Getting to know you: Hilary Stephenson

What do you currently do?

I am the managing director of Sigma, a digital agency specialising in user experience (UX) based in the North West. We focus on building websites and applications that make the user journey as seamless as possible. This can be anything from changing the colour of a button to make it easier for the visually impaired to use a website, smoothing out the online donation process for a charity, or improving productivity on a corporate application.

What is your inspiration in the business?

I’ve always been involved in usability – whether that is making software easier to use, helping people migrate service, procedural, and training content to websites and intranets. I led the UK team at Kudos from 2004, working with clients such as Nokia, Virgin Atlantic and Citizens Advice before being asked to set up a new UK entity for Sigma AB, our Swedish parent company in 2006. Since then, we have built a great team working on user research, design, and development for a range of clients in the UK and globally. I love that we were an early adopter of UX – the industry is now booming.

I get inspired by seeing users engage with an online product or service for the first time, particularly those people who aren’t tech savvy or regular web users. I also love it when our clients see the value of testing their sites with real people, as often there is a real “lightbulb moment” and they then invest in UX as a core part of their service design strategy.

Who do you admire?

Outside of the business world I appreciate wit and talent, so anyone who has made a success through being funny or entertaining, while showing a clear commitment to their beliefs or causes has my vote. I’d include in that the likes of Steve Coogan, Kate Bush, Stephen Fry, and Chrissie Hynde. And also Owen Jones, who is using social media in a really interesting way to augment and share his writing.

If I was to look at digital voices, though, I am quite impressed by some of the thinking coming from the various digital inclusion initiatives. We have used resources from Go On Uk and Tinder Foundation as part of our digital inclusion and research work and I’m intrigued to see how the Dot Everyone campaign fairs. So, people like Helen Millner, Martha-Lane Fox, and Rachel Neaman are really interesting to follow at the moment. They’re quite vocal, are energetic about their organisations, and are achieving good traction. It’s also really great to see women being so influential in a male dominated industry.

Looking back are there things you would have done differently?

I would have spent more time as a practitioner, perhaps as an information architect or usability consultant as I feel I got involved in project and account management quite early. Although that made me brave, I sometimes miss being directly involved in the project work itself.  I could have moved around a little more to see alternative approaches, technologies and sectors. But overall, I have had good variety despite being a stayer.

What defines your way of doing business?

Probably overly matey, likes a laugh, can use sarcasm to make a point – but overall I’m very hands-on with our team and our customers. I like to be involved, I like to help, and I am distraction-driven, throwing in new ideas and latching onto those of others. This can make me appear disorganised, overly inquisitive and maybe controlling, but that’s not the case of course…

What advice would you give to women starting out in your industry?

There needs to be more of you – or your voices need to be heard more. It’s clearly a myth that women don’t suit technical roles (and yes, I have heard that said) but they need to be more visual and in leadership roles for the shift to happen. I have been challenged when it comes to my thinking on positive discrimination before, but I do think meet-ups, events, conferences, working groups, for example, that actively seek to get more women involved are really needed until the balance improves. As I have worked primarily in small teams I haven’t experienced the male bias too often, but even in a group of 40, there are still only 10 women in the Sigma UK team. On a positive note, there are some great female voices in the digital industry and some great speakers on the UX roster, as well as emerging CEO voices that can inspire us all.