A chat with Ryan Opina, VP of Strategy at Engine Digital

Last year, Engine Digital claimed the trophy for the UX For Commerce Awards for creating a prestigious user experience for the global NBA fanbase with their NBA All-Star Voting Platform. This campaign mini-site catered to a global NBA fanbase of millions of people to submit their votes for who should play for the 2020 All-Star game, with a shareable social media asset to promote their picks.

The previous voting platform discouraged fans from fully understanding how the voting and submission process worked and lacked user engagement. Engine Digital’s new design provided clear expectations of how to vote and guided fans through carefully crafted interactions helping them navigate and select from the more than 400 possible player choices they could make, through providing basic personally identifying information to help validate their vote. The option to generate dynamic shareable assets of their selects to share through their social media, that kept the NBA event active during the campaign period through online discussions.

We reached out to Ryan Opina, VP of Strategy of Engine Digital where he shared his thoughts about turning large scale designs into reality with a clear vision and his experience in participating in the Vancouver UX Awards.

Last year, Engine Digital claimed all the finalist positions in the UX for Commerce category with the fantastic work you’ve created, with the NBA All-Star Vote project taking the trophy home. Where did you draw your inspirations from to create an experience that was both memorable and applicable to a sports brand with a large notable fanbase?
We have worked with the NBA on a number of projects over the years. What is key to all of our client engagements is to understand the business context of what we are creating and how it relates to the experience principles that we define and use as guideposts in our decision making. The NBA is now a global league and NBA All Star voting is a global event. To make sure that we created an experience that would impress fans around the world, we studied analog experiences from gaming, other major sports leagues and even D2C e-commerce. We considered every step of the fan journey including the different ways a fan finds out that voting is open all the way through to what would bring them back to continue to vote for their favourite players.
The All Star vote is a key moment in the season where fans feel like they can have their voices heard by the NBA. By testing our concepts with fans from major NBA markets around the world, we knew that we had created a concept that would resonate with fans and overall vote submission numbers proved it. NBA All Star vote submissions increased approximately 20% over the previous year.

Do you have any advice for other agencies submitting their work on how to impress and get noticed?
It’s really important to understand the ‘why' behind the design decisions that you are making. Sometimes it’s driven by a customer's needs. Sometimes it’s a business need. Sometimes it’s because you are after a specific aesthetic. All of these need to be considered in different combinations for different projects and you have to have a strong perspective on why that combination makes sense. When you get that right, you end up with some pretty great results.

Were there any significant changes in design trends on how you (and your team) had to create this experience since COVID-19? What do you think these trends will look like in the future?
Honestly, not really. While we are based in Vancouver, the majority of our clients are spread across the US. This means that having the right tools in place to facilitate real time and asynchronous communication is key to success. With stakeholders spread across different locations and time zones, COVID-19 has highlighted how important it is to align on and document a vision, then be principled in making design decisions necessary to realize that vision. How we worked prior to COVID relied on regular, consistent sessions for collaboration which has not changed through COVID……it’s now just online more than in person.

You've been a visible and active member of Vancouver's design community for a long time now. What advice would you give to new designers, or those in progress of making a career switch to UX?
Keep trying to be uncomfortable. Once you think you’ve got the hang of something, do a bit more. Discomfort means growth and progress. Proactively taking on challenges leads to discovering your own take on things based on your own unique background and experiences.

How has the Van UX Awards helped your agency move forward with your design endeavours?
It’s always great to see the caliber of work coming out of the design community in Vancouver. The Van UX Awards is always a nice point in the year where we get to showcase the work we are doing, get a chance to reconnect with the designers and organizations we see regularly, but also see new organizations and designers that are being highlighted for the first time through the awards show.

Besides Engine Digital, who do you think is doing the most exciting and innovative UX work these days in our community?
It’s been great seeing Vancouver recognized globally for creating companies that have become leaders in their product vertical as well as trailblazers for the future. I think of Clio and how they are approaching legal management software, Thinkific in creating and selling online courses, and Dapper Labs who has made NFT’s a regular part of the conversation of NBA fans….and sports fans in general. 

If and when the pandemic restrictions are fully lifted, what is the one thing you really miss that you can't do right now?
Honestly, I think we’ve been pretty fortunate to be able to go about our lives with some regularity while still taking appropriate precautions so I’ve got to give a big thanks to all the healthcare and essential workers out there that have enabled us to do that. Once it becomes less of a hassle to travel and watch events again, I’m looking forward to watching an NBA basketball game live…..in a sold out arena……with thousands of screaming people.


The Vancouver User Experience Awards is an opportunity for growing startups, freelance practitioners, agencies, and user-centric enterprises to showcase their work and get recognized for the incredible experiences they create every day. Follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to stay connected with the growing design community in Vancouver. You can check out Engine Digital’s and all other 2020’s winners and finalists projects here.