Interview with Teknision and the Story of RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook UX

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Watch an interview with Teknision’s Presidet, Gabor Vida.

When we first wrote about Teknision, and their involvement in the PlayBook UX, the article got a ton of exposure because it was thought that RIM’s acquisition of The Astonishing Tribe (TAT) meant that they were solely responsible for the UX. Since then, I have sat down with Teknision’s President Gabor Vida, to talk about Teknision as a company, its involvement in the PlayBook, and a little about their thoughts on design. We also discuss why we haven’t heard more about this company.

One thing that became really obvious to me about UX design for a product like the PlayBook, is that the average consumer has very little idea how many companies, people and design iterations it will come across before it gets to market. Before Teknision or TAT got a hold of the PlayBook, there was another company called Artefact that briefly touched the tablet as well.

The Artefact Group is a UX design firm out of Seattle that is comprised of a lot of ex-Microsofties and we’ve heard they had one of the first stabs at creating the UX for the PlayBook.

artefact icons
Early versions of the PlayBook UI had boxed, 3D icons. This was scrapped because it was thought that it would become inconsistent across various icons and app artwork.

Click there to see read about Artefact’s influence on the PlayBook.

Artefact did some work on the UX and then came Teknision, the company that was going to do the vast majority of the work on the PlayBook UX. Teknision is sort of a Skunk Works lab which is largely why nobody has heard of them. When I say nobody, I mean with regards to potential PlayBook consumers, but Teknision is well known in the industry for making compelling UXs. They have some really big clients too. They’re currently working on Radian6‘s enterprise social monitoring tools.

When talking with Teknision’s team, what became clear is that the company has gone through a ton of iterations on the PlayBook UX. I spent some time looking at old versions of the infotainment apps that Teknision designed the UX for such as the photo app, which features some very cool photo transitions. Another cool feature that Teknision is responsible for is the PlayBook’s notification system. When Teknision designed it, they made sure to stay true to the BlackBerry LED light that is an integral part of the BlackBerry experience. It’s small features like this that has made the UX, according to early reviews, one of the most loved aspects of the PlayBook.

So if Teknision did such an awesome job on the UX, why did RIM acquire TAT and not Teknision? It seems the answer is more market-related and less about their success as a UX company. The acquisition decision is clear when you look at the relative size of the companies. TAT is a company of some 180-200 employees and Teknision is a company of around 10. When you’re looking to acquire a company, you also want to disrupt the market. Competitors like Google were doing business with TAT and after the RIM acquisition they had to find a new UX firm. It’s this sort of client displacement that is a huge opportunity for Teknision as well, allowing them to visit former TAT clients and scoop up the business. There is also the opportunity for them to get acquired by Google or a manufacturer focused on Android development, especially now that TAT is out of the picture.

It should be interesting to see what role Teknision will have in the future QNX-based smartphones. I like the way Teknision thinks of design too. Gabor talked about camera-based user interfaces and some very risky design philosophies. But that’s exactly what RIM needs. To be a market leader you have to be willing to take some risk and Teknision could do some really innovative stuff with the hardware that RIM has in its pipeline. We’re all waiting to see how this plays out.