By Rachael Rees

The Bulletin

Sixteen participants, ranging from CEOs and venture capitalists to product developers and designers, frantically brainstormed ideas for a Bend tech company’s next product at the DoubleTree by Hilton on Northwest Franklin Avenue.

Their goal: to help the company, Manzama, which gathers news articles, social media mentions and other new information on specific topics, develop features to make its new software more valuable to customers by improving their user experience.

“User experience is the overall design of how a customer interacts with your product, from when they learn about it all the way until that point they decide to upgrade or buy another version,” said Jon Innes, president and founder of UX Innovation LLC.

The recent two-day workshop, a collaborative effort between Bend’s Seven Peaks Ventures and Silicon Valley-based InterWest Partners, was the second held in Bend and cost $950 per person.

Because user experience and user interface designers are hard to find, Dino Vendetti of Seven Peaks and Bruce Cleveland of InterWest joined together to cultivate and develop talent locally. The long-term plan is to build an academy that has ongoing classes and workshops.

If customers don’t find a product easy to use, Innes said, they’re not likely to adopt it, comparing first time product use to a first date.

Rather than building an end product, which can be very expensive, Innes said, the idea is for companies to build a prototype and have potential users test it to give feedback.

“A lot of companies are technology driven,” he said. “They think about how to build it, not the user’s feedback.”

Lisa Flynn, vice president of marketing for Manzama, said the company has been targeting large enterprises, but is now adding another product to service small and medium-sized businesses. Flynn said Manzama sponsored the workshop to help foster entrepreneurial activity in the region and improve the company’s process for users to personalize their accounts.

“People expect a lot out of applications,” she said. “We never sit back and say we made it and we’re done. We’re always looking at how we can make our user experience better, and that’s a perpetual process. By participating in events like this we’re continually improving our product.”

Rajit Joseph, head of product management for San Francisco-based tech company C9 Inc., said he came to learn the process of making products easier for users.

“I was asked to be one of the personas and use (Manzama’s) product without any information on how to navigate the product,” he said. “I was actually figuring out on my own how to navigate and how to create my profile … and the people from (Manzama) were sitting back and listening to my experience.”

Joseph said he plans to have new employees try out C9’s applications to study their struggles and successes to better tailor products to customers without the cost.

“Obviously you can hire a design firm to do this for you, but who’s going to spend $60,000 bucks or $90,000 to hire a design firm?” he said.

—Reporter: 541-617-7818,