All the talks from Canvas 2017

Catch up on all of the great product stories from this year's conference.

On 26th October, 500 + product people gathered at the Birmingham Town Hall for our sixth Canvas Conference. It was a jam-packed day full of fascinating product stories, and if you’re anything like us we’re sure you didn’t quite manage to take everything in. So, we’re thrilled to share those talks in full in this post.


If you came – thanks for your support and we hope you got as much from the day as we did. If you didn’t manage to this time – enjoy the talks and please tell us if you’re interested in next year and we’ll make sure you’re on the early bird notification list.

You can browse through the post below for each talk video, in order (along with an interview with each speaker at the end on their approach to product).

Here’s a reminder of all our speakers:

Hamish Grierson – Thriva
Zan Gilani – Duolingo
Bo Ren – Tumblr
Sarah Milton – All 4
Jane Kelly – Buzzfeed
Hugo Cornejo – Monzo
Emma Coats – Google Assistant (Coming Soon)
Sarah Guha – Starling Bank
Jeffrey Veen – True Ventures

We’re just missing two of our talks from the day – from Haiyan Zhang (but you can catch her & discover more about her work on the BBC’s Big Life Fix series), and Emma Coats, who’ll be adding very shortly.


Session 1: Building the New

While it’s never been easier to build, launch and validate a landing page in an afternoon, what happens when your next big idea involves medical testing or knowing the result of your research and innovation will be truly life changing? Our first session looked at the future of health and wellbeing, with two speakers who are working on projects that span across the physical and digital.

Talk 1: 'Sending blood in the post, and why you'll be doing it soon'.

Thriva believes the world would be a better place if everyone was blissfully informed about their health. But how do you build product able to deliver that future to consumers, today?

Hamish’s talk focused on the unique challenges and opportunities associated with a semi digital product, the consequences of ignoring your customers and the tools Thriva use to ensure they’re less reliant on luck.

Session 2: Measure & Grow

As digital products grow from startup to scale-up, new challenges seem to emerge. You know that customers are engaging with your product but you’re not sure why, how or where. Capturing data about your customers and how they engage with your product can be daunting when you don’t know what to measure, what numbers to focus on and what to ignore. Our next three speakers shared lessons around measuring & growth from their own organisations.

Talk 3: Growing Duolingo to 200M users, one habit at a time.

Duolingo is an educational app, but users often talk about “playing” it. This isn’t unintentional – from the beginning, inspiration from games has helped the company to build a stickier and stickier product.

This talk from Product Manager Zan Gilani took a behind-the-scenes look at some of Duolingo’s most successful game-inspired features and the culture of iteration and AB testing that produced them.

Talk 4: How to tackle redesigns with shared humanity.

Redesigns are hard to do. Tackling big redesign projects are challenging given their scale and cross-functional impact. How do you approach such a monolithic task?

Rooted in user empathy, Bo draws upon early days of working in customer service to solve product problems. Using a combination of behavioural science, design-thinking, and curiosity, Bo’s talk looked at how she approached the Facebook Notes redesign and Tumblr mobile redesign. She covered learnings from launching and growing Facebook Notes and how the Notes playbook informed the Tumblr mobile redesign of new post forms.

Talk 5: Big Screens, Big Data and Big Backlogs

All 4’s unique proposition combines a vast catalogue of premium TV boxes with live broadcast channels, 30 day catch up and a growing collection of exclusive shows, all completely free and available on over 20 different platforms. With this unique proposition come some unique – and some not so unique – product challenges.

This talk from Head of Product Sarah Milton provided an insight into how Channel 4 approaches these challenges at and shared some of the success stories, along with the odd learning opportunity, from over a decade of growth and innovation.

Session 3: Challenges of Scale

While success with early adopters (can be) kind of easy, the hard part is getting people out there who don’t love products as much as us to understand why it’s cool to have a speaker that will talk back to you, or a detailed financial record of every late night kebab purchase.

In this session we looked at how you need to adapt and evolve a product so it can reach audiences that are bigger, more diverse and have totally different ideas about how you think your product should work.

Talk 6: Tools for the Ever-Changing Creative

How do you focus creators on human connections when everything is constantly changing?

BuzzFeed’s Director of Data Products Jane Kelly gave a talk about building tools to keep up with the company’s growth from a website to a distributed media company, including false starts, lessons learned, new tools and where they ended up.

Talk 7: Something people want

Building a bank is a challenging task. Since the very first day at Monzo (before having a name, funding or a product), they knew that to succeed they needed to “make something people wanted”.

A couple of years in they’ve built a customer base of 400,000 people that grows 5% every week but also made a few mistakes along the way. Hugo shared the ups and downs of the ride from the point of view of product design: designing prototypes, building a nice feedback loop, growing a team and keeping up with hyper-growth.

Talk 8: Storytelling for the Google Assistant

Storytelling may be simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy – especially when designing for deeply interactive experiences. Where’s the roadmap from high-level concept to seamless execution?

In a medium so young, there isn’t a roadmap yet. What we do have is a treasure map made from pieces of many disciplines.

Session 4: Culture First

The products we all use every day are created by thousands of tiny decisions by product people just like you. The colour of a button, the weight of a font, the copy in an error message. These decisions are made not by you, not by your product manager, but by the team, the team working on a shared vision, a shared goal working in a shared culture.

How you shape that culture is ultimately how you shape the product.

Our final two speakers spoke about how culture shapes their products, from how you respond when everything fails and how you earn customer trust and assurance.

Talk 9: Building a trusted bank

Despite technology moving so fast, banking is considered a hassle and often feels like a necessary evil. By examining and understanding the challenges customers face; creating an account, access to credit, keeping cards safe, paying securely and saving for what’s most important, Starling Bank has been built (from scratch) to give the 70 million underserved current account holders in the UK the tools to create a healthier financial life.

The challenge is to put customers in control and to use technology to do things differently, and to make the right decisions to meet customer expectations, provide assurance and gain trust.

Talk 10: Crafting a Creative Culture

We have arrived in an age of design. No longer relegated to a function of the marketing department or tacked on to an engineering process, Designers are increasingly taking leadership positions in the top companies in tech. But how do we manage creative teams to achieve their full potential?

Jeff Veen shared stories from his years of leading product development — both successful and not — to show that investing in culture might be the best competitive edge you can gain.

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