Fathom Consulting welcomes Ben Vargo as research and strategy consultant

Ben Vargo

Fathom Consulting is pleased to announce that Ben Vargo has joined the firm as a research and strategy consultant. Ben joins us from several years at Fusion Hill, where he led qualitative research efforts for medical device clients. He also spent time at Roundpeg, conducting research and leading facilitation efforts to create clients’ consumer-driven growth strategies.

“From the outside, it was clear that Fathom offered a rare pairing: impactful, challenging work and a commitment to the employee experience,” said Ben on his decision to join the company. “I’m excited to learn a ton and work on some great projects with the team.”

Ben has already impressed his colleagues and clients alike, diving into several complex projects in the med device and healthcare spaces with ease. “Ben has shown a unique ability to quickly understand a project’s objectives, and he has great instincts about what the client’s needs are. He has quickly become a trusted part of the Fathom team,” said lead consultant Julie Pettit. 

When not digging up research insights, you can find Ben digging in his garden as he readies his home to host a backyard wedding for friends this summer. Another “What have I gotten myself into?” moment, Ben is preparing to participate in the North Star Bicycle Race in mid-September, an 629.4 mile race from St. Paul to the Canadian border and back. The race is unsupported—meaning that it’s out and back under his own power, with no assistance. Good luck Ben (and we’ll be here when you get back)!

A native of Washington state, Ben made his way to the Twin Cities to attend Macalester College—where he graduated with honors with degrees in Geography and Urban Studies. Learn more and connect with him on LinkedIn!

Fathom Consulting welcomes PaJai Vang as UI/UX Consultant

Pajai Vang

We are happy to announce that PaJai Vang has joined Fathom Consulting’s Experience Research and Design practice as a UI/UX consultant. PaJai brings to us a wide variety of design skills across digital and print mediums, a keen ability to listen, and a passion for designing for users.

After earning her graphic design degree, it took PaJai a little while to find her way to UI design and user experience work. But once she discovered it, she was hooked. “I fell in love” says PaJai. “UI/UX design is truly a melting pot of my passions–including art, science, and helping people.”

With experience as a past patient service representative, PaJai is especially excited to apply her design and empathy skills to Fathom client projects, including large, complex initiatives for the healthcare and medical device industries. The feeling is mutual! “While we’ve designed digital products and interfaces for years, adding the visual design capabilities PaJai brings to our team allows us to extend our services to our clients through the end-to-end design process,” says Fathom’s managing partner, Kate McRoberts.

Outside of her project work, you can find PaJai engaging in any number of creative pursuits, from event decorating to cooking, Hmong line dancing, and makeup artistry. PaJai finds joy in sharing other outlets of her creativity to make people feel good, look good, and eat well. Lucky us!

PaJai holds a B.A. in Studio Arts Graphic Design from St. Catherine University and a UI/UX certificate from Springboard. Learn more about PaJai on her portfolio site or Instagram, or connect with her on LinkedIn.  Please join us in welcoming her to the Fathom team!

Rapid UX prototyping to test and communicate UX design

Prototyping is a core element of Fathom’s user experience (UX) practice, but to different people the word “prototype” may suggest different things: an early idea to elicit customer needs, a clickable user flow to test a design’s usability, or a coded proof of concept to work through details of a complex feature. Regardless of these ideas, they have one thing in common: they are all tools for communication. A good prototype can describe a potential feature more richly and efficiently than a written description. And, the need for effective communication on software projects has never been greater than in our current reality of distributed teams and remote user research.

Fathom experience design consultants Kat Jayne and Jeff Harrison recently joined Shawn Dorsey from Qt for an interactive panel discussion about rapid UX prototyping as a means for communicating design to customers, end users, and developers. During the discussion, they answered questions about prototyping methods and approaches, garnering user feedback, and improving communication across a project team.

Missed the session? View a recording. And share in the comments: How are you using prototypes today? What questions do you have about prototyping as a means of communication with software teams?

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.

Fathom Consulting welcomes Catherine Idema as senior consultant

Catherine Idema

We are excited to announce that Catherine Idema has joined the Fathom Consulting team as Senior Consultant, Experience Research and Design! Catherine comes to us most recently from Health Leads, a national healthcare organization that connects individuals and families with the basic resources they need to be healthy. While at Health Leads, Catherine developed and managed innovative health solutions aimed at improving community-level health and addressing systemic barriers to care.

Catherine brings to Fathom deep expertise in both qualitative and quantitative research methods and a passion for human-centered design. She is especially keen on tackling challenges and developing creative solutions that are inherently equitable and inclusive; elevating diverse voices and perspectives is a guiding principle of her work. Among her achievements at Health Leads was the design of a community-driven collective-impact initiative that addressed the intersection of health and housing in the Bay Area.

“I have really enjoyed using design thinking and innovation principles in program development and design, and look forward to doubling down with Fathom’s clients in healthcare and across other industries,” says Catherine. “I thrive in areas of opportunity and uncertainty, which fits perfectly with Fathom’s focus on helping to help clients move from complexity to confidence.”

In addition to beginning a new role at Fathom, Catherine is returning to her Midwest roots—having recently relocated from Los Angeles to Minneapolis (in December, no less)! She’s looking forward to the outdoors (all four seasons), becoming involved in and driving impact in the Twin Cities community, and, ultimately “finding the best bar nachos” in Minneapolis, she says. (Yes, comments are open below.)

Catherine holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Grand Valley State University, as well as a Master’s degree in public health from UCLA. Learn more about Catherine on LinkedIn, and please join us in welcoming her to the Fathom team!

Aging at home: Fathom study explores the authentic needs of older adults

The largest-ever cohort of Americans over 70 are changing our culture’s notion of what “senior-living” looks like. Nearly all of the aging baby boom generation plans to age in the homes they love, and they have much higher expectations for their quality of life than the generations before them.

Co-creating solutions to the challenges of aging at homeHaving worked with dozens of clients designing products and services for this enormous audience of more than 70 million consumers, we are still surprised how many businesses assume that basic needs—such as health and safety—are all that seniors care about. A Google search for “aging in place” still returns nothing for these aging Americans other than ads for shower grab bars and “nanny cams for mom.”

Co-creating solutions to the challenges of aging at homeThis misplaced focus—seeing seniors first and foremost as vulnerable and disabled—prompted Fathom Consulting to explore how to better help our clients design for the real opportunities of the thriving aging at home market. After a year of focused research (using qualitative, quantitative, secondary, and co-creation methods), it has become clear to us that seniors have needs far beyond just surviving their daily shower.

Illustration of hierarchical needsToday we’re excited to share a framework for supporting the holistic needs of those who are aging at home. Similar to other hierarchical models in the field, our framework emphasizes that health and safety are only a part of the quality of life picture. Today’s seniors are thinking beyond survival and striving for continued purpose. In addition, our framework illustrates the essential emotional needs for connection and self-determination. Without accounting for how a product connects and empowers the older adult using it, nothing it is trying to achieve towards health, safety, or purpose will work.

Using the framework as a starting point, we can leverage traditional ethnography, design thinking, and co-creation methods to envision innovative products and services to satisfy the full range of needs of older adults. And those who take this human-centered approach can expect greater adoption and usage of their innovations for many years to come.

For more information on the needs framework, including many examples of how it can be used to spur innovation and design, read the full study here.

MIMA scholarships: Celebrating the next generation of digital marketing

Our founder, Robin Carpenter, dedicated her career to mentoring young professionals and empowering everyone in the Twin Cities digital marketing community to do better. As a founding member of the Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA)—the longest-standing digital marketing association in the country—Robin felt strongly that education and collaboration would aid the Twin Cities in developing talented digital professionals.

It is only fitting, then, that MIMA honors Robin’s legacy—and that of her contemporary, Jarrid Grams—with its annual MIMA scholarship, funded through contributions from Fathom Consulting. This year, the Carpenter family has underwritten one of three scholarships, a testament to how much her family believes in the work Robin began so many years ago.

The Jarrid Grams and Robin Carpenter Memorial Scholarship is available to undergraduate or graduate students pursuing careers in marketing, technology, communications, and math. To apply for this year’s scholarship, each student was asked to create a marketing plan for a fictitious company, incorporating budget, creative concepts, strategy, positioning, and digital executions.

As a long-time member and former president of MIMA—and close friends with both Robin and Jarrid—I have been privileged to serve on the committee that evaluates the student nominations and selects the recipients. I was blown away by this year’s student entrants, who demonstrated inventiveness, strategy, and vision beyond their years. Nothing makes me prouder than awarding these scholarships to our 2018 MIMA Scholars: Katie Coyne, Morgan Kuphal and Riley Plisek—right here at Fathom Consulting on June 6.

When I first got involved with MIMA, the Twin Cities was not recognized as a hotbed for digital marketing. Long considered “flyover country” by Silicon Valley, the digital marketing community was relatively disconnected. Thanks to the leadership of people like Robin, MIMA has helped create a unified community with a common goal of elevating the Twin Cities as a growth market for digital.

Today, students are finding their way into careers in the Twin Cities, thanks in part to MIMA giving them the education, networking connections and job leads they need to find interesting work and stay in our region. We hope this year’s scholarship recipients—and all of our past recipients—will share their success with others and contribute to our growing digital marketing community.

Students of any major are welcome to learn more and apply at http://mima.org/student-scholarship.

Fathom Consulting among the Twin Cities’ 100 Best Companies to Work For

We’re thrilled to once again be named to the Minnesota Business list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in the Twin Cities. The award recognizes Minnesota’s top companies—as chosen by employee survey—for work environment, employee benefits, and overall employee happiness. How fun it was celebrate with other recipients at last night’s celebration at the Mall of America (as you can see by the laughter on our faces!).

While it’s an honor to be included in this year’s list, it’s not necessarily a surprise to us. Why?  Because feedback is a gift—and we’re constantly asking for it. Once every three months we conduct our ownemployee survey. And while we do get (and encourage) candid assessments, our team regularly agrees that Fathom Consulting is a great place to work.  Why?

  • We’re hard-working.We are devoted to doing the best for our clients every day. We take our work seriously (but don’t take ourselves too seriously!)
  • We’re empathetic. We care about our work, of course. But we also care deeply for each other.
  • We’re flexible. And that’s with each other and with our clients. We work where and when we have to. We adapt when the situation calls for it.
  • We’re transparent. We share everything, and foster a culture of open and honest communication.
  • We’re flat. We don’t do politics, hierarchy, or rank-pulling. We’re not here to claw our way to the top; we’re here to do great work together.
  • We’re part of the community. We share our knowledge, mentor budding talent, and volunteer for organizations that are meaningful to us.

And while these factors definitely make for a great employee experience, they also lend to the high-quality service we deliver to our clients. How do we know? In addition to surveying ourselves, we also survey our clients—after every project. As it turns out, hard work combined with a strong culture likes ours results in high client satisfaction as well. Everyone wins.

Ready to work with the best? Let’s connect!

Connect with Fathom Consulting at SDN Midwest June 15

It’s been fun to be part of small group of service design professionals who have started a Minnesota chapter of the Service Design Network, and I’m looking forward presenting at the first annual Service Design Network Midwest Conference in Minneapolis on Friday, June 15.

The theme of the conference is “Meaningful Connections,” and the day’s discussions will focus on how we can all design and deliver experiences that build stronger bonds between service providers and their users.

My presentation, “The Need for Connection Among Older Adults who are Aging in Place,” will delve deep into what connection really means to those in their golden years and how best to design services (with their valuable input) that meet their specific expectations and higher-order needs.

Other presentation topics will include service design and AI, ethics in design, and behavior change. Following the conference, attendees will take in the Minneapolis art scene at the annual Northern Spark arts festival. This year’s Northern Spark theme is “commonality,” a fantastic follow-on for SDN conference participants looking to delve deeper into the notion of connection in art, design, marketing, and user experience.

Service design in practice

Through collaboration with the local service design community, I’ve been able to practice unique methods to ensure that people are always at the center of not only how products are designedbut also how they are delivered, supported, and usedday-to-day. In fact, at the first few meetings of the local service design chapter, we used service design techniques like a Business Model Canvas to decide what “job” the organization would fulfill in our own lives.

This user-centered approach to service design is also reflected in the work we do at Fathom Consulting. As we approach service design projects with our clients, we are increasingly recommending facilitated co-creation exercises as a best practice. Co-creation is a process by which all stakeholders–particularly the recipients of the service–are at the table and making their voices heard. When the users of the service are in the room, you often arrive at unexpected ideas informed by diverse perspectives, and you ensure your solutions are tailored to their needs.

I always enjoy projects where we find unique ways to connect with users and look forward to connecting with other service designers to learn more about their experiences. I hope you can join us at the conference and connect with the budding local service design community as well!

Learn more about and register for the SDN Midwest Conference.