projekt202 Wrote the Book on Designing Software for People

projekt202 Wrote the Book on Designing Software for People

Get a free book, Designing Software for People, showcasing our methodology for experience-driven transformation.

Designing Software for People: projekt202 Wrote the Book

Designing Software for People: projekt202 Wrote the Book

Get your free copy of projekt202's book, Designing Software for People, showcasing our user-observation methodology that drives improved UX for leading brands and creates better digital experiences across their businesses.

Providing a Framework for Better Design Results

Providing a Framework for Better Design Results

Principal UX Designer Jared Christensen writes, "The framework around projekt202’s entire product delivery process is unlike anything I’ve worked with before. Years of experience, trial and error, and road testing have formed a proven methodology for moving software projects from research through launch."

projekt202 podcast: Designing Experiences that People Really Value

"It is changing the industry ... This approach has at times been called 'design thinking.' At projekt202, we like to call it also 'experience thinking,' because it really is all about people's experiences."

projekt202's VP of Experience Strategy and Insight Aliza Gold
projekt202's VP of Experience Strategy and Insight Aliza Gold

In this conversation with projekt202's Vice President of Experience Strategy and Insight, Aliza Gold discusses the importance of fully realizing customers' wants, needs, motivations and goals.

"Understanding those elements," she says, "is what helps us design, create and envision experiences that people really value and can connect with emotionally."

Follow Aliza Gold on Twitter: @alizagold

A Prescription for Health Care Innovation and Disruption at Austin Hackathon

What's the cure for health care's stagnant status quo? Creating change and disruption through technology. That was the focus of the 2016 More Disruption Please Austin Hackathon, presented by athenahealth.

Recognizing the robust opportunities available for innovation, the April event brought together forward-thinking experts to prescribe tech solutions for the health care industry.

projekt202's Amber Lindholm, Director of Experience Strategy and Insight, served as featured speaker and judge, along with leaders from athenahealth, Dell Medical School and Patient IO.

With $6,000 in prize money at stake, teams strategized and made health care tech pitches to the judging panel.

Winning teams were Hemolabs for best overall health care technology solution, DxMachina for best use of athenahealth API and Remedi for the best inpatient solution.

A Class Act: Design Research Workshop with UTD's UX Club

The projekt202 team went back to school recently to coach the next class of UX designers. The UX Club at The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) hosted projekt202 for an interactive Design Research Workshop on March 31. Senior UX Designer Chelsea Maxwell, Experience Researcher Nick Ansel, Talent Coordinator Jessica Hart and Vice President of Customer Experience Jeremy Johnson shared their expertise in conducting research and the many ways it informs the design process.

The collaborative session helped UTD students investigate and answer research-driven questions such as: Who are the customers and users of our technology? What do they actually need? What methods help reveal those needs? How does research fit into the design process?

In one exercise, students were asked to "design a hat" with no other guidance or restrictions. The attendees' heady imaginations were brimming with creations of all shapes, sizes, colors and purposes.

Working in UX often involves wearing many different hats.
Working in UX often involves wearing many different hats.

To top things off, however, few of the designs could really meet a specific user's needs. This was an important and enlightening "aha!" moment: students realized that without research to guide design, they were simply throwing out prototypes to see what might work.

At another point in the workshop, students interviewed Nick about his daily trip to work, then watched a video of his actual commute.

There were notable differences between the interview and the real-world observations. Like many users in similar interview situations, Nick didn't mention details that would be critical in solving commuting-related problems. By simple observation, however, these factors were easily discovered.

Using their interview and observational notes, UX Club members performed Affinity Diagramming to develop high-level insights that would inform their designs. They then wireframed creative and innovative mobile apps to make workday trips easier and more efficient for frustrated commuters.

"It was a treat helping students bring theory into practice," Nick said. "It’s great to see such curious and passionate students make the most out of their interest in UX. It reassures me of the bright future ahead for the experience design community."

A bright, experience-driven future is a large part of the mission of the UX Club. It envisions the reality of its students playing crucial roles in Dallas design.

The student professional club actively works to increase awareness of user-centered design. To understand and create well-designed experiences, the UX Club provides its members with opportunities -- such as the projekt202 Design Research Workshop -- to network with industry leaders around Dallas-Fort Worth.

As Chelsea explained to the group, projekt202's methodology and best practices are easily applied to the students' coursework and personal projects, enabling them to strengthen their portfolios and experience.

"What's really awesome is that schools are starting to catch up with what is going on in the industry," she said. "Previously, in regards to technology, what schools were teaching and what skills were needed by employers were miles apart. We're starting to see that change -- for example, with the UX Club and courses offered in design."


Jessica said, "It was exciting to watch them take in our methods -- interviewing, affinity diagramming, wireframing -- and contribute their own ideas to solve real-world problems in innovative ways. The big takeaway of the evening for them was that observing users is absolutely crucial to strong design."

With a passion for changing the experiences people have with all aspects of technology, the projekt202 team members appreciated the opportunity to share their professional insights.

"Working with such a bright and curious group is always rewarding. It keeps me sharp while also nurturing the profession with critical knowledge-sharing activities," Nick said. "I was honored to share what makes projekt202 such a great place to practice my craft: the culture, the work and a focus on bettering experiences everywhere."

projekt202 sincerely thanks the members of the UX Club, and the students and faculty of The University of Texas at Dallas.

Photos courtesy of Jessica Hart, Jeremy Johnson and the UX Club at UT Dallas

Are Ethics and Creativity in Conflict?

Are ethics and creativity in conflict? What tensions exist between them and what responsibilities do they hold to one another?

By Kelly Moran

A set of studies recently came out concerning the ethical behavior of creative people. Coverage by The Harvard Business Review included the headline “Why Creative People Are More Likely to be Dishonest” and offered an unflattering assessment. Aside from granting creative personalities the asset of thinking outside the box, the article noted that such people “see creativity as rare and believe that they deserve a bigger box.”

What lies behind this issue? Is creative thinking with its inherent lack of boundaries always at risk of leading a person into unstable ethical ground?

Think about what it means to be creative.

A Google search of “signs you are a creative person” brings up enough questionable, occasionally insulting content to reinforce the notion that no one is quite sure what creativity actually is ( currently has two different lists and they include things like being “irresponsibly responsible” and an “inability to relate to others”). plays it safe on creativity with “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.” Way to live your truth,, with the “etc.” – as if one must be creative in order to complete the definition. Most can at least agree that at its heart creativity results in bringing new into being.

Think about what it means to be ethical.

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy states that ethics involves “recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct.” These “concepts” tend to be agreed upon by a group, as opposed to being personally-held morals. They’re guidelines.

Ethics uphold traditional beliefs.

Creativity, however, tends to eschew the traditional in favor of the new. Creativity supports the innovative and celebrates disruption. Ethics leans toward the more established. Synonyms for ethics include convention and imperative. Synonyms for creative include visionary and inspired. Are they in perpetual conflict? Is there any meeting in the middle?

Rather than limit ourselves to what these terms mean I suggest we look at what they do: the intentions behind their appearance.

We are ethical not to lay down a lot of rules.

We are ethical to make the place we inhabit gentler, more considered or more thoughtful. An ethical standard makes our shared existence more beautiful. Kinder. In short, it makes the world a more tolerable place to live. A better place.

We are creative not to make a lot of stuff.

We are creative to create meaning. Create change. Create a difference. Create an impact. To make the world gentler, more considered or more thoughtful. More beautiful. Easier perhaps. Joyful even. Or we might just create to make the world a more tolerable place to live. But it will be better.


A meeting in the middle.

With this in mind, how now will you ensure an ethical application of creativity? There are numerous professional codes of conduct available for almost any craft you can name (yes, even for comic book writers. There are myriad codes, creeds, canons, guidelines, rules, principles and standards.

So I will leave you with just one piece of advice for dealing with the tension between creativity and ethics:

Do better.

What do you think? Have you ever run into ethical quandaries while performing creative work?

Recently, I spoke on this topic with the Dallas chapter of CreativeMornings. You can watch the video here.

Learning from Your Users

View Kelly’s presentation at the Front Porch 2015 conference

By Kelly Moran

Building something people can use is one thing. Building something they appreciate is, unfortunately, something different.

You work hard and feel like users aren’t getting it. But have you tried “getting” them first? Understanding what users want from your software and how they’re using it can make the difference between a functional product that people grudgingly fumble through and something they love to interact with. Clear up misunderstandings with an ethnographic approach to learning from your users.

Below are my five top tips for bringing ethnography – or any qualitative research – into your projects:

1. There are a lot of misunderstandings out there. Avoid jumping to conclusions by spending some time with your users in their environments.

2. Use “thick description” to help your team back at the office see what you saw. Clifford Geertz talks about thick description as providing enough context surrounding an action to understand what it means to the actors. Was a wink an act of flirtation? A shared joke? Or dust in a contact lens?

3. You have to learn before you can solve a problem. Make sure you gather data first and figure out what’s going on second.

4. Use careful observation to find the things that others find so natural they’d never tell you about them. If aliens visited and asked you about your life, you wouldn’t mention breathing, but it’s critical to your survival.

5. Don’t forget to say “thank you.”

Understanding others is a skill you strengthen over time. Start engaging your users now with conversations and field trips; you’ll notice it gets easier and you learn more every time.

View my talk, or reach out and ask a question. We can all learn something from each other.

Ask Velma: How Do I Solve a Wicked Problem?

Art by Danielle Selby
Art by Danielle Selby

Art by Danielle Selby

By Valle Hansen. Originally published in Velma Magazine, November 2014

Meet the Expert—Kijana Knight Torres

“I primarily build empathy through exploration and storytelling. I try to walk in people’s shoes to find out what makes them tick—what motivates them, makes them happy, and what frustrates them. Working with designers, artists, and developers, I work to make the world a better place by creating experiences that delight and make sense in real-world contexts.” Kijana has a knack for photography, a love of breakfast tacos, a weakness for shoes and cameras, and enjoys spending time hiking Austin’s Greenbelt.



Job title: Principal Experience Researcher

Follow @kijanaknight


In Velma’s “Wicked Problems” issue, we discuss several wicked problems and a few of the amazing individuals in Austin who are working to solve them.

But how do we figure out what the wicked problems are? Who is most affected by these problems? What research can we do to figure out how to solve them?

To help us frame this question more solidly, Velma sought out industry expert Kijana Knight Torres, Principal Experience Design Researcher at projekt202 here in Austin.

Kijana presented us with a series of techniques that she uses in design research to suss out exactly what the problems are, where the gaps exist, and what the end users really want or need. From there, she’s able to work with design teams to inform recommendations for solutions that will make the end users’ lives better and easier.

The same methodologies, Kijana posits, can be used to identify and solve wicked problems. “To solve a wicked problem,” she says, “you have to involve the people who are involved in it.” This tenet, the crux of the user experience discipline, underscores the absolute necessity of reaching the “end user.”

Step 1: Talk to everyone.

To get started solving a wicked problem, Kijana suggests talking to as many people who touch that problem as possible. For example, in trying to create a solution to problems associated with homelessness, it would be important to talk not only to current homeless people, but also people who used to be homeless; people who are on the verge of becoming homeless; people who strive to help homeless people, like shelters and food banks.

Then, once you’ve talked to as many people as possible, catalogue everything they’ve said and start identifying trends across the individuals that have spoken to you. Here you can start to recognize areas of opportunity and major pain points, things that might be obvious but might also be a surprise. This bottom-up approach allows researches to find solutions driven by real needs, rather than suppositions and guesses.

The image here shows an affinity diagram, a tool that design researchers use to identify users’ needs, major trends, major problem areas, and guiding principles. White notes represent individual observations or statements from each user; pink notes help group similar statements together, where “everyone is saying the same thing a little bit differently.” The green notes represent higher-level categories that several user types or user segments might need, and blue offers a guiding principle for moving forward.

It is important, Kijana notes, not to try to solve the problem at this discovery stage; judgment and brainstorming ideas should be reserved for later phases of the research process.

Step 2: Identify trends & turn “everyone” into “someone.”

The next step after engaging all the people who touch the wicked problem is to try to take a step back and identify the major user segments. It’s important not to get mired in details, as you’ll end up with too many user segments and start trying to solve for everyone who touches the wicked problem. It’s not possible, Kijana intimates, to make everyone happy.

Using everything you’ve learned from secondary research and from talking to the “real people,” create a user persona for each segment. Name the persona, give him or her qualities, goals, motivations, behaviors, and frustrations. These personas (hopefully about four or five total) will help you frame your solutions around real people and keep your eye on the prize.

Step 3: Understand the “process.”

Now it’s time to understand the users’ workflows. Kijana does this by observing people in their natural environment and noting all the things they touch to get to their end goal. In the context of the homelessness example, she says, she would try to shadow as many of the four to five user segment types identified in Step 2 and document what they do, whom they interact with, where they receive services, and so on.

Step 4: Start designing a solution.

From this point, you have everything you need to start solving the problems. Kijana points out that it’s not a science to solve problems, whether wicked problems or design problems; it’s an iterative process that requires a great deal of fine-tuning and finesse, regardless of the research you’ve done. These techniques, she warns, are not foolproof. Even though they involve the end users, she says, “all my recommendations have a big asterisk. We haven’t seen everything and thus are making recommendations based on best practices and conjecture based on a sliver of fact.”

Kijana stresses that “the world’s biggest problems deserve the attention of both people who know how to frame and think about problems as well as those who live in and with the problem day in and day out.

A23D: A 3D-Printed Letterpress Font

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This video starts out with a nicely filmed and narrated overview on the history and process of letterpress printing. Then we see the development of a custom letterpress font from initial design concepts to 3D printing and then ultimately being a working font in regular use on their presses.

—Thanks to Derek Rosenstrauch

How We Created Color Scales

Image by
Image by

Image by

An in-depth look behind the process of determining color schemes for’s charts and graphs, addressing issues such as color blindness and semantic meaning of colors.

—Thanks to Jerehmie Cannon

What to Steal From Destiny’s UI

Who says designers can’t learn from games? Lots of great little tidbits for UI designers to pick up from the massively hyped next-gen game Destiny.

—Thanks to Chris Williams

5 Timeless Marketing Lessons for Today’s Brands From Visionary Designer Paul Rand

Paul Rand’s approach to brand design, founded on simplicity and attention to form, remains profoundly influential today. With the reprint of his book Thoughts on Design, Michael Beirut lists five design principles that today’s brands can strive to follow.

—Thanks to Chip Wilson

How To Kern Type Perfectly

Image by Rob Sutton
Image by Rob Sutton

Image by Rob Sutton

A simple trick to bring a more discerning eye to your type kerning.

—Thanks to Alan Koda

13 Ways Designers Screw Up Client Presentations

Image by Havoc
Image by Havoc

Image by Havoc

The first time I presented design to a client I absolutely choked. I put the work in front of them and stood there like an idiot. It was humiliating. The next time was a little easier. And the time after that, well, you get the idea. I have done every one of the things on this list. I’m sharing them with you in the hopes that they’ll spare you a humiliating experience or two. It’ll take time.

—Thanks to Jared Christensen

The Boring Designer


Whenever I’m looking at a product designer’s work, I find myself continuously asking the same question: which solution is the boring one? Maybe it’s born out of seeing apps choose flash over function, or trying to understand just one too many indecipherable icons-as-buttons. Whatever the case, here’s an ode to the boring designers among us. The designers who choose obvious over clever every time.

—Thanks to Jared Christensen

High-Level Knowledge Acquisition as a Part of UX Design

By  Stori Walker  Senior UX Designer projekt202

By Stori Walker
Senior UX Designer

An essential skill for UX designers at an agency with clients from various industries is the ability to become a subject matter expert in a short period of time. Yes, I’m using the word “expert” very loosely here.

Of course a designer can’t become a true expert at something like surgery or railroad engineering or particle acceleration in a short time, but we constantly face the challenge of having to rapidly ramp up our knowledge in sometimes very esoteric fields to fairly high levels of understanding. In order to design an interface for wound care specialists, for example, we have to become well-versed in that specialization, the workflows within it, and its standards and terminology.

Fortunately, there are several tried and true methods for acquiring an in-depth understanding of new subject matter. It all boils down to memorization.

First, let’s review how memory works.

Information enters our memory through the 5 senses, shown here with their fancy names:

The sensory information can become part of our short-term memory in chunks of 7 + or – 2 pieces of information. Supposedly our short-term memory has an average lifespan of 20-30 seconds, which explains why you sometimes forget that new acquaintance’s name shortly after it leaves their mouth.

The goal in learning a new subject is to encode, store and retrieve the new information from our long-term memory. Long-term memory is permanent, but we’ve all had that experience of trying to remember a song title or person’s name and hit that wall of “It’s on the tip of my tongue…I know I know it!” Which brings up a good point: access to information is not at all the same thing as having the information. In other words, it’s fine to reassure your client that you have access to someone who knows the answer, but it’s not the same as already knowing the answer, especially when design deadlines loom. This is an important distinction to bear in mind when ramping up in a knowledge area that’s new to you.

Here are some techniques that we use at projekt202 to get new subject matter into our memory. Hopefully you’ve used most, if not all, in your past efforts to learn about something new.

  • Design scenarios One of the best ways to build information into long-term memory is by telling a story. Oral storytelling was the way humans passed information before the advent of written history. Scenarios function the same way in design projects. The process for creating design scenarios based on user research deserves its own blog post but I’ve found it to be the most helpful of all of these techniques. It not only helps you learn new information, it also exposes areas where your understanding is weak so that you can target your questions appropriately.

To some extent, UX designers must be Jacks & Jills of many trades. We would appreciate hearing about any other techniques you’ve found useful in getting new information you’ve learned to stick in your memory.

The Debate Over User Research and Innovation … and Apple

From the projekt202 archives

It all started with this pretty controversial post on Fast Company

The author equates user-led design and user-centered design as the same thing, which is just not the case. They go on to say that user research is stifling for brand innovation and that marketers know best what users want (citing Apple as a prime example).

And this was the most recent formal rebuttal…

Again citing Apple as an example, this author describes user-centered design research as putting yourself in the user’s shoes. This is an area in which p202 has developed some very cool tools to help gain empathy with users. Our arsenal includes user states, user intentions, personas, and the Maslow-like needs hierarchy we use during deep dives with clients.

Together, the articles make clear that user research can be construed to mean many different things. Obviously we don’t simply ask users what they want and go build it that way – we watch them performing their tasks and ask them about their motivations, values, and goals, and then use that information and our creative problem solving skills to truly innovate!

Personally, I cringe when people argue that Apple does no user research, so why should they? Sure, Apple doesn’t use self-reporting techniques to find out what users need (such as focus groups or user interviews), or perhaps even conduct formal observation studies, but their most successful products are designed for the masses and I would argue that Apple designers are observing people in the world all the time! Not only that – they are also their own end user! For most of the products that we design at p202, we need to seek out and observe the end users because what they are doing is not part of our everyday reality. The user performs much more specific tasks in a world that we wouldn’t otherwise see (e.g. medical billing, human resource management, active trading, etc.).

In my experience, user-informed (NOT led) insights + effective empathy tools + awesome designers = the path to true innovation!