Using our strengths to support, challenge, and inspire students

Core to Fathom’s DNA is our goal to bring about meaningful change—not only for our clients but also for our community. Of late, that has looked like volunteering our time and talents to the student community. Here’s how four members of the Fathom team have recently found time to inspire—and be inspired by—students exploring careers in healthcare, designing digital experiences, and solving global challenges.

Julie Pettit served as a faculty advisor to students completing their Master’s in Healthcare Administration at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. She guided a student team through their capstone project: a real consulting assignment for a high-profile health system in the Twin Cities. Julie drew on the same skills she does as a business consultant at Fathom: helping the students make sense of disparate information from multiple sources, articulate findings and recommendations through a compelling story, and manage the ups and downs that come with any consulting engagement (including shifting business priorities and pandemic-related pauses).

Lynsey Struthers sat on a panel at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) for a “Build a Better Website” course in the Herb Albert School of Music. Because of pandemic-related limits on large music ensembles gathering in person to rehearse and perform, the school devised an unconventional, cross-departmental substitution: a series of special topics courses investigating other relevant musical issues. A former French horn player and pianist turned experience design consultant, Lynsey shared foundational human-centered design principles and provided practical suggestions to students developing individual musician and chamber group websites for themselves.

Kat Jayne completed a stint as an assistant instructor for the Prime UX Academy’s “Right Track” program—an immersive program for underserved young adults who live in St. Paul. During the program, students learn skills and build a portfolio to prepare them for a career in user experience design. Kat used her knack for organization and classification to help Prime re-configure their typical 18-week program into only 10 weeks. She then assisted in the virtual classroom, providing students with real-life example of UX in action from her client work and giving real-time feedback on their work.

And, for the second year in a row, Bret Busse served as a judge for the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge—a competition that inspires student entrepreneurs around the world to connect and create sustainable business solutions to global issues. Not unlike a first meeting with a client, Bret (and the judging team) were required to assess the business problem, the need to be addressed, and the students’ proposed solutions. Bret’s personal affection for start-ups and his business acumen made him a natural fit for the role. Following the campus finals at the University of St. Thomas, Bret served as a judge for the global finals—which brought together teams from all over the world.

In addition to the pure enjoyment of sharing passion for our work and providing constructive feedback to eager learners, all four consultants were motivated by what they saw from the students. “I get energized by how smart these kids are,” said Bret. “I love their big thinking—they are trying to change the world. It sounds like a cliché but it’s true.”

Fathom places a priority on maintaining a culture that empowers (and encourages!) team members to dedicate their time, skills, and strengths toward doing something great for others. Sound like a great place to work? We’re hiring!

Resuming in-person research at Fathom Consulting

While remote research is nothing new to Fathom Consulting—and will continue to be a core offering for our clients in the future—we are happy to announce that the research lab in our Minneapolis office is now open for in-person studies.

As COVID-19 guidance continues to evolve, so will our research operations. But for now, here’s what our clients and research participants can expect during in-person studies at Fathom.

For Clients

The safety of our researchers and research participants is our top priority. As such:

  • We will work with you to identify the best candidates for your study while remaining conscientious about high-risk populations.
  • Research is currently limited to one-on-one interviews only.
  • Physical distancing of six feet will be maintained during all research studies. Study areas will be arranged to accommodate physical distancing.
  • Face coverings will be required for both researchers and participants where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Any physical prototypes will be thoroughly cleaned between research participants.
  • The number of in-person study observers will be limited. We will offer live audio and/or video streaming of all sessions to clients who wish to observe sessions.

For Research Participants

If you are a research participant taking part in a study in our office, welcome! We want you to feel safe. If at any time during the study you feel uncomfortable, you may ask your researcher to make accommodations or you may end your session with no penalty.

  • When you arrive at Fathom, please park and then call to let us know you’re here. Remain in your car; we will call you when it is time for your session.
  • If necessary, you may bring a companion. They will be asked to remain in our lobby wearing a face covering.
  • When you come into our office, you will be asked to take your temperature. If you have a temperature above CDC guidelines (100.4 F/38 C), you will not be allowed to participate in the study. You will be compensated for your travel time to the facility.
  • You will be asked to sign a waiver. Please bring your own pen; otherwise, a new pen will be provided for you.
  • Your session will be facilitated by one researcher in the same room as you, following physical distancing guidelines.
  • Where physical distancing requirements cannot be maintained, you must be willing to wear a face covering during your session. However, depending on the unique circumstances of the research session, you may be asked to temporarily remove your face covering.
  • You may request that the researcher wear a face covering at any point during your session.

Reach out!

Whether you’re a client or a participant, we are happy to answer questions about research at Fathom.

We are also available to help scope any type of research project—whether in-person or remote—and work with you on specific needs or requirements.

Fathom Consulting selected as human factors service provider in Twin Cities’ Medical Device Resource Group

Fathom Consulting has worked in the health technology and medical device space for over 20 years, enjoying long-time partnerships with clients that span start-ups to global Fortune 250 companies. And we’re continually deepening our knowledge and broadening our capabilities in user-centered design and human factors engineering as our med tech clients bring new services and products to market.

That’s why we’re thrilled that our expertise has been recognized with an invitation for Fathom to join the Twin-Cities based Medical Device Resource Group (MDRG)—a coalition of independent companies that collectively offer broad expertise in the medical device company. The MDRG’s 16 members (17 with Fathom!) assist organizations in all stages of the medical device development cycle, from concept to post-launch. We’ve been identified as the group’s exclusive human factors and human-centered design service provider, assisting clients with early business and pre-market services such as:

  • Field research
  • Requirements gathering and development
  • Qualitative and quantitative research
  • Design thinking workshops
  • User Interface design
  • Documentation development, including FDA-required task analyses, risk analyses, and human factors plans
  • Formative and summative testing
  • Design documentation


In addition to offering organizations the ease of working with a unified resource of trusted experts, the MDRG is also known for its high-quality programming throughout the Twin Cities. Principal consultant Mary Donnelly recently joined fellow MDRG members on an expert panel, “Human Factors Engineering: Designing for Success.”

“We wholeheartedly welcome Fathom Consulting, and are excited about the expertise, participation and new relationships they will bring to our MDRG family,” said MDRG leader Charlie Jones of QTS Medical Device Outsourcing.

A taste of our own medicine: Using design thinking to re-envision our monthly staff meeting

With a frequently dispersed team of consultants working remotely on client sites or traveling for research, the Fathom team (as a whole) gathers just once a month for an all-hands meeting. In our flexible working environment, our monthly staff meetings are as close to “mandatory” as we get. They’re an important time to get caught up on the state of the business, share learnings that make us better consultants, celebrate successes of our co-workers, and authentically connect with our colleagues face-to-face both during and after the meeting.

For many years, these monthly “Project Review” meetings focused on just that: reviewing a client project in the form of a case study (along with sharing other business updates). However, as time went on, case studies became less frequent, announcements became rote, and people drifted back to work or straight home as soon as the meeting ended. When attitudes about the usefulness of the time together started to shift, we decided to become our own client. How could we use human-centered design techniques to collaboratively arrive at a solution for a new and improved gathering with end-users involved in all steps of the process?

Human-centered design often focuses on products and services. But experiences of any size—even staff meetings!—can and should be designed too. Here are a few techniques we used:

  • Co-creation—After laying out key objectives for the monthly meeting (connectedness, transparency, and learning), we used a monthly meeting itself to break into small groups and workshop ideas to ensure we met each of those objectives during each and every gathering.
  • Upvoting—Following our ideation session, suggestions were gathered and posted in a central spot in our office. Team members could both up-vote and down-vote recommendations from their colleagues. Sharing client and consultant high fives at staff meetings? Thumbs up! Doing an actual “project review” at Project Review? Surprisingly, a low vote-getter.
  • Mind-mapping—After a small group evaluated ideas and determined a new format for our monthly gathering, it was clear the name “Project Review” no longer made sense. We used a classic brainstorming tool—mind-mapping—to come up with a new name for our monthly gathering.’s digital visual collaboration tools made it easy to brainstorm until we finally landed on the perfect name: Rally.


But even after the heavy lifting of designing the new solution, our work was far from over. We took off our human-centered design hat and put on our operations design and optimization hat, knowing that operationalizing the planning and execution of each meeting would be critical to our staff experiencing the meetings as intended. Food choices were debated (sweet or savory?), spaces were considered, and timing was outlined for our launch. Discussion was given to what we could sustain each month. And, a “Rally Enhancement Team” was established to provide governance and to support ongoing improvements.

Our new format launched in January and, after receiving a bit of “user feedback,” we iterated for February. We went completely virtual starting in  March amid the work-from-home mandate due to the coronavirus (followed by, of course, a virtual happy hour). No doubt we’ll continue to test, learn, and iterate throughout the year, asking for and building on feedback from our users (ourselves). However, with most meetings starting with “connectedness and cupcakes,” the taste of our own medicine—so far—has been sweet.