Note: a lot of these events happen in other cities too, so if you’re somewhere else, chances are you can find the equivalents there :)
I've had many people ask me where in Ottawa to go for meet-ups, events, or talks. Usually they are new-to-the-city designers and techies, or those trying to improve their professional abilities, or grow their social/professional network. It may surprise you to learn this, but Ottawa has a lot to offer to creative, passionate, and awesome individuals. All you need to do is look to the right places, or ask the right person. 😉
After living in Ottawa for 8 years, I’ve participated in a lot of events that helped me grow as a designer in this community. These recommendations are based on my past experiences, and are the ones I’d definitely go to again in the future.
Monthly / Rotating venue / Talk & socializing / Also in 180+ other cities / Free
If you’re new to the city, you HAVE TO come to CreativeMornings Ottawa. Sure, I might be biased because I volunteer with the local team, but this local and global community really has so much to give. The experience of this free Friday morning breakfast/lecture series can only be described as magical. It has inspirational talks, rotating venues to show off different parts of the city, and interactive activities that open up the attendees to be authentic. When you leave the event, you are always charged with this incredible energy. Only thing is the time of the event (8–10 am) overlaps a bit with your work schedule, but if you need help convincing your boss to let you come, we’ve got you covered too. Everyone is creative. Everyone is welcome.
Monthly / Fox & Feather Pub / Presentation & socializing / Free
CapChi stands for Capital Computer Human Interaction in the National Capital of Canada, and it’s a professional society for UX/interaction/web designer or developers doing any related work. This is where you go to better your design or research skills, over some pub food and a pint. You can often learn different design topics from people presenting their design work or research. Because it’s been around in Ottawa for a long time, it has a robust mix of people from all walks of UX life, from start-up, enterprise, academia, consultancy, government, medical, and more. Sometimes there are even tours in certain facilities they’ve partnered with. It’s a very comfortable setting, and there are always very interesting and insightful conversations.
November yearly / Canadian Museum of History / Conference & workshops / CAD$300+
For anyone who wants to seriously level up their skills and knowledge as a UX professional, this is the conference to go to in Canada. Usually it’s structured with workshops on Thursday/Friday, and a 2-day conference over the weekend. It always has an amazing speaker line-up of inspiring, thought-provoking, and industry-leading figures (i.e. Jared Spool, Dan Saffer, Jesse James Garret, etc). The whole thing can really get you out of the tunnel vision of your job routine, and see what is happening elsewhere in the industry. It really gets you learning new stuff, and use them in your daily work. There is a significant portion of networking too. Between talks, there is food and mingling. Plus, I heard there are dance parties too.
Every so often / Tooth & Nails Brewing Company / Casual social / Also in Toronto and Vancouver / Free
Very low-key, very informal, and very intimate hang-out session along a long wooden table, with your favourite local craft beer in one hand, and sandwich or charcuterie board on the other. This is where you can really let your hair down. Started by Carleton Industrial Design alumni getting together to catch up, now it attracts a larger community (more than just designers) to talk and have a good time together. If you get to the venue, look for Ian’s awesome handmade #DesignBeer sign made of laser-cut vinyl and acrylic sheet.
5. Ottawa Web UX Meet-up
Every so often / Rotating venues/ Presentation & networking / CAD$10
Have to admit I haven’t gone to this one in a while, but some colleagues and friends have been there to present. As for the times I went, there was very useful UX knowledge I took home with me. Usually the event has a networking portion, and then the presentation on a web-UX-related topic. People also sometimes take the floor at the end to let the others know about career opportunities and things happening in the community.
6. Civic Tech Meet-up
Tuesday weekly / Rotating venue / Presentation, networking, and projects / Also in 8 other Canadian cities / Free
Admittedly, this is a special interest of mine, but if you believe in using your design skills for good, this is totally for you. Every first week of the month, there is a speaker presenting a project or research related to civic technology. The rest of the Tuesday nights are ‘hack nights’, where we pitch and work on projects with a mixed set of skills (i.e. dev, policy, UX, data science, etc). There is a real sense of community here, with the diverse, hands-on, and smart people who want to make things happen. Also, with Ottawa being a government town, this is a very cool intersection to explore.
7. Ottawa Data Visualization Meet-up
Monthly / World Exchange Plaza / Presentations & networking / Free
If you are like me, and you deal with a lot of chart design and visual display of information, this may be a special area of interest to you as well. To be honest, I haven’t been to this meetup in a while as well, since they’ve changed their location from the Klipfolio office. But along with free pizza and beer, there are demos and presentations from people who are doing this for a living. You can see, up and close, very different projects and how people approach a problem.
8. World IA day
This is another special area of UX that might be of interest. Don’t know about you, but when I started doing UX, information architecture wasn’t something I actively thought about. But I started paying more attention to IA in my work thanks to this globally initiated and locally organized event. I think WIAD and Information Architecture Institute really did what they set out to do, by spreading the awareness of IA around the different corners of the world. The event is usually on a weekend day, with limited spots, signed up through Eventbrite. Totally worth it along with the free lunch and awesome swag.
You might ask, “Should designers go to hackathons?” The answer is “Yes”. Designers should go to hackathons too. A quick search on Eventbrite revealed quite a number of hackathons in Ottawa. Some notable ones are Hacking Health, Random Hacks of Kindness, and DataFest. You may also want to consider joining your company’s internal hackathons. Seriously, hackathons are a great way for you to improve your abilities as a designer, communicate with people, and make something work. Depending on what kind of person you are, and the nature of the particular hackathon, they can truly test your ability to work under pressure, or they can just be a really cool way to hang out with people.
Now for things I know have happened in the past, but am less than 100% sure will happen again in the future… You will notice they are also by tech/design companies trying to build their brand
10. Adobe Creative Jam
There was a lot going on in Creative Jam over the course of a night: teams of visual designers/animators compete by creating beautiful designs out of Adobe Stock resources; a few speakers give presentations or talk about design; Adobe-scouted professionals give people Behance portfolio reviews. All of these happen while the general audience mingle, drink, and eat. Event ends in a final showdown of the competing teams, in front of the judges and audience. When I went to the event, it was really cool to see what the designers could come up with in one night, and just how creative they are. It was very casual, fun, and full of creative energy. (Event is free.)
11. CodePen Meet-up
Well okay, I actually didn’t go to this one. But I would totally go someday if they decided to host another one! From what I heard there were a lot of front-end dev magic goodness. They had speakers, but also ‘code and tell’ where people showcased their projects. I haven’t heard anything from them, but their twitter account seems semi-active, so let’s hope there is another one soon. (Event is free.)
Leave a comment. See you there! 👋
Do you go to any other events or workshops? How was your experience? Does this list inspire you to start a new meetup? Leave your thoughts in the comment section and let me know. Don’t forget to say hi next time if you see me in one of these events!
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