User Experience for all things banking by utilizing a combination of UX Research and Service Design. She has obtained multiple UX Research Certifications from UserZoom and is also leading the US Research practice at Tangerine. Outside of work, Emily balances her tech-heavy job with a variety of hobbies, such as trying new foods, starting her own YouTube channel, and hosting "Crafternoons" (crafting + afternoons) with friends.

Taylor Kim headshot


Sr. Researcher

Taylor Kim (she/her)

Taylor Kim researches and designs the employee experience at Shopify. She loves finding out what makes people tick. After graduating with a Forestry degree at UBC & completing her MBA at UofT, she made several career pivots to land in the world of experience design. Taylor is a recovering triathlete, happily biking to new food destinations instead of chasing medals.

Kim de Laat headshot

De Laat

Assistant Professor
University of Waterloo
Stratford School


Kim De Laat (she/her)

Kim de Laat is an Assistant Professor of Organization and Human Behaviour at the University of Waterloo's Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business. She received her PhD in Sociology from the University of Toronto.

As a sociologist of work and culture, Kim is interested in how culture and work design shape inequality and uncertainty in organizational and mass media contexts. Her current research examines the unintended consequences of formal and informal social policies aimed at reducing workplace inequalities. Her work appears in such outlets as Cultual Sociology, ILR Review, Poetics, Socio-Economic Review, and Work and Occupations, among others, as well as in op-eds fot he Globe & Mail, and Policy Options.  

Everton Lewis headshot


Impact Signal

Everton Lewis (he/him)

Using analytics and human-centred design techniques, Everton helps companies create products and experiences that truly matter — for their business, employees and customers. He advocates for users to play key roles in solving complex business challenges and delivers solutions by bringing together cross-functional teams including data scientists, designers, researchers, and business strategists.

After completing his MBA, he worked for IBM Interactive and Bridgeable before launching his own company, Impact Signal. Impact Signal is a customer experience design and customer analytics consulting firm based in Toronto.

Jessica Matson headshot


Design Operations LEad
Sun Life

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


Senior Journey Design Researcher
Sun Life

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


Design Op Director
Sun Life

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.

Seyitan Oke headshot


Sr. Product Designer
Unity Technologies

Seyitan Oke (he/him)

Seyitan is a Senior Product Designer at Unity Technologies. He's involved in shaping the accessibility of Unity's real-time 3D tools for all creators. Seyitan also has his hand in many disciplines including branding, creative coding and AR/VR. When work is done, you'll find him playing Fortnite!

Sarah Rath headshot


Sr. User Experience Design Lead
Sun Life

Sarah Rath (she/her)

Bio coming soon!

Katrina Schouten headshot


Quantitative Design Research Consultant,
Innovation Strategist, Artist(they/them)

Katrina Schouten (they/them)

Kat Schouten is a queer non-binary design researcher, strategist and artist. After graduating from the Global Business and Digital Arts program in 2019, they worked for a 'big four' consulting firm for two years. Burnt out, in 2021, they sought a different path to study art at the Haliburton School of Art and Design. While living in Haliburton, they are leading a research project to redesign the local business incubator.

Jeff Towers headshot


Innovation and Design Manager

Jeff Towers (he/him)

Jeff is a multidisciplinary opportunity finder and solution designer who is currently working in the financial services and healthcare delivery space. He has a BA from the University of Waterloo and an MBA from Wilfrid Laurier.

Chris Wilson headshot


Social Architect, MDes Candidate
in Strategic Foresight and Innovation(he/him)

Christopher Wilson (he/him)

Chris Wilson is a cultural leader based in Toronto with a passion for Arts and Culture and the Non-Profit sector. With extensive experience as a cultural programmer and brand partnership specialist, Chris has a proven track record of assembling and managing diverse, innovative, and high-quality music and cultural events throughout the year.

Currently pursuing a Master's of Design in Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD University, Chris is focused on supporting Arts & Culture and the Non-Profit sector through policy development and the design of urban spaces that respond to the desires and interests of individuals. He is dedicated to building communities that are better prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the future.

As a social architect, Chris approaches his work by designing and creating social systems, structures and processes that promote collaboration, engagement and positive change. He has a keen interest in foresight and future's work, identifying potential future trends, risks and opportunities that may impact various sectors. He involves community members in the design and planning process, using a bottom-up approach to promote community involvement.

In addition to his studies, Chris is actively involved in the community and sits on the Board at Akin Projects, Soho House, Polaris Music Prize, and serves as Board Chair at It's OK*. He plays an integral role in developing a new studio space for creatives in collaboration with the City of Toronto.

Overall, Chris is deeply committed to the development and growth of individuals and communities. He uses his skills and experience to create programs and initiatives that support the needs and aspirations of all individuals and build a more vibrant and inclusive cultural landscape.

Will Zhao headshot


University of Waterloo
Stratford School

Will Zhao (he/him)

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. He publishes in business, education, engineering, and interdisciplinary journals.

2023 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.

SATURDAY, March 25, 2023

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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.

9:00 AM


Welcome! Upon arriving at 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.

9:20 AM

Welcoming Remarks

9:25 AM

Product Innovation is on the Edge — Keynote (Atrium)

As Design Professionals, we are told our job is to create products that either solve user problems or take advantage of opportunities. The challenge during these times seems hard to find as new product innovations are being released every day. Are we running out of problems or opportunities? No, we have simply been only looking at the problem/opportunity from our usual viewpoint of the average user. What if we looked at it from a different lens? What if we look at people who always struggle with problems based on their environments not accommodating their unique needs?

David argues that this is the gold mine of opportunity for creating innovative products. Solving for the mismatches of people with disabilities will lead into innovations for your users and customers of all abilities! We will discuss real-world examples of this, how to do it, and future market demand. We will all be disabled one day; some of us just beat you to it.

David Dame (he/him)
Director of Accessibility, Microsoft

10:10 AM

It Wasn't Always Sunshine: How We're Building a Better Design Culture at Sun Life — Keynote (Atrium)

A human-centred look at the steps taken to improve the overall designer experience at Sun Life, and the impact it’s had on both people and product. This session will focus on the personal stories of challenges team members faced working at an organization that was still learning the value of design.  Using 3-4 key examples, the team will highlight the challenges they faced establishing design at Sun Life, and how they’ve worked to address them while building an inclusive, supportive design practice.

Rob Williams (he/him)
AVP, User Experience, Sun Life

Deepika Malik (she/her)
AVP Enterprise Design Coach, Sun Life

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

11:10 AM

Morning Workshops: Select one to participate in!

#1: Best Practices for Human AI Interaction Design (Room 2024)

Everton Lewis discusses the challenges for creating positive Human AI interactions. During this session, he will share some of the research-based tools he uses to design better experiences with algorithms. Workshop attendees will experiment with and gain experience using different tools during the session.

Everton Lewis (he/him)
CEO, Impact Signal


#2: Design Beyond Borders: Building a Global Design System (Room 2129)

Establishing and implementing a design system is hard work. But what about when you need to design one that meets the needs of designers in over 7 countries and regions? How do you account for cultural differences and region-specific design trends while still creating something that’s usable for everyone at a global organization? How do you ensure everyone is empowered to contribute and feels like their voice is heard?

Sun Life’s Canadian and Global Design Operations teams will take you through the process of how we came together to build our Helios design system. Workshop attendees will learn how we navigated challenges collaborating across regions, languages, and borders, and leave with tips and tricks you can use to build or refine your own organization’s design system.

Sarah Rath (she/her)
Senior UX Lead, Helios Design System, Sun Life

Craig Moore
Canada Design Op Director, Sun Life

Daniel Chan
Global Design Op Director, Sun Life

Jessica Matson
Design Operations Lead, Sun Life


#3: Beyond the business case for diversity: Why do diversity initiatives in creative industries go wrong, and how can we make things right?  (Room 2022)

We've all heard it said: diversity is good for business! Diverse teams facilitate higher rates of innovation, and having more women in senior leadership positions leads to higher profits.  But there is a downside to justifying diversity initiatives solely on the basis of the business case.

In this workshop, we will explore those downsides as they apply to creative industries. Kim de Laat, Assistant Professor of Human and Organization Behaviour at the Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business, will present findings from her research on diversity discourse and racism in the Canadian music industry, and introduce some policy interventions for moving from diversity to inclusion in creative fields.

Kim de Laat (she/her)
Professor of Organization and Human Behaviour, University of Waterloo Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business


#4: Business Model Innovation, a Reversed Approach (Room 3129)
Are you looking for a practical and fun approach to business model innovation? Join Dr. Will Zhao for a talk on a simple, hands-on, and easy-to-implement technique that helped organizations generate novel ideas by systematically challenging the fundamental assumptions underlying their industries.

During this engaging talk, you will:
- Discover (while having a great laugh) this powerful approach and its applications in various industries;
- Understand the step-by-step, easy-to-follow process to identify, reverse, and generate innovative ideas for business model transformation;
- Learn from real-life examples of how this technique has led to groundbreaking solutions and business model reinvention;
- Gain practical insights on assessing the feasibility, relevance, and potential impact of new ideas generated from the exercise;
- Determine how to refine and implement the most promising ideas for maximum impact in a competitive market.

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

12:00 PM


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

12:50 PM

UX Freestyle Social Interactive Game — Keynote (Atrium)

Over the past few years, the design community has had few places to discuss and debate the important topics in our practice and the industry. Conversations about Design on Social Media have often been unconstructive, and one-sided with only the loudest voices represented. Safe, open spaces for discussion are important. They help us understand, question and critique what is and consider what might be. The game Freestyle Socials is designed to help people have better disagreements about polarized topics based on academic research and public consultation. For experienced practitioners, it’s a reminder to consider new perspectives, alternative viewpoints and challenge orthodoxy. For students, these conversations will help you learn to let go of old ways of thinking and challenge you to question your opinions and show you that you can also contribute valuable perspectives to the discussion. Most importantly, it's a chance to remember how to play and have fun with the work we love.

Anthony Morgan (he/him)
TV Host, PHD Researcher, Entrepreneur

1:45 PM

Afternoon Workshops: Select one to participate in!

#1: Designing Beyond Screens: Service Design Blueprinting (Room 2024)

Are you looking to expand your application of design beyond digital-only experiences? Join this workshop to learn how to take a more holistic approach to design by considering the entire end-to-end user experience, including offline touchpoints and interactions. In this workshop, we’ll cover: - What Service Design is and how it fits into the UX world- What is a service blueprint, and how can it help me create better experiences- Creating a service blueprint to identify pain points to solve and opportunities to exploreBy the end of the workshop, you will have a basic understanding of service blueprints and how they can help you in your work, as well as some tools for thinking like a Service Designer in your next project.

Emily Hutnik (she/her)
Sr. Service Designer, Tangerine


#2: Knowing Where it Hurts: Using Research and Measurement to Evolve Advisor Digital Tools at Sun Life (Room 2129)

Advisors are a user group within Sun Life Financial that have not always gotten the same focus as client users. This session will first explore the evolution of research support for advisor-facing digital tools. Discussion will then move to how we plan to use research and measurement, including surveys, to evolve digital tools at Sun Life. Breakout discussion groups will cover topics related to survey options and practices.

Kristina Miller
Senior Journey Design Researcher, Sun Life

Dana Gougeon
Senior User Experience Research Lead, Sun Life


#3: Creating a VR Experience Using Unity (Room 2022)

Learn how to create XR experiences on the web through browsers. This workshop will be entry level, but will show more accessible pathways for people to learn and create VR experiences. This is a highly interactive talk for all to break boundaries and learn a new medium.

Seyitan Oke (he/him)
Sr. Product Designer, Unity TechnologiesUniversity of Waterloo, Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business Alum


#4: Snakes & Ladders: How to Know if You’re Moving Forward (Room 3129)

Creating sweeping organizational-wide change is why many people choose to work in the world of experience design. However, creating change – seeing the impact of the user insights you generated, building future state journey maps that get implemented, creating prototypes and scaling solutions– it all takes time. Quite often, it can feel like a game of Snakes & Ladders: a few steps forward and many steps back. In this workshop, participants will co-create an artifact that helps them self-assess whether they are setting themselves up for impact. Taylor Kim will share the tools she’s learned from her experiences working as a designer at Mackenzie Investments and Shopify. Participants will leave the workshop with a practical tool that can help them navigate their careers.

Taylor Kim (she/her)
Senior Researcher, Shopify

2:45 PM

The Hills and Valleys of Working in the Tech Space — Fireside Chat (Atrium)

Chris Wilson (he/him)
Social Architect, Master of Design Candidate in Strategic Foresight and InnovationUniversity of Waterloo alum

Jeff Towers (he/him)
Innovation and Design Manager, Medavie
University of Waterloo, Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business Alum

Katherine Alexander (she/her)
Digital Marketing Specialist
University of Waterloo, Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business Alum

Katrina Schouten (they/them)
Qualitative Design Research Consultant, Innovation Strategist, Artist
University of Waterloo, Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business Alum

Moderated by
Markus Grupp (he/him)

3:30 PM

Career Paths are Circuitous — Keynote (Atrium)

Many people have the mistaken notion that people choose a profession, focus their education on it, and then work in it for the rest of their careers. Most leaders in design and research have taken a more circuitous route, learning valuable things on the way, and often pivoting their career trajectory significantly with great results.

Karel will share his own career journey as well as those of several others. After outlining the benefits of a circuitous career path as well as its pitfalls, he will provide recommendations for both educational institutions and individuals to incorporate circuitousness into their curricula and career path, respectively.

Karel Vredenburg (he/him)
Global Vice President of Client Insights and Research, IBM

4:15 PM

End of day remarks

4:15 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.