Better product experiences, happier customers, and healthier teams.

Song X Studio fuels change through holistic, humane, and ethical approaches to user experience design, research, and product team coaching. We leverage agile and Lean UX practices to iterate collaboratively on experiences, products, processes, cultures, and vision.

We help companies navigate complex customer and business problems, and explore paths that lead to elegant solutions and meaningful experiences. Forward, together. Every step.

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Who we help

Early stage startups

searching for product market fit.

Mature startups

navigating the chasm between early adopters and the early majority.

Mid-size companies

exploring market opportunities and scaling product, UX and design capabilities.

Enterprise companies

refining innovation mojo while improving product development processes.

Nonprofits

experimenting with new products, services, and efficient ways of working.

Industries

Productivity, Social, Multi-sided B2B/B2C Marketplaces, Employment, Retail, Customer Service, Arts, Culture, Co-working, and Music.

How we help

THINKING

Ways we frame problems and opportunities.

  • Lean canvas
  • Personas and scenarios
  • Story and journey maps
  • Crafting hypotheses
  • OKR development

MAKING

Ways we craft experiments and create solutions.

  • Prototyping (paper, digital)
  • Multi-platform app design
  • Responsive web design
  • Copywriting
  • Branding and visual design

CHECKING

Ways we make observations and evaluate outcomes.

  • Exploratory field research
  • Utility and usability testing
  • Data analysis and visualization
  • Survey design and execution
  • Critique

Putting it all together

We navigate product development with a balanced approach between design and engineering: from rough concept (1) to semi-functional prototype (2) and beyond. “The Rainbow Scale” is a process framework we developed to create shared understanding of goals, communicate logistics for iterative product development, and provide guidance for hypotheses and outcomes. We plot a course together, learning as we go.

Graph showing a balance between design and engineering, from earliest stage to latest

Sometimes we start with a rough idea or an incomplete theory. We think better by making, so we create a prototype in a few hours to make our ideas tangible.

The team may decide to continue with an idea so that can evaluate its potential with stakeholders and customers. We create a semi-functional prototype in a day or week to test the concept.

Some ideas are shipped to alpha or beta customers so that we can better evaluate the solution and perhaps refine the experience. This "MVP-like" experience can be shipped in a week or a month.

If our product or service seems to create real value for customers, then we might progress to deliver a more refined, stable, sustainable experience in months or quarters.

Ultimately the team may deliver a solid, crafted, exceptional experience. It's very difficult to get this far and can take many quarters or years.

Principal

Tom Illmensee (and beard) leaning against a striped wall

Tom Illmensee

Tom Illmensee is a user experience designer, researcher, coach, and leader who has delivered digital experiences since 2001.

Tom has managed and mentored global teams of UX researchers, interaction designers, and graphic designers. He has deep experience working with cross-functional balanced teams to deliver SaaS on mobile, native, and web platforms. As a design and UX consultant, Tom has worked with enterprise companies, world-class nonprofits, and early-stage startups to ship a wide variety of digital products and services.

In 2017 he co-founded  an inclusive co-working space for music-makers in Richmond, Virginia called Orbital Music Park.

Tom is based in Richmond, Virginia, where he runs every day, explores Stoic philosophy, and plays electric guitar.

Experience

Prezi logo

Prezi: An iconic presentation medium evolves its product and team

Prezi is a unique visual communication tool and digital medium. Tom scaled the user experience design and research practice during a period of significant growth and transformation. The team was 20+ people from six countries, with complex coordination between Budapest and San Francisco, and customers all over the world. We worked with cross-functional product teams to develop an entirely new platform and medium for spatial storytelling: Prezi Next. Along the way we invented some new ways of working and developed transparent management techniques (my team was profiled by Invision in 2015). Tom helped leadership refine and clarify ways of working and product strategy while also building a community of practice around user experience design.

goHappy logo

goHappy: An early-stage startup explores group messaging

As design advisor, Tom co-designed dozens of iterations of goHappy, a cross-platform app (React Native) that helps small groups communicate and share life in a way that is healthier and more humane than ad-driven social media and unstructured group messaging. Tom partnered with a product manager, two developers, and the founder on foundational field research to understand the nuances of personal social group dynamics through extensive field studies. Tom also led interaction design, brand design, copywriting, and lean product discovery and development processes, and developed goHappy's exhibit at SXSW 2018.

CarMax logo

CarMax: A Fortune 500 retailer upgrades its CRM capabilities

CarMax is the United States' largest used-car retailer and a Fortune 500 company. Tom worked with a cross-functional product team and strategic partners to deploy Salesforce CRM company-wide. The team leveraged the Lightning Design System to refine and develop capabilities for sales associates, managers, and customers. Along the way the team prototyped, tested, and delivered new workflows and business processes.

Orbital Music Park logo

Orbital Music Park: A startup creates an inspiring space for music-makers

OMP is an inclusive creative space for music-makers in Richmond, Virginia. The team transformed an industrial warehouse into a vibrant, thriving collaboration space for music-making. We started with concierge prototypes in an art gallery space. After hundreds of collaborative sessions with customers, we developed the next small prototype. The team designed and developed a cohesive multichannel experience, including (1) prototypes of two 330 square foot soundproof rehearsal rooms, (2) interior design for 1,000 square feet of community space, (3) responsive marketing web site and lead generation flows, (4) sales and business systems, and (5) configuring cross-platform apps to empower co-working logistics.

Snag logo

Snag: A multi-sided SaaS company establishes a Lean UX practice

With more than 80 million registered hourly workers and 300,000 employer locations, Snag is America’s #1 hourly marketplace. As the company’s first Director of UX, Tom led a team of nine interaction designers across five product areas. He fostered a culture of professional development, Agile and Lean UX disciplines, and cross-functional team collaboration. The team developed and evangelized provisional personas, story maps, design principles, and design critiques. With product managers and designers, Tom led the company’s first in-home research project with job seekers including a diary study. Tom partnered with the business development team to understand communication patterns and interactions for an experimental service focused on in-person hiring events for restaurant chains.

Circuit City logo

Circuit City: An iconic retailer leverages Agile UX for e-commerce innovation

Tom facilitated user-centered design for high-traffic, high-risk e-commerce web applications with Agile/Scrum teams. Tom was the primary UX and design facilitator for a product configurator and accessory recommendation widgets. Along the way he conducted over 175 usability sessions – including weekly tests in stores and labs. Tom led an ethnographic study of web order pickup experiences in retail stores, and conducted the company’s first large-scale taxonomy research (card sorting). Our experiences developing a culture of Agile UX were described in a paper and presentation at Agile 2009 in Chicago, 5 Users Every Friday.

Let's talk

Have a question?
Are you stuck on a product puzzle?
Do you have an idea to explore?
We can help.

Contact Tom at tom@songxstudio.com
Or call +1 804 484 4136

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