Open & Candid: Steven Shyu

In June, Steven Shyu joined OpenPlans as a UX developer at OpeGeo. He’s passionate about creating applications that are functional and enjoyable to use. Steven comes to us from Bloomberg News and will work from OpenGeo’sWashington DC office.

Let’s jump right in, what will you be working on here at OpenPlans?
I'll be part of the OpenGeo team where my primary responsibility is to make OpenGeo’s software more usable and accessible to a wider range of users.

Is there anything specific you’re looking to accomplish?
I want to improve the interface and user experience of the apps we build and to learn more about our users, who I understand are, and will continue to be ever more diverse. I’d also like to learn more about the spatial GIS field and apply lessons I’ve learned elsewhere to it. From what I understand, there’s some room to do some cool new things in the field — not sure what those are yet, but I hope to collaborate with the team to figure some of those opportunities out.

And what were you doing before you joined OpenPlans?
Prior to joining OpenGeo I was working in user experience at Bloomberg Government. I was focused on the user experience of the legislative and industry sections of the product.  I acted as a liaison between product managers, developers, and other stakeholders to outline features and then define the details of the user experience. Before that I was a UX Engineer at Congressional Quarterly (CQ). I did similar work to what I ended up doing at Bloomberg Government, but I was also responsible for implementing  some of the interfaces and workflows that I designed.

Your career path seems heavily focused on government work, what led you down that path?
It was by chance.  While in school I had taken some coursework in regulation/government, but I didn’t expect to end up working on government data sites.  However, my first job in the UX field ended up being at Congressional Quarterly, and many of the projects I worked on there happened to focus a lot on government data.

While we’re on the topic, what did you study in school?
I studied Chinese and media psychophysiology. Broadly speaking, psychophysiology is studying the relationship between physiology (e.g., heart rate, brain activity) and psychology (behavior, emotions, and thoughts).  While studying, I learned a lot about psychology and cognitive science.  Since a big part of UX is understanding how people think and process information, and many of the lessons from those areas are applicable to UX design.

That’s great, thanks for letting us know more about your background better. With all of the impressive work you’ve accomplished at CQ, Bloomberg and other places  Is there one project you look back of most fondly?
Hmm, that’s a tough one!  One would have to be a convention events application I worked on while with CQ back in 2008.

Convention? I assume you mean the national political party meetings? Tell us about it.
Yes, exactly.  The user-facing piece let users browse event listings for the Republican National Convention (RNC) and the Democratic National Convention (DNC), and users could also see where the events were on a map.  What was really cool was that the editorial team who input those events could do it in a CMS that I built, and the CMS would send it to the website and also allow them to export it into InDesign for the print publication.  This meant they only had to input the data once.  While that’s a best practice now, it was not as common then.  It was also my first and only application to use the Google Maps API.

Was that your introduction the geospatial world?
Yup. I happened upon OpenGeo later, via a blog that linked me to some posts that that OpenGeo’s parent organization (OpenPlans) published.  When I looked at OpenGeo’s work, I thought, hey, there a bunch of really interesting projects there.   I was drawn in because I like science and data, and maps are a powerful data visualization tool.

Well that sounds like a really slick application, can I ask you to tell us about another?
Sure, another that comes to mind is Data View, which I designed the UX for at Bloomberg Government.  The goal of that project was to create a standard interface to visualize datasets of varying sizes and complexity.  This was and still is a large challenge, but  I worked with the industry team to come up with a tool that lets people view a bunch of industry datasets (like health care spending by state, vehicle miles traveled by mode, etc.).  With the tool, users can view and extract useful information from the data without having to wade through large tables (though they can do that too if they want).

So, what are your areas of expertise now on the software side?
I’ve done a lot of front-end development and even some back-end, but my recent and main focus has been the user experience of web apps, though many UX principles are applicable universally, on anything from mobile phones, to cars, and to washing machines.

When OpenGeo starts making consumer appliances we’ll have a leg up. What about outside of work, do you have any hobbies?
I enjoy playing piano, hiking, swimming, running.  I also like learning languages, but that’s a bit harder to do since it requires a lot more dedicated time. I also enjoy cooking and baking.

A baker? Your co-workers in the DC office are lucky!
Steven, thanks for sitting down to chat, it was a pleasure getting to know you.
The pleasure was all mine, I’m happy to be aboard.