p202 Featured in Austin American-Statesman Business Pages
By Lori Hawkins, American-Statesman Staff
Published: 8:52 p.m. Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Projekt202′s co-founders — operations chief Jeff Steinberg, left, and creative officer Peter Eckert — had worked together at Frog Design before forming their own firm to focus on user interface design. Among Projekt202′s clients are Microsoft, Dell, Motorola and other multinational companies.
Projekt202 has a simple motto: We make software make sense.
Over the past seven years, the Austin user interface design firm has helped clients — including Microsoft Corp., Dell Inc. and Motorola Inc. — improve the look, feel and usability of their software.
“It’s easiest to describe ourselves by what we don’t do,” said Jeff Steinberg, co-founder and chief operations officer of Projekt202 LP. “We’re not software developers or coders, we’re not a branding firm, and we don’t do logos or build websites. We focus purely on software design.”
Or, in many cases, redesign.
“Our clients usually come to us because they have a product that needs help — the application isn’t performing well, or they need to add new functions,” said Peter Eckert, co-founder and creative officer. “Our job is to find out what users really need from the design. We ask, “What does the product really need to do?”
Logitech International SA chose Projekt202 to redesign the user interface on its touch-screen universal remote controls, with the goal of making the interface so intuitive that a first-time babysitter could use it easily, Steinberg said.
For consulting and audit firm Deloitte, Projekt202 redesigned an application that makes it easier for social workers to handle the placement of abused and neglected children. It redesigned an application for health care workers, allowing them to more quickly analyze the spread of diseases and initiate safety procedures.
Before starting the company, Steinberg and Eckert worked together at the Austin office of consulting firm Frog Design Inc., where Steinberg was a senior project manager and Eckert was creative director. They left Frog Design in 2003 to focus on the user interface design niche.
The spelling of Projekt is a nod to Eckert’s home country of Germany, and 202 refers to the two founders and two friends who helped start the company.
After being turned down for bank loans, the founders used their personal credit cards to start the business. In its first year, Projekt202 signed two signature clients, including software giant SAP, and made a profit. The company, which has received no outside funding, has been profitable every year since, Steinberg said. This year, it expects revenue of about $4.5 million, up from $3.5 million in 2009, he said.
After years of measured growth, Projekt202 is making an expansion push, with a new 8,500-square-foot headquarters at 1300 Guadalupe St. The new location is nearly double the company’s former East Austin studio. The company plans to add up to 20 employees to its 30-person work force by the end of next year. The decision came after a year of discussions with employees about whether to accelerate the business, Steinberg said.
“We had always had the goal of reaching 25 people, which seemed like the optimal size for a creative, collaborative workplace. But we also want to compete with the best international design firms for higher-profile projects, and sometimes those projects ask for 20 designers,” he said. “We spent a lot of time talking about how we could scale while maintaining our culture. We discussed what it would take, we added new leadership roles, and we moved to new space.”
The new offices were designed to encourage collaboration, with large open spaces for informal meetings, lowslung workstations to encourage conversation, and walls painted to serve as huge whiteboards (markers are stored in containers throughout the building so employees can jot notes as they walk down a hallway).
Among Projekt202′s recent clients is Austin-based Unicast, which provides online advertising technology and services. The company hired Projekt202 late last year to analyze its software, which runs online interactive ad campaigns for major publishers, agencies and advertisers. The effort studied how both employees and clients use the software.
“They gave us a very blunt and honest look at where the inefficiencies are and offered a plan for improvements,” said Bryan Hjelm, Unicast’s vice president of product and marketing. “There are always sensitivities when you have a product that was built internally, because people are tied to it, and they get used to it. Projekt202 helped us see things in a new way.”
Unicast has now hired Projekt202 to redesign its software, an investment that Hjelm estimates will pay for itself in one year by producing easier-to-use software that requires less training and increases productivity.
Despite the weak global economy, Projekt202 plans to pursue more international work, Steinberg said, and has recently won clients in England, France and Norway.
“Despite the recession, companies have to keep innovating, and that drives our business as well,” Steinberg said.