User Experience work

BlackBerry theme design

I’ve been interested in design for small screens for quite a while. The resolution and user input constraints have always presented unique challenges from a design and user experience perspective.

Of course, as screen resolutions, graphic processing power, touch screens, alternate pointing devices and full QWERTY keyboards have become increasingly common, many of those requirements and limitations have been eased (or eliminated altogether) but new input methodologies have also meant new challenges and new UX paradigms that need to evolve to address the ever-changing state of human-computer interaction.

When RIM moved more into the consumer space with the introduction of the BlackBerry Pearl in 1995, i took interest. But it wasn’t for a couple of years that i started delving into theme design for BlackBerry handhelds for my own personal use.

My first run at it was heavily influenced by the iPhone’s user interface, but i opted to not use any Apple intellectual property, unlike other theme designers, who simply cropped icons out of Apple screen shots, and most other elements fell short of the same level of polish.

The visual language i began with glassTile prompted me to expand it out into a cleaner, original theme family that ended up with three “metal” variants as well as red and pink themes based off the same iconography. These were made commercially available and they were purchased by several thousand happy users.

The themes were all based around the same concept of having a “horizon line” splitting the screen into defined areas. There is a clean “status bar” at the top, showing signal and battery strength, carrier info and small icons for secondary functionality such as Bluetooth. The “dashboard” area above the horizon line features a prominently positioned clock in a modern, flush-left position, as well as date information and the profile icon.

These themes were, of course, based primarily on my own preferences for information hierarchy, but it felt completely natural and intuitive. The position of the horizon line was designed to allow consistency of the menu bar and dashboard on subsequent screens for phone lists and in-call displays.

ePhysician portal concept: Changing health care

Capgemini was preparing a joint pitch with HP in response to an eHealth initiative at Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. As part of our response, visual mockups were created to present a conceptual framework of potential functionality and user experience, as a way of framing discussion and opening dialogue with the client. While integrated records management has still not been implemented in the province, this concept shows some of the power and potential of an integrated approach.

Standard & Poor’s: When a site becomes a platform

In 2003, i worked on an interesting project with a small but outstanding team. We were flown in to assist with the front-end development on a financial services application that was being developed for Standard & Poor’s in Capgemini’s development centre in Lower Manhattan.

I worked as lead designer on a tactical team with information architects and coders, to deliver the user experience for a complex and powerful hosted investment management application which S&P was planning to white-label and sell to their customers – financial services operations whose investment activities were not their primary line of business – to use for managing client assets and linking S&P research with a wide range of investment products and services.

Not only did the architecture need to be robust and scaleable, the user interface had to be modular and “skinnable” so the look and feel of the application could be tailored to each customer’s brand standards. When demonstrating the application, we were able to do live “switching” of the UI using CSS and JavaScript, which was quite innovative for the time. This capability exceeded the client’s expectations, and demonstrated that we truly understood their business challenges and could deliver capabilities that gave them additional features they could use to sell the platform to their customers.

imoney.com: Turning green into Internet gold


The year was 1998. The Web had been around for all of about 5 years, and the Internet Gold Rush was on. A plucky team of innovators, funded by now-billionaire financier Gerry Schwartz through Bayshore Capital, started up a venture called FSDirect in an effort to launch one of the first independent financial services sites in Canada.

Reactor was called in to contribute to the user experience of the first generation of the site, and along the way, we managed to land the branding assignment as well. (… or was that the other way around?)

Keep in mind that 1998 was pre-iMac, pre-iPod… pre-iAnything, really. Truly groundbreaking! (You can thank us later, Mr. Jobs… just send the royalties to the following… but i digress…) The imoney brand lasted through several iterations of the site design before it was folded into another financial services site in 2000.

It was very innovative at the time, and even bested the efforts of many of the major banks, who were taking very tentative steps into the online consumer investment and trading world. Alas, the screenshots of the imoney interface design have been lost to the ravages of pixel erosion. Besides, they were so ’90s!

Strategic creative: Scenarios and concept development


Working closely with Capgemini’s Digital Asset Management consulting group in 2003, i led a creative team to collaborate and brainstorm over a couple of days to develop scenarios and storylines for a future media landscape 5 to 10 years into the future, specifically geared around consumption of media and how digital asset management (and rights management) technologies would play a role.

We developed a set of scenarios that touched on video, audio and printed media in a world with pervasive high-speed wireless networking, and where consumer media is accessed from the “cloud” rather than stored locally. (This was years before the concept of “cloud computing” would have been considered even remotely viable.)


We came up with a name, a visual identity, and mocked up several user interfaces that showed how media would follow the user and adapt itself to the context in which it was being played back or viewed… everything from desktop computers and mobile devices to home theatres and automotive systems.


The opportunity to stretch out and explore the thin edge was very exciting, and the scenarios gave the sales team something concrete which they could take out to clients and demonstrate our thinking.

Vintage Inns: Revitalizing luxury experiences



The revitalization of the tourism industry in Niagara-on-the-Lake is the stuff of Canadian business legend.

But over a decade after the infusion of new investment into the region began, the pace began to falter somewhat, and new management at Vintage Inns realized that the bulk of their marketing and branding dollars were being spent promoting the town and the region, which was good for business – all business, in fact, including their competitors in the hotel and B&B space.

The new brand image for Vintage Inns – which left the identity and character of the three landmark hotels intact – brought new focus to the level of detail and individuality in the experiences people could find there. Fashion-inspired photography, experientially-driven copy and premium printing resulted in a collective warmth and sophistication that was previously lacking in their branded materials.

Targeted radio and print advertising sought to bring people in the GTA back to Niagara-on-the- Lake for unique experiences and quick escapes.

The online experience was re-vamped, giving more direct access to the reservation engine, while targeted banner advertising, e-newsletters and partnership programs helped drive new traffic to the site.