This month, get to know Steven LeMay. Steven has been with Usability Matters since its very early days and has worked on hundreds of projects for our clients. With a strong focus on research, he designs for real people as opposed to technology. Read on to learn more about Steven!
How did you get started in this field? What is your background in design?
You could say I had a past life and was part of a generation that founded this profession, in a sort of ad-hoc manner. I had a background in sociology and the performing arts. I was involved with production planning and as an employee of the National Ballet, and helped them develop early computer systems.
During this time I became more interested in design and wanted to follow a new direction. I connected with a brokerage software firm and immediately began to lead skunk-works design projects. In the course of doing these exploratory projects, I became aware of pioneers like Jakob Nielsen and was hooked.
So at what point did you begin to call yourself a UX designer?
The term caught up to me. But really I think that the term is less important than the understanding of the community. What’s more important is the emphasis on people over technology. As a user experience designer and researcher, I am able to begin to bridge the gap between the business, the technology and the users.
What has been your biggest learning curve as a designer or your most notable learning experience?
All of my most notable learning experiences have been on the research side of things. . In some agencies, research and design are two different groups and that just doesn’t make sense to me. At UM, I feel strongly that w e’re better designers because we do research, and better researchers because we do design.
I’ve also learned that it’s important to know how to listen. The techniques of design are not just bound to those of centuries long history, it’s also psychology. When we’re designers of information, we’re crossing a lot of design disciplines. It involves industrial design as much as it involves psychology as much as it involves visual design.
Are you involved in any side projects? Tell us about those!
Well I’m the IT guy for my partner Leslie, who is an artist. Helping her achieve her artistic ambitions is my side project.
What sets you apart from other designers in your field?
What sets me apart? The strength of my research does.
What are your favourite types of projects to work on? And why?
Variety is so important to me, and it’s important to keep your work inspired. At UM I’ve had the opportunity to work on such a range of projects from those in the travel sector, not for profit, the Toronto Public Library and so on.
However, there were also unique projects like the Azrieli Foundation where we were aiming to keep the voices of Canadian Holocaust survivors alive for future generations. This was culturally and historically important work, and it was enormously satisfying and challenging to be a part of this project. I had to learn about content management, production and video editing and on top of that, the material itself, the content, was also so emotionally difficult.
What is unique about working in Toronto as a designer? How has this shaped your experience?
Well, in order to do the kind of work we do at UM, it has to be done in a thriving large city with a variety of industries. A smaller city wouldn’t make the practice so robust and give us the variety required to expand our skill set. I would say that Toronto has become a real hub of UX design in the past few years. We also have groups and associations that don’t exist anywhere else. We’re leading the development of a lot of professional association work.
Do you have any advice for newcomers to the field of UX?
There’s so much continuous learning that is required in this field in particular. They have to be prepared to keep learning. I think that if that excites you, then you’re doing the right thing.
You also need to understand the people we’re designing for – that’s the core of UX. It all starts with who we’re designing for and why.