25 years later, we’re still shaping design by putting humans at the centre of it

Illustration of the number 25, representing the anniversary of OXD, a human-centred design agency

When we came together in 1996, we would have never thought that a computer-savvy physicist and a book-loving researcher could have started something that lasted this long.

At the time we were still in university—eating Mr. Noodles and living in basement suites. Our skills and experience were low, but so was the risk. Our motto in the early days was always “if this doesn’t work out, we can always get ‘real’ jobs”. 

And it did work out. What began as an idea, triggered by the capabilities of the nascent internet industry has grown into an internationally recognized, award-winning digital services agency. 

The understanding of human behaviour and how it relates to technology was the foundation for the birth of OpenRoad in 1996. Our passion for human-centred design made us one of the first agencies to use these methodologies to solve complex business problems.We’ve worked with hundreds of organizations in 25 years, written millions of lines of code, and interviewed thousands of people as part of our human-centred design process. Our work has been used by and (hopefully) impacted the lives of millions of people. We’re grateful to have made it to 25 and reflect on what it’s all meant.

Here’s a few of the things that have brought us joy, laughter, tears, and pride as OXD.

We helped build a diverse practitioner community.

We quickly recognized there was a vibrant community of professionals with a passion for user experience in the Vancouver area. In 2004, we partnered with other local practitioners to found the Vancouver User Experience Group (VanUE). VanUE continuously supports the community by bringing in recognized and influential speakers to discuss trends, challenges, and methodologies, as well as networking opportunities during their events.

With our partners, we also created the Vancouver User Experience Awards. The Van UX Awards have become a highly respected recognition platform in areas including commerce, product, student, and UX for Good. We’re grateful for our organizing sponsors and support from companies including Microsoft and Best Buy for past award sponsorships.

With membership now in the thousands, these groups share diverse perspectives, innovative research, and inspire real-world outcomes—making them an integral part of our UX community.

Just like a game of chess, we stayed one—even two—moves ahead.

What started out as a client project to support internal communications, became the opportunity for our team to turn the world of standard intranet products upside-down. In 2005, we launched ThoughtFarmer, an off-the-shelf intranet product. We put the power of internal communication into the hands of the employee and we’re proud to say it’s grown to become the heart of our clients’ hybrid workplaces.

In the spirit of providing our clients with the services they need, we quickly realized bringing on a creative team would help close the gap in our service offerings. So, in 2013 we acquired our long-time design partner Mod7. We knew that websites existed to bring an organization and their services to communities and consumers—from brand and aesthetic to analytics and compliance, and with this collaboration, we now could support it all. This partnership increased the scale and the impact of our work, leading us to become an end-to-end design and technology agency.

We took a (calculated) risk.

Since our 20 year anniversary, we’ve taken our biggest risk yet: a rebrand. Now that we had the resources and team we needed to provide better services and support to our clients, we knew we needed to evolve our brand to reflect that. We have always created value in the marketplace by being flexible and adapting to meet our clients’ unique needs. The time had come for us to adapt as well and to articulate our services in a new way. So, in 2019, OpenRoad became OXD. OXD is where past experience converges with new opportunities. The rebrand represented the story of our two decades of evolution while providing a dynamic identity system for the future.

“I really like the new brand, it’s vibrant and beautiful. Originally I thought the rename wasn’t necessary and we should just stick to OpenRoad with a new logo and colours and website. Happy to admit I was wrong. I love it all now.”

—OXD STAFF

“I think we all hold our heads a bit higher with the rebrand, there’s more of a company pride, and rightfully so.”

—OXD STAFF

In part with our rebrand efforts, we spent time telling our story on how we support modernization in organizations that can sometimes be slow to innovate. Our Design for Innovation mindset addresses increasingly complex social, environmental, and economic problems for clients including the Ministry of the Attorney General of British Columbia, and the federal government of Canada. We believe this mindset and our methods can improve how we live, work, and thrive in challenging times.

We flexed, swayed, and bent…but we never broke.

Post 2019 has brought a multitude of challenges to our world, which we’ve strived to take on with purpose and action.

We transitioned smoothly to a virtual work environment, we continue to grow our team, and we’ve adapted our services to our clients’ needs in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic—including remote project and research collaboration.

Zoom video call image with OXD staff

Government agencies have turned to us to help support their urgent digital transformation needs in the midst of a global pandemic. Archaic and paper-first processes now have to become digital, and fast. Our flexible and customized research and service design methods help shape and redefine new applications, new strategies, and new ways of thinking about their community and client needs.

Our world also experienced many social challenges in 2020 including a renewed and much needed spotlight on ongoing racial injustices. Over the years we had made progress on our diversity and inclusion work, but these world events gave our initiatives new urgency and focus. In May, the killing of George Floyd prompted us to amplify our anti-racism work initiatives. We began using our Agile methodologies to further evolve our anti-racist, diversity, and inclusion work initiatives. We committed to working in a transparent way with our staff, our clients, and our community on our ongoing progress.

infographic showing data from a staff diversity and inclusion survey
Partial results from our staff survey on our diversity, inclusion, and anti-racist work efforts.

“I’d read the most recent Insight on your site about inclusion and anti-racism. The fact that you guys even wrote that and posted it, to me as a person of colour, I was impressed and really moved by it. There should be more companies able to publicly share these thoughts.”

—JOB CANDIDATE

What’s ahead for us

Though March 2021 marks 25 years of teamwork, partnerships, growth, and change—it also represents one year into the COVID-19 pandemic. As we reflect, we recognize and appreciate the way our team and our clients have adapted and embraced a virtual way of collaboration and connection. We’re grateful for enduring this challenge while innovating and thriving throughout it. Our hearts go out to all those who have suffered during this time.

As we head into the future, we will continue to help deliver accessible and inclusive digital services to governments and organizations, tackle large-scale problems of justice and equity, and keep working towards designing a better future.

“To our clients—you brought us into your organizations, made us part of your teams, worked alongside us, and helped us change the way you do business. Sometimes quite radically so. You’ve listened to us talk about technology architectures and human-centred design. You cared about the project philosophies and methods that we’ve spent the last 20 years thinking about, refining, and working to make better with each project. You’ve challenged us, held us accountable, and kicked our asses on more than one occasion—and we’ve learned from that too.”

—GORDON ROSS, VICE PRESIDENT AND PARTNER, OXD

We’re grateful for our clients, friends, and family. To our staff who have stayed with us for the long haul, to past employees who have helped shape our history, and to the newest additions to our team, thank you for supporting us along our journey. Here’s to the future!

Learn more about our project work or contact us if you have a project you’re excited to talk to us about.