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Midwest UX experiences Grand Rapids

October 16, 2013
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Midwest UX experiences Grand Rapids
The Midwest UX conference features a number of excursions to destinations in downtown Grand Rapids that offer insights into user experience design. Photo via

The Midwest UX conference this week is focused on experiencing downtown Grand Rapids — not a conference room.

“We call ourselves user experience designers, and one of the things we took seriously as we worked on this conference was making it more than just a conference. Making it an experience, something that people could walk away from it feeling like they’d been somewhere, seen something, been in a community — not just been in a conference center or hotel,” explained Samuel Bowles, Midwest UX Grand Rapids co-chair.

One of the ways the organizers have achieved their goal of integrating the conference with the fabric of the downtown community is by spreading out its venues, so that attendees can get out and walk or take public transit to the different locations.

Keynote speakers will present at the UICA, while conference sessions will take place at Kendall College of Art and Design.

The conference is Thursday to Saturday, and registration is still open.


To get up close with user experience design in the city, attendees have been provided with about 15 different excursion options to choose from, including Start Garden, Wealthy Theater, Grand Rapids Public Museum and a brewery tour.

“One of the ones that sticks out in my mind is the Start Garden excursion,” said Chris Koens, conference excursion lead. “For me, Start Garden kind of encompasses what the conference is all about, in that it’s entrepreneurial and educational, it's mentorship. The discussion that happens on a daily basis at Start Garden is like the extension of the discussion we are hoping to bring, so to speak, on a grander scale at the conference, by bringing in voices at the regional, national and international level.”

Another conference excursion is a ride on The Rapid.

“One group is actually just riding on The Rapid,” Koens said. “They will be listening to one of our transportation people from Grand Rapids talk about the experience of riding The Rapid and how it is an experience here. . . . He gives his presentation right there on one of the working buses with people riding. So there are some cool opportunities.”

Grand Rapids and UX 

Grand Rapids has a long history with user experience, and the conference will include a panel discussion focused on that history and how place informs design.

Panelists from Herman Miller, Steelcase and Haworth will explore how Grand Rapids has played a large role in forming the places that we work, all across the country and around the world.

This will be the first time Grand Rapids plays host to Midwest UX. The city was up against several other Midwest cities for the opportunity.

Bowles said he believes what sets Grand Rapids apart is its large number of user experience designers, which for a city of this size, is quite high, and also the sense of community that downtown offers.

He also noted that having Kendall as a conference partner is important.

Bowles thinks the conference will benefit the city as well, by attracting young designers here.

“We feel like there is a large number of young people involved in this industry, and this is an opportunity to create the kind of magnetism that I know a lot of economic development folks in town would like to see,” Bowles said. “Trying to create a place where young professionals see an exciting and vibrant industry thriving in Grand Rapids and that we are even leading the region and hopefully the nation as one of the key places for a pretty cool job and industry.”

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