Photo: Mark Connolly (R) and Bob Barlow-Busch chat about Fluxible, design and music.

Mark Connolly is excited for this weekend. The third annual Fluxible conference combines three of his favourite pastimes: User experience design, cool people and talented musicians.

Yep, musicians at a tech conference.

Connolly, a fine arts grad and music lover (he sits on the Open Ears music festival board) sees Fluxible, the user experience conference he co-founded, as a platform to have conceptual discussions about the world of design and user experience. Speakers, who fly in from around the world for talks and workshops, generally stay for the whole event and become attendees. And local artists and musicians play between presentations.

Why the live music at a UX conference? Partially, as Connolly admits, because he just loves music. But also, because he sees music as a mental palate cleanser.

“It’s fun to hear live music at a conference, but it’s also a practical utility,” Connolly said. “Five minutes of a live performance helps you process what you just heard [in a workshop] and get ready for the next talk.”

Connolly hires local musicians, of any genre, to perform one song during the conference. And hiring is key for Connolly – he believes that artists need to be recognized and paid for their talent.

He’s passionate about supporting the arts, and for good reason.

“We have creative world-class artists here,” Connolly said. He believes one way to attract and retain globally recognized designers is to show them that we are a lot more than just a tech hub or university town.

Connolly delights in building a two-day conference that is connected to the greater community through art, music and a kick-ass after party. Over the past few years, he’s seen creative artists become designers, technically-focused people pick up an instrument and talented UX conference attendees become conference volunteers and supporters.

“We’re a group of people working together to make something happen,” Connolly said. “People help out because they care.”

Three years ago, Connolly and Bob Barlow-Busch started Fluxible in downtown Kitchener.

“We’ve run the UX Peer2Peer for years,” Connolly said. “Folks wanted bigger and didn’t want to have to travel for it.”

Connolly and Barlow-Busch built the first Fluxible around their own likes and interests. They invited friends from all over the world to be speakers, and advertised around the region. The sold-out first year was a surprise success for the duo, who just wanted to learn from cool people and frankly have fun.

Today, the conference still retains those core values, and works to bring the world of UX to Waterloo Region while also showcasing the region to outsiders. Speakers and attendees now travel from all over the world to attend the consistently sold-out weekend.

Connolly is happy to see global and local attendees now making the trip to Fluxible.

“It [has been] hard to find designers who want to move here [for work],” Connolly said. He believes conferences like Fluxible have played a role in the maturation of the region’s design culture. He also credits the region’s startup culture for fostering a more sophisticated design scene.

“We have more companies building for consumers,” Connolly said. “It’s not enough to just have the technology. It has to look good.”


Fluxible may be sold out this weekend, but there are plenty of other events on the calendar to keep you busy… I see and hear… you can begin your autumn cleaning by dropping off your e-waste at Canadian Tire. The store at 400 Weber St. N. in Waterloo will accept your old computers, TVs and more on Saturday, Sept. 13 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.… this weekend is also the Centre in the Square’s Opening Party. Starting at 3 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 12 you can head down to the Centre for fun activities, food trucks and fantastic performances by Australia’s Strange Fruit, a touring company that performs on top of flexible poles… it may be a chilly weekend, but the Open Streets Uptown Waterloo team are hosting their final event. Head to Uptown Waterloo on Sunday, Sept. 14 for a pedestrian-friendly celebration of fall. Between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. King Street will be closed from Bridgeport Road to William Street for arts and crafts, live music and sports demonstrations… finally, we’re looking ahead, but the Communitech Hub will be a stop in Doors Open Waterloo Region. On Saturday, Sept. 20, we’ll be opening our doors to the public between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. for guided tours.

Have suggestions about events I should be checking out? Drop me a line or tweet me @write_girl.