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.

Beyond Zoom: Staying connected with colleagues while remaining apart

When redesigning our monthly staff meeting late last year, we made a conscious effort to ensure that every meeting met a key objective of “connectedness.” When coronavirus shifted our monthly meetings from in-person to online, we—like everyone else—needed to find new ways to remain close to our colleagues while staying physically distanced.  Even as an office that has always provided flexible working options for our employees, moving to 100 percent remote was a shift for even the most experienced WFH-ers!

Remote work will continue to be the norm for Fathom for the foreseeable future. Knowing that many of you are in the same boat as us, we’re sharing some of the things that we’ve done to help our staff feel connected to one another while we’re apart. We hope they’re useful.

Making connectedness a job

The Captain of Connectedness (and her co-captains), keeping the Fathom team together while at home.

While my official title is office manager and event coordinator, I was formally dubbed our new “captain of connectedness.” (Before this? The office’s “cruse director.” I sense a theme.) Making an individual—or, really, in our case, a small group of individuals—responsible for being intentional about connectedness has been one key to our success. Your human resources or people operations teams are great places to start, but by no means required!

Keeping business as usual

In some ways, we’re simply focusing on “business as usual.” Connectedness was a value for our team before the pandemic, so why would things be any different now? Since the quarantine started, this has looked like:

  • Staff meetings on a regular schedule
  • Regular emails from our leadership
  • Client gatherings (albeit virtual). Our monthly podcast meet-ups continue to happen over breakfast, and we’re meeting clients for happy hours after work. (If we ask for your address, it’s probably just for a delivery of nachos.)

Finding the fun

Aside from business as usual, we’re using humor, fun, and joy to bring people together.

  • Theme Thursdays. While it seems like every day is now “pajama day” by default, Thursdays are our theme day on purpose (hats, sports, and more).
  • Day brighteners. Random employees are being selected for random day brighteners, like free lunch delivery to home.
  • The office candy jar. Since I can’t fill the office candy jars anymore, I made sure everyone could still enjoy their favorite sweet treats (delivered to home in Fathom mugs).
  • Llamas. They’re a thing with Fathom. We even invited one to our monthly staff meeting.

Slacking off

Well, not really! We’ve implemented a few new things in Slack to keep the conversations going.

  • The Donut integration automatically match-makes two team members for coffee—no work talk allowed!
  • We’ve started two new channels: #remotetipsandinspiration (to share our best WFH ideas) and #highlightsfromhome (photos cats, dogs, babies, puzzles, home haircuts and more).

Getting to really know each other

On a more serious note, we’re also working hard on building psychological safety, practicing vulnerability with each other, and understanding what makes us all tick—especially in these strange times. Our entire team recently took the CliftonStrengths assessment, which has deepened our understanding of everyone’s unique strengths and has made it that much easier to work together (whether in person or remote).

We encourage you to steal our ideas. And we want to know—what’s working for you and your teams? Share in the comments!

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. Mural.co’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.

Simulating barriers to improve ideation and empathy

Our work to understand the authentic user needs of older adults has provided us with new perspectives on aging. We were excited to share those insights with hundreds of professionals at this week’s Leading Age Institute and Expo, the premier conference for older adult services providers.

Fathom Consulting facilitated two interactive sessions with attendees, one of which asked participants to simulate the many challenges that their own clients experience every day—and the way those challenges can become barriers to their use of technology. By analyzing and understanding barriers of older adults, we can gain empathy while uncovering new ways to ensure everyone, regardless of their age, can still benefit from technological advances.

There are several reasons to specifically consider how technology is used in this population, rather than simply relying on accessibility standards alone. Older adults often experience multiple age-related challenges at once and differ from younger adults in their attitude and comfort with technology. And, older adults are prime potential beneficiaries of technology—so it’s time to go beyond accessible to developing solutions that are attractive, easy, productive, and even enjoyable!

So, what is it like to use an iPad with macular degeneration? How easy is it to “Ask Siri” if you’ve had a stroke?

Drawing inspiration from the work of Pattie Moore in the 1970s, our session engaged participants in several simulations designed to build empathy for those who are experiencing seven different physical, cognitive, and attitudinal barriers. Together we then brainstormed workarounds or solutions using two ideation prompts:

  1. How Might We improve the technology so it is easier to use for those with a particular challenge?
  2. How Might We support people who have this challenge so they can still use the technology?


While dictating prompts to Siri with hesitant and inarticulate speech (“Wait, let me finish!” ”I’m so over this”) or trying to multitask with multiple distractions (“Ohmygosh, really?! You expect me to remember that!”), attendees quickly gained empathy for those they work with—and made a vow to be more patient in helping others with real barriers navigate technology challenges.


Should you try a simulation?

Moore and many others in Academia, including the MIT Age Lab, have established that using artificial means to temporarily experience barriers can increase our understanding and empathy of those who experience them every day. However, there are several things we must keep in mind:

  • Simulations should be done with respect and solemnity and not in a mocking or frivolous way.
  • Simulations should be done with a clear goal in mind. In this case, our goal was to help us brainstorm better ways to support those with a particular barrier in using technology.
  • Simulations are immediate and only temporary. It’s important to recognize that experiencing something for a few moments is nothing like experiencing a progressively-worsening challenge or living with a barrier for many years.


A multi-faceted framework and assessment tool

To learn more about the seven barriers and for a tool to assess whether you, or someone close to you, is experiencing one, download the two-page handout from our session.

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!

Dedicating time and talents to help communities thrive

This year, Fathom Consulting celebrates 20 years in business. In addition to happenings planned throughout the year, we’re sharing a series of blog posts celebrating what’s led to our success over the last two decades while looking forward to the years to come.

Our 20th year in business has been one of reflection, celebration, and gratitude—which seems especially apt for the month of November. This is the time of year when we traditionally give thanks … and also give back through our annual team event. In addition to some “off-site” fun and good-natured competition, we dedicate a portion of our event to community impact. This year (to mark our own milestone birthday) we created birthday bags—20 of them!—for children and their families staying at the Ronald McDonald house.

But efforts like this don’t take place once a year. Community impact has been present since our founding and is actually built into the Fathom Consulting mission: to partner with our clients and community to drive meaningful change.

To achieve “meaningful change,” we place 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. And last year, we created a structured program for those who are interested in bridging their personal passions with professional expertise. It includes:

  1. Professional involvement

Like many organizations, we encourage our consultants to join professional organizations and regularly attend events. Our team members are involved in (and in many cases, serve on the board of) business and healthcare groups like:

  • American College of Healthcare Executives
  • American Red Cross
  • Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI)
  • Medical Alley Association
  • Minnesota Children’s Museum
  • Minnesota Habitat for Humanity
  • Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association (MIMA)
  • Minnesota Women’s Economic Roundtable
  • One Heartland
  • User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA)
  • Women’s Health Leadership TRUST (WHLT)
  • Women Business Leaders of the U.S. Health Care Industry Foundation (WBL)

It’s also common that these organizations meet in our new office space in the North Loop—that we built out with spaces designed specifically with community gathering in mind.

  1. Social contribution

Outside of the professional community, we recognize team members’ efforts to make an impact in areas they personally care about while still wearing their “Fathom hat.” Sometimes this manifests as an individual employee volunteering, mentoring, or otherwise donating their time and talent; at other times, a small group of Fathom consultants bands together to volunteer, fund a scholarship, or share experiences with others.

  1. Innovation for impact

Finally, team members are encouraged to use skills—such as teaching, facilitating, or consulting—to empower organizations to fulfill their own community impact missions. Fathom Consulting serves in an advisory capacity for Impact Hub MSP and the former Treehouse Health, organizations that exist to make a positive impact on the Twin Cities and healthcare, respectively. Innovating in how we use our talents helps Fathom team members to explore new skills, get energized with new perspectives, and try out interesting ideas that might someday apply to a client project.

Impact for the community …
Our community impact program is monitored by an internal working group that tracks activities, measures progress against goals, and brings awareness to ongoing efforts.  A few highlights from the last 12 months include:

  • Preparing and serving a healthy meal for families living at the Ronald McDonald House
  • Hosting a day-long meeting of Kata practitioners to learn about scientific thinking
  • Workshopping ideas to increase member engagement at Impact Hub MSP
  • Facilitating a co-creation session with local seniors to find innovative ideas to support those aging at home

… and for Fathom
Our commitment to living out our mission of achieving meaningful change in the community has not only been beneficial to others, but has also helped fuel our success as an organization:

  • Aligning work with personal passions has helped employees see their values reflected in their workplace culture—which is key to retaining talented, passionate people.
  • Stepping outside our day-to-day projects has enabled us to think in new ways, get different perspectives, become exposed to new ideas, and connect to diverse people and ways of working. As consultants, we thrive on that!

When I step back and look at the learning, professional satisfaction and growth, and connections to people (including future clients and employees!) that are a direct result of our community impact initiative, it becomes clear that we are getting out just as much as we are putting in.

Consistent feedback creates continuous improvement

This year, Fathom Consulting celebrates 20 years in business. In addition to happenings planned throughout the year, we’re sharing a series of blog posts celebrating what’s led to our success over the last two decades while looking forward to the years to come.

For years I’ve walked around our office spouting one of my favorite phrases, “feedback is a gift!” And I truly believe it. When someone takes the time to give you honest feedback—and you take the time to reflect upon it—growth always follows. Since our founding, it’s become clear to me that high-performing team members crave regular feedback to fuel their own professional growth and improvement.  As the team at Fathom Consulting consists of high performers, feedback has become a core component of our culture.

Like many other organizations, giving and receiving feedback underpins our formal annual review and recognition processes. But since once-a-year feedback isn’t enough to satisfy our team, we also work to build in additional time throughout the year, including:

  • Biannual, formal peer reviews
  • Regular, two-way feedback with clients during projects
  • Presentation dry runs and deliverable reviews with peers
  • Client surveys at the end of projects
  • Facilitated post-project discussions with team members
  • Self-reflection

Sharing feedback isn’t easy …

Our organizational values include collaboration, candor, and integrity—all of which are required for team members to give open and authentic feedback. Our values also include flexibility, which means our consultants must be willing to adapt and grow based on feedback they receive. But in a notoriously nice Midwestern locale, it can be challenging to get people comfortable with giving and receiving feedback. There’s a skill to doing so in an effective way, and we practice as much as we can.

In giving feedback, we work on ensuring our comments are specific and actionable, timely, and offered in the spirit of helping another person grow. When considering how and when to give feedback, we assume that the other person is looking for ways to improve their performance and skills and will value our observations and reflections as part of their development.

In receiving feedback—especially feedback that we didn’t expect or don’t agree with—we assume (and acknowledge) positive intent. We encourage each other to consider what we can take away from the feedback—how we might use it to listen, understand, and improve.

… but it is worth it.

After years of practicing together, we’ve learned that solid feedback strengthens our:

  • Consulting skills. Sometimes we have to deliver tough messages on a project, get people from varying perspectives to align, or diplomatically challenge our clients (and each other)—which are all forms of offering feedback in service of creating an exceptional product.
  • Team dynamics. It’s true that innovation happens when happy people fight. Having a team of homogenous thinkers is dangerous. Feedback helps us tackle things head on and avoid allowing things to fester. It helps us to grow and develop individually and as a team.

By practicing getting and giving feedback in many formats, we normalize it a bit—it becomes expected. Yet, having feedback so present in our daily work still isn’t easy. We’re not perfect at it; sometimes there are hurt feelings and frustrations. However, in the end, this team of high performers enjoys the opportunity to improve, and to help our teammates to do the same.

Honoring individual strengths

This year, Fathom Consulting celebrates 20 years in business. In addition to happenings planned throughout the year, we’re sharing a series of blog posts celebrating what’s led to our success over the last two decades while looking forward to the years to come.

As I reflect on what has contributed to our success over the last 20 years, a few things stand out to me. One of them is that the team at Fathom is truly a team of team of learners and leaders. My colleagues are excited about exploring their professional passions and have the freedom to activate the talents that are most meaningful to them.

The associated challenge with this perk? It can be tricky to lead a group of leaders. While it’s thrilling to have team members all empowered to find their own expression of leadership, we do need to find ways to create a cohesive unit that generally moves in a shared direction.

Since joining Fathom Consulting, I’ve had the opportunity to witness, noodle on, and address a variety of organizational changes and challenges just like this one. As someone who pursued a graduate degree in Organization Development, Change Leadership and Conflict Management, tackling challenges like these is the sort of thing I get jazzed about.

And the solution I’ve arrived at for our “leading leaders” conundrum? Fostering an environment that focuses on strengths.

It starts with self-reflection

When I was in graduate school, I was introduced to the concept of “self-as-instrument.” The idea is essentially this: The only tool that any individual has to bring about change, to guide themselves or others in a direction, is themselves—their actions, behaviors, and choices. They must choose to use their skills and abilities in deliberate and thoughtful ways to guide others. In short, they must use themselves as the instrument of change. And getting good at using self-as-instrument requires complete clarity about the unique skills and abilities one most naturally and authentically possesses and can bring to bear.  Getting this clarity starts with a practice of self-reflection.

Being thoughtful and honest about what you are good at—and what you are most interested in—is something that each individual must do on their own.  Journaling, conducting self-reviews in parallel with an annual performance review, and leveraging some of the many existing tools (Clifton StrengthsFinder is one of my long-time favorites) are great places to start. Once you figure out your strengths, you can share these talents within the organization to lift everyone up.

A culture of feedback

In addition to identifying personal strengths, employees get plenty of feedback from coworkers—both formally and informally. One example of peer feedback is Fathom’s High Five program. Each team member gets a budget for the year that can be used to recognize colleagues who’ve done outstanding work. When the occasion arises, the High Fiver chooses a gift for the Hive Fivee and publicly recognizes their awesome work at the monthly all staff meeting. Another example: peer feedback is integral to annual performance reviews. Twice each year, Fathom Consultants identify a handful of others with whom they’ve worked closely in the last six months. Those colleagues are asked to respond to two simple questions: 1) What strengths has the consultant displayed and 2) How can the consultant improve to be more effective in their role? We’ve learned that often your colleagues can spot your own strengths and talents better than you can. 

Using strengths to do great work
Through self-reflection and peer feedback, we strive to uncover the unique thing each consultant brings to the party—subject matter expertise, industry experience, or skill mastery. Strengths are considered  in:

  • Performance reviews
  • Monthly all-team meetings
  • Consultant-driven internal “lunch and learn” sessions on a particular topic of interest
  • Surveys and project checkpoint discussions with clients
  • Talking about and sharing project insights with each other
  • Matching people to projects that let them play to their unique areas of strength

According to my colleague Julie Pettit, a strengths-based environment is not only rewarding, but it’s necessary to best serve clients. She says, “We have come to depend on it. If we were all uniform, we could never survive as a small business. Embracing everyone’s unique strengths allows us to be more nimble and meet a wide variety of client needs.”

Why celebrating strengths is right for us

In a society that often zeroes in on personal deficits, it’s common for organizations to approach employee development by focusing on areas of relative weakness. In fact, this is how we used to approach professional growth at Fathom. But about 10 years ago, we flipped our focus. Now, we encourage people to play to their strengths.

And you know what we’ve learned? Really good things happen when you bring people together and allow them to foster their strengths. Our employee satisfaction scores are consistently above 80 percent. Consultants work with Fathom for more than seven years on average. Fathom has repeatedly made the list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in the Twin Cities.

The individual strengths our team members possess (and continue to grow) are a tremendous asset, and I couldn’t be more thankful to have the opportunity to work with such a collection of uniquely talented individuals.