When Fluxible co-founders Mark Connolly and Bob Barlow-Busch cancelled Canada’s UX festival in early March due to the pandemic outbreak, it only took a few days for another idea to start forming. Could Fluxible move online in a new and interesting way?
Fluxible is a UX-focused weeklong series of meetups and workshops that culminates in a weekend conference. Traditionally held in September, this year it was to move to a new slot in June until COVID-19 changed the way the world lived and worked.
Fluxible is known for its thoughtful design as a conference. From the food and speakers to the musical breaks in-between, attendee experience is considered each step of the way. So when the focus shifted to putting together an online streaming event, one thing was clear: There was no way to recreate that unique Fluxible experience online.
“When we decided to cancel Fluxible 2020 we deliberately said we’re not doing an online conference because we can’t replicate that experience,” says Connolly.
“We don’t want this to fruitlessly try to mimic an in-person experience. We’re trying to craft a distinctive online experience.”
What came from the ashes of this year’s Fluxible was new life in the form of Fluxible TV, an online streaming event that’s taking place June 4. Fluxible TV is really a reimagining of Fluxible that’s influenced by, and paying homage to, old television broadcasts.
In mid-March Fluxible TV was just an idea Connolly was tossing around with Zeitspace UX designer Matthew Reynolds and the Fluxible team. At first they had been trying to figure out how to move ahead with Fluxible Meetups — weekday talks and site visits that happen in the leadup to the conference — before deciding to cancel all in-person events related to Fluxible. By the end of March, Fluxible TV as an online streaming event was a go and the team was thinking about how to create a user experience that was true to the Fluxible brand.
But keeping alive the spirit of a UX festival that’s unapologetically about the experience came with its own UX challenges.
The most obvious challenge came from the fact that Fluxible isn’t in the video production business, but was about to launch a seven-hour livestream event. Anyone who’s attended an online meeting knows that technology doesn’t always cooperate. And there are awkward moments in those meetings when someone starts sharing a screen or asks whether everyone can hear them. How do you smooth out those edges so participants only experience a seamless event?
The Fluxible TV team researched software and hardware to ensure the transitions between speakers are seamless and created some pre-recorded content to fill in the gaps. It’s stuff people may not notice, says Reynolds, but shapes the user experience all the same.
“It’s like a duck. There’s going to be a lot of paddling under water but on the surface everything will look serene,” says Reynolds.
Because Fluxible TV will be streaming for so long, the team also had to learn about streaming software and hardware and stress test each one to make sure there are no surprises when Fluxible TV goes on the air. Reynolds ran software and hardware for 10 hours at a time to make sure there were no glitches or the systems didn’t crash. The team looked at some automation tools that people who livestream often use, but found they didn’t work for seven hours straight. Instead, they set up a skeletal temporary production studio.
Then there were other considerations. With a potential global audience, timing was important. Connolly says they picked a noon start time so that it wouldn’t be too late for people in Europe or too early for those in California.
And because no one wants to sit for six or seven hours straight, 20-minute breaks are worked into the Fluxible TV schedule, where participants are encouraged to “look out a window,” according to the program.
Giving Fluxible TV a flavour of its own includes plans to stream fun content reminiscent of old-school TV segments that some Canadian viewers will recognize.
Accessibility will play a big role on Fluxible TV as well. Canadian Hearing Services is providing closed captioning and there are more plans underway to make Fluxible TV as accessible as possible. Thanks to sponsors — Zeitspace, D2L, Manulife, the City of Waterloo, Communitech, Adobe XD, and Balsamiq — tickets for Fluxible TV are priced affordably at $25. And while the conference portion of Fluxible has always been on a weekend, Fluxible TV will run during the week so families don’t have to juggle another work-from-home event on their time off.
“We wanted this to be as accessible as we could make it to a wide range of people,” says Connolly.
There are still some recognizable Fluxible patterns – a lineup of great speakers with musical performances along the way. And Fluxible TV will have the same attention to detail that people have come to expect from Fluxible.
“Those are things we’ve always done, but we’re introducing new elements for Fluxible TV that might be unexpected,” says Connolly. “It’s recognizably Fluxible with a distinct Fluxible TV experience.”
When COVID-19 took away Fluxible, it also presented an opportunity to reimagine what an online streaming event that was rooted in the spirit of Fluxible could be. This year, Fluxible TV is trying to capture that Fluxible vision while staying true to itself and keeping the attendee at the centre of its design. There won’t be any chocolate-covered bacon, but there will still be plenty of other goodies along the way.
Kelly Pedro is staff journalist with the Waterloo-based software company Zeitspace Inc.
Communitech is a partner of Startup HERE Toronto. This article originally appeared on their site.