I was fortunate to have dinner with Jess McMullin on Friday night. Jess as in town to attend the Rotman School of Management’s Business Design: The New Competitive Weapon conference. We had lively chat about the future of user/customer experience, the Toronto user experience landscape, and leadership. Our conversation started me thinking about the Toronto software design and user experience marketplace.
I don’t know that Toronto has a leading user experience/experience design/information architecture shop (though Teehan+Lax is pretty close, even given their current PVR fixation, and Usability Matters does some great work ;-). We have a lot of small, independent UI/IA/HF contractors (Userlab, Interpix Design, Bright Room (Avi Soudack), Fishbone Interactive (Diane Davis), my my previous post about Toronto usability consultants). The other prominent group seems to be systems integrators/integrated marketing/communications firms, e.g., Organic, Sapient, Quarry Integrated Communications, BlastRadius, Cossette, etc.
I started writing this thinking that there just wasn’t anything interesting going on in Toronto. I had wrongfully assumed that the majority of the work was in financial services, government or media. And I am wrong. There are a lot of very interesting companies doing very interesting work for a wide variety for clients. These firms just don’t seem to be as good advertising and marketing their own successes as other more prominent companies:
- 37signals (creators of Basecamp, SingleFile and other tools)
- silverorange (yes, the closest thing to a Canadian superstar, the gang from PEI are definitely leading the way)
- Adaptive Path
- Hicks Design
- Alex King (creator of TasksPro)
- Ludicorp (creators of Game Neverending and Flickr.com; and the west coast Canadian superstars)
I think that it is very interesting that most of the "prominent companies" I identify are involved are building platforms for small business (think lower cost solutions, i.e., MS Office pricing not Oracle eBusiness Suite). They use their blogs, and grassroots organizations and conferences to promote and publish their work. For the most part, they all create products (training materials and books can be considered a product). Outside of Devlin ’s Decision Room, I am not sure if any of the Toronto-based companies produce products for purchase.
Each of these "prominent companies" have a group of incredibly talented individuals. They also blog frequently, attend smaller industry conferences (O’Reilly’s Emerging Technology, SXSW, IA Summit, etc.) and participate in newer community organizations (AIfIA, Boxes and Arrows, etc.). And they design, deliver, and support products on top of their consulting. Is this a reciepe for a successful organization?