Alumni Stories: Creating Inclusive Spaces in Real Life and Online

By BrainStation September 4, 2020

In 2016, Mathieu Bellemare had an idea for an app; he just didn’t know how to design it. That initial desire to bring his ideas to life led him to BrainStation’s UX Design bootcamp, and ultimately towards a career in Product Design. 

Design, however, isn’t all that Bellemare does; he’s also the Co-Founder of Yohomo, Toronto’s leading site for the artistic Queer community. 

Yohomo works to bring Toronto’s LGBTQ2+ communities together by highlighting parties, events, plays, screenings, marches, and exclusive Spotify playlists. They also host a seasonal gay bash for everyone to come together and celebrate.

We spoke with Bellemare about Yohomo and how his success in UX and Product design helped him build a career and passion project.

Creating a Community Around Music and Dance

Bellemare’s Co-Founders Armand Digdoyo and Phil Villeneuve once worked as DJs, and they were often asked about other events to attend in the nightlife scene.

“People have been isolated by social media bubbles and it’s hard to discover certain events if you don’t already have an ‘in’. So, we decided to create a website that would make it possible for anyone to find events in Toronto through a simple Google search,” Bellemare said.  

The more events they shared, the wider their audience grew, and with Toronto queer magazines in short supply since the shuttering of publications like FAB or the end of the print edition of Xtra, Yohomo quickly filled a void.  

Group of six people posing for a picture at a queer event showing off their Drag, wigs, and pink leopard print and more.

“What started with just a couple of friends browsing for events, grew into a full blog, collaborations with visual artists for merch, fundraisers, in-person events, etc.” The trio now work with a team of collaborators, including Writers, DJs, Graphic Artists, Performers, and more. 

A unique component to the Yohomo community is their exclusive music playlists and partnership with Spotify. “We had an opportunity to partner up with Spotify in our second year and that started a full Spotify channel in which we highlight queer talent and the songs we love,” he said. 

“My job is mostly to manage the musical voice of our playlists as well as communicating with new artists […] and finding a way to showcase their talent!”

Building Design Systems

When Bellemare isn’t working on finding the next best musical talent, his day is filled with conversations about systematic design as a Product Designer at Apply Digital.

“I would say most of my work is around creating solid design systems with a focus on inclusion and accessibility. I consult and help on a lot of projects in regards to digital accessibility, which tends to be overlooked in the industry,” Bellmare shared.

“The truth is, people need a lot of convincing in order to realize the importance of accessibility, and it just so happens that I love to convince people!”

Creating an Inclusive Tech Space 

We asked Bellemare what the tech community should do to be more inclusive of the Queer community, but understandably, he remarks that it’s a loaded question and a lot of action is required.

The Yohomo Team: Armand Digdoyo, Phil Villeneuve, and Mathieu Bellemare

“I think more than ever the effort needs to be on the intersectionality of the Queer community. It’s important we work on removing the classist barrier that exists currently in technology at all levels, but mostly at the founder and C-suite level,” he shares.

“Diverse leaders get you diverse teams, diverse ideas and companies only profit from including inclusive practices that are simply more representative of the audience.”

Building a Design Skill Set 

Bellemare was a singer before joining the tech scene, so when it came to design, he had to start from the basics. He shares the high-intensity environment at BrainStation was exactly what he needed to learn quickly. 

More than anything he says, BrainStation helped him understand how to learn and learn enough to eventually launch his own journey into design. He notes that BrainStation’s project-based learning encourages students to be “a bit crazier, louder, and riskier about [their] ideas, since there was no fear of expectations. This attitude still carries me to this day to take risks in everything I do and push the envelope.”

After his experience, Bellemare has fond memories of his time at BrainStation. “I still have a couple of good friends from that experience, both students and teachers, and they are always there to back me up or give me the tips on what is happening in the industry.” 

When asked what Bellemare was most proud of at Yohomo, he just laughed.

“Of course this is too hard to respond to!” He said. “The latest thing we do is always our proudest. We are four years old, so still have a lot of objectives to fill and we do that by doing a little something new every month!”

So, then what’s next? 

“I can’t reveal too much yet! But, lots of new content, videos, a possible expansion across Canada and hopefully a return of our quarterly parties when possible. We love to get together with our crowd, especially when it involves outdoors, blazing sun, and stupid bubbly fruity drinks!”