Product Realization:
converting your big idea into an interactive prototype
that investors can grasp, users can test, and engineers can build.

Product Realization begins with a practiced analysis of your product's design space; including the study of existing use cases, and interviews with key stakeholders and users.

Then, through multiple iterations, using rapid prototyping techniques, and working closely with you—we realize an implementable, usable, and supportable design solution.

Turn Your MRD Into Reality At Mental Models
( An MRD is a Market Requirements Document )

Process Details

I am David Simkin (résumé), information architect, interaction designer and the primary developer and holder of the mental model: a user-centric representation of the product, how it works and how users interact with it. Here are some details on the process I have forged over the years working with over 75 large, medium and small companies across the United States and abroad. Below you can review my portfolio. The process starts by gaining an understanding of the big picture. Key to this Discovery phase are the Mental Model Demos that are used to ask questions and explore the design space. Against traditional wisdom which tells you to start with low fidelity prototyping, Mental Model Demos are high fidelity. By suspending disbelief and viewing a Mental Model Demo as a final product, users and stakeholders can visualize, discuss and ultimately develop a unified, coherent vision. We find this step to be critical in building consensus within the team and in nailing down the high–level mental model of the product. With the mental model in place, the Information Architecture is generated.

Next, in Rapid Iteration, we begin to iterate on the Golden Thread Demo—key usage scenarios and associated features/concepts are explored. The Golden Thread Demo starts out at a lower fidelity than the Mental Model Demos. The goal is not to express the full breath of functionality, but rather a single, interactive instantiation of the product vision. The Golden Thread helps bridge the gap between the concepts of the visionaries and the details needed by Product Managers, Engineers and other stakeholders. The key is not to get caught up in detailing everything that can happen on a page but understanding the primary calls to action and move that along. A second important aspect is to identify questions that don’t need to be answered yet. This helps eliminate religious wars that often break out.

It is during Final Specification that the features are prioritized and leaned down to the Minimum Viable Product. The previous phases allow us to do this while keeping the user in command and an eye towards the long term direction. Here the visual designers are engaged fully and the design can accentuate the mental model, target the end users, as well as express the unique aesthetics of the organization.

Portfolio Timeline     

"Mental Models made a major contribution towards our recent successes...
For the first time, people could actually see the vision that,
up to this time, we've only been able to communicate verbally."

Rod Sherman
One-time President, Sponsorwise, Inc.

— Recent —

First Data
Financial Services Back Office Replatforming

First Data handles 45% of all US credit and debit transactions. They had many back office applications that had evolved independently and they wanted to allow their customers to have direct access to many of these services. I was the lead UX Designer for the consulting team that was creating a portal for access to these applications and designed the core applications that would provide the administrative functionality and set the standards to which the applications would evolve.

Portal Navigation

A key requirement was that the users could switch quickly between a pluggable set of applications.

Nested Attribute Editor

Objects (User Groups here) were organized in a hierarchy and the attributes of these objects were nested and interrelated. The solution was “Basecamp” style cards that allowed pivoting at every level of the hierarchy. The cards could be fanned out to view the path.

Self-service Healthcare Benefits Selection Experience for Small Business

I was part of a consulting team working for the Group Insurance division of Humana to transform the existing paper-based signup/on-boarding process which took weeks to complete. I had a dual role as the UX Research Lead across the project and UX Designer for one of the three tracks.

As Research Lead I coordinated weekly user research for 7 three-week sprints across three tracks: Employers, Employees, and Brokers. User interviews were conducted using progressively higher fidelity MVPs, from wireframes to HTML prototypes. As UX Designer I designed a small group enrollment experience for employers and their employees and conducted the weekly user interviews using the evolving prototype.


With three user types (Employers, Employees, and Brokers) is was critical to build and understand all the personas to ensure the solution would work across the many usage scenarios.

Screen Flow

Screen flow diagrams helped identify the page types and reusable UX patterns across tracks and unify the user experience as well as optimize implementation.

Elance (Merged with oDesk, relaunched as Upwork)
Online Staffing Platform

I worked with Elance at the time they were merging with oDesk (eventually relaunched as Upwork) to help them imagine what the next chapter of online work would be. Part of the challenge was making discovery and “check-out” as quick and frictionless as an e-commerce experience. I undertook a series of Mental Model demos to explore with them the possibilities of introducing two new UX patterns and expansion of search. I also targeted a tablet to push a mobile first approach.

The Home Feed. During previous engagements at companies like Zendesk I watched dynamic young companies adopt Yammer. I was impressed with how this generation of workers could use a feed to prioritize their work and get information seamlessly. Using this model and substituting Yammer Groups with Elance Jobs I produced a feed that shows all the information of interest to the user and their jobs. A user can stay informed and take many actions from the Home page and pivot to the particular job or information of interest.

The Home Feed

Actions could be taken on work items without leaving the feed.

Pivoting The Home Feed

Users could pivot into jobs, companies, freelancers, etc.,


The Inbox. Again watching how these feeds were working at the start-ups I worked with I saw that there was still a need to follow up on those priority items that are not addressed while keeping an eye on the Home Feed. Zero Inbox concepts and Private Messages were also introduced. This "Yammer meets Inbox" design allows users to take a more casual approach while focused on their work and switch to a more formal review as needed.

Search. Using Linkedin as a model I emphasized how search allows for directing and educating the user as well as traditional results. This “suggestive” search really underlies the content that is shown on all pages and does much of the navigation heavy lifting.


By marrying a feed with “Zero Inbox” concepts, where items could be snoozed, users could stay current while focused on their work and switch to a more formal review during follow-up.

Suggestive Pivoting Search

All behavior was recorded so users could be directed even without entering a search string. This extends search beyond its traditional function to playing a key role in education and navigation.

— 2013 —

Cloud-based Customer Service Software for Happier Customers and more Productive Teams

I worked with Zendesk for 3 years. When I began Zendesk already had a product that was loved by customers for its simplicity and elegance. However, over the previous six years, as with any evolving application, it had reached the point where another incremental change just wouldn’t do. Rip and replace was the only option in order to balance the complexity of features with the simplicity of design.

Zendesk also had an abundance of design and implementation talent. My initial role was to keep the big picture in mind, help focus the redesign and evangelize for consistency and usability. The Product Realization approach worked well as a consensus building tool and focusing on the Golden Thread scenarios prevented the team from being overwhelmed from the magnitude of the task. The September 2012 release was a great success and I am proud to have been a part of the team.

New Agent Interface

Single page interface, Multiple tickets, beautiful visual design, but it was the “Breadcrumb Tabs” adding pivoting between tickets, users and organizations that brought it all together in the new agent interface
…ask me how.

Zendesk Voice

My first project with Zendesk was designing how agents accepted calls from customers and generated tickets—fun!

iPhone and iPad

I laid out the information architecture for the initial iPhone and iPad apps. They have reved them considerably and added devices but the original AI is still there.

Phone Number Picker

Although the big scope features are my sweet spot it is always fun to mix in ones like the phone number picker that lets you search for numbers that spell words.


While a self-service portal was always part of Zendesk they wanted to re-imagine this key part of the customer experience. This next major contribution was a classic product realization project where I started by understanding where they were and what they wanted to achieve. The result was the August 2013 release of Help Center—a knowledge base, community, and customer portal—all in one that could be easily managed and tailored to the customer. Central to the design was the use of Themes—common in blogging and website-creation platforms—in a business application for easy customization of both appearance as well as behavior to fit the target audience and best practices.

Help Center

I began by researching self-service best practices and identified types of Help Centers. Then used Themes to instantiate the look, behavior and features of each type. With one click users could pick the right customer portal for their user population.

Mobile Self-service

... and the Help Center was mobile ready out of the box.

Knowledge Base

The Help Center included a knowledge base that organized content the right way for the user population in 40+ languages.


The community was designed around Q&A to gather feedback and crowdsource ideas. Of course the community and knowledge base played well together but each could be unplugged and you could plug in your own.


In the three years I worked with Zendesk they moved into larger and larger businesses and my role focused on realization of new functionality aimed at these larger organizations. My years of experience in the enterprise space prepared me well for these complex features but working with this team has raised my game for balancing the complexity of features with the simplicity of design.
Cross-cloud Photo Organizer

AnyCloud organizes all of your online photos into neat little albums, making it fun and easy to find just the pictures you are looking for. Plus, AnyCloud gathers up all the photos where you've been tagged, or that have been shared with you, and sorts them by friend...just the way you would if you had the time!

AnyCloud lets you copy your photos between your favorite cloud accounts like Facebook, Dropbox, Shutterfly, Flickr, Instagram, snapfish, SmugMug, and more. It just takes a few clicks. Any photo, any account...AnyCloud.

AnyCloud… all your photos, in one amazing place

The user can find, manage and enjoy their photos. Works with Facebook, Instagram, Gmail, Flickr, Shutterfly, Dropbox, Google+, Picasa, Snapfish, SmugMug and more.

Cloud Printing

A slick integration to print at Walgreens.

Responsive Design

Utilized Bootstrap for a mobile first responsive layout.

Adaptive Design

In the cleanest use of the terms, the design also had adaptive navigation.


AnyCloud is my favorite kind of collaboration. When they showed us their demo is was full of features but there were a few that jumped out as something that would bring user joy. We immediately dug in and helped them lean the product down to those features. This was a pivot as pivoting meant in the beginning - finding the way users want to use their technology and building around that. Now that we have gotten traction with that minimal product we are excited to see where that will take us.

Here is a highlight reel of some lean testing we did to see how users reacted to the MVP of the proposed pivot using - you will see that our MVP still had the pre-pivot name. We called the participants reaction the AnyCloud Moment.

— 2012 —

ShelfLife Virtual Book shelf on Facebook

ShelfLife is a Facebook app that is LivingSocial meets Pinterest. Mental Models was involved from the initial concepts to the final implementation. This was a great opportunity to go to school on Open Graph and deeply integrating an app into the core Facebook experience.


Users expressed who they were by the bookshelves they built. Books could be dragged and dropped to fully customize their presentation.

I'm ready for my close-up

Note the reflections for dynamically generated book covers.

Adaptive Computing
Moab® Cloud Suite

Moab® Cloud Suite is an intelligent cloud management platform to automate service requesting, provisioning, optimization, and management based on multi-dimensional policies that mimic real-world decision making.

The team was far along on a new release when they contacted us. The UI had some issues that they wanted to get an outside perspective on. We led an on-site quick review and design session and generated some productive solutions. As is often the case, these solutions derived from a careful consideration of the mental model of several different users from a perspective of someone further from the implementation.

— 2011 —

Mayo Clinic Health Solutions
The MMSI Online Service Center

The MMSI Online Service Center provides convenient access to health plan information for members of MMSI-administered health plans, employers and health care providers.

Working with fully engaged user groups representing all three user types we develop Information Architecture recommendations to enhance ease-of-use and to provide a clear structure for current and future enhancements to the application. This was especially fun because we were able to go "old school" with card sorting tasks. We also developed HTML wireframes to carry out our interaction and visual designs. Finally, we provided Style Guidelines for future projects.

Card Sorting

Drag and drop card sorting tasks were performed by participants from three different user type groups to discover the information architecture.☞


Dendrograms were one of the analysis tools used on the results of the card sorting tasks to build the information architecture tailored to each of the three user types.


The "Lab-in-a-box" is a highly mobile point-of-care diagnostic testing platform making a wide variety of critical diagnostic information available at the point of patient-physician interaction. It holds the promise of revolutionizing service delivery, especially in third world countries by enabling the physician to make crucial, time-sensitive clinical decisions in the field.

ReaMetrix founder and serial entrepreneur Bala Manian who developed the Lab-in-a-box, was taking the first step towards this goal by proving the device with American manufacturers. His vision included marrying the Lab-in-a-box to a clinical system surfaced to the user through a touch screen interface. The problem was that the manufacturers saw it from the perspective of the small green screen they were accustomed to putting on their portable devices. We listened to Bala and build a demo that hinted at the potential. This demo was shown to user focus groups by the manufacturers themselves and the result was that they users said "we want that".


The addition of a touchscreen held promise to greatly increase the usability as well as the clinical education possibilities.

Touchscreen Interface

To make the point quickly and start testing we generated a few simple example screens to illustrate how classic tablet navigation could be used to immediately increase usability.

Cardinal Health

PatientScribe is a combination of tablet and software for delivering clinical services to patients. The first target were patients visiting cancer clinics for infusion of their drug therapy regimen. Upon entering the clinic the patients would be handed a tablet and carry that throughout their visit. This was efficient for updating their records during a visit which often included many stops. It also provided information and entertainment to the patient who was often in an infusion chair for long periods. Finally, it gave the patient a real sense of control during the visit.

This was a another example of a classic product realization project. The technology was far along when we joined and we developed scenarios and wireframes that reflected the real use of the product. This included the design of the application from the perspective of the patient, the service provider, and general staff including wall displays as well as the tablet interfaces.

— 2010 —

Attributor (Acquired by Digimarc)
Attributor Guardian Content Protection for News, Books, Magazines, Videos, and Games

Attributor Guardian is an end-to-end service that discovers and validates pirated content on cyberlockers, peer to peer networks and other offending sites.

We had a long-term relationship with Attributor, I was their User Experience Architect for 3 years, during which we were involved with all aspects of their offerings from UI design to product naming. Key to the product design was a workflow and interface that could transition smoothly between automated search and human review with several levels of escalation before initiating an integrated takedown process.

Attributor Guardian

I did detailed task analysis and as is often the case, the work flows that drove the information architecture and interaction design also drove the application architecture leading to flexible flow that accommodated many media types.

Guardian for Video

In addition to automated analysis the UI facilitated human review. For example, the video tools provided review down to the frame level. All in a SaaS web interface!


I designed canned reports as well as data exploratory tools. This was my fifth time designing a BI tool and I learn something every time. I have definitely uncovered many ways to do pivot tables in HTML.

Guardian for Games

A playful graphic asset that highlighted the games protection service.

FairShare (and the Fair Syndication Consortium)
"Fair Trade" of Online Content

A somewhat subversive group within Attributor was interested in moving beyond a takedown service and extend their technology to benefit authors of any size. The result was FairShare, a Creative Commons-aware self service platform for tracking the spread of authors works around the web, building on Attributor's index of 35 billion web pages. The goal was to assist authors in requesting proper use of their work and for quantifying the spread and impact their works are having. Along with this we spearheaded the Fair Syndication Consortium to help publishers get a cut of the ad revenues generated by sites that repurpose their content. The group worked directly with the networks that serve the ads to do it. Alas, Attributor has decided to shutter the service but for Mental Models the cause of content "Fair Trade" on the web, which goes back to our earlier involvement with Kachingle, will always be important to us.


We created this graphic to represent the tone of the FairShare ecosystem we were trying to facilitate and move the conversation away form copyright cops.

Fair Syndication Consortium

Our rendering of how it worked.

Fanfare (Acquired by Spirent)
iTest Automated Testing Solution for Systems and Devices

iTest is an integrated test authoring and execution solution built for testers, developers, and automation teams. It provides QA organizations with a unified approach for rapidly developing, automating, and maintaining test cases.

We did two projects with Fanfare. The first was a graphical topology editor for iTest. This was a fun project because I got to apply all the tricks learned over the years working on network management tools for visualizing and editing nodes and edges including auto layout capabilities. The second project was something we run into often—a tool built on the Eclipse software development environment is being used by non-programmers and needs a skin to simplify the user interface. A task-based solution usually fits the bill and it did here. In a short follow-up project with Spirent the team told us that these two features were how they demoed the product.

This is a video demo of the graphical topology editor narrated by the engineer who implemented it. His accent is thick but the pride in his voice is universal.

— 2009 —

Procurement and Spend Management Solutions for Contingent Labor and Outside Services

IQNavigator provides services spend management software that enables global companies to gain visibility and control over the procurement and spending on outside services and contingent labor. The project was to take this very powerful, deep, and flexible application and recast it into several Persona-focused versions. The new, simpler user interface design was intended to enable various Personas, or types of users, to more easily and efficiently perform their respective tasks.

Hiring Manager - Documenting

One of the first steps was to understand, normalize and document the states, statuses and action of a position, from draft work order to work complete and evaluations done.☞

Hiring Manager - Rendering

It was only after understanding these states and actions that a UI could be designed that matched the mental model of the hiring manager taking a position through its life cycle. This job life cycle thermometer proved very effective.

Candidate Evaluation

The life cycle thermometer provided an anchor for the job as users drilled in. Here on the candidate evaluation page we designed a comparison feature. Users could drag candidates they were ranking to be compared.


Of course dashboards with canned and interactive reports were critical.

First to File (Acquired by CPA Global)
Electronic File Room™ (EFR™)

Developed to reduce the overwhelming paper backlog at companies and law firms of all sizes, Electronic File Room™ (EFR™) is the first digital document-centric system that focuses on patents. EFR enables increased transparency and ease of locating not just files, but also the "institutional" knowledge built around them.

Mental Models worked with the First to File EFR team to specify near-term product improvements, including stream-lined workflows through existing functionality, incremental feature enhancements and an updated visual design and icon set. In conjunction with these efforts, Mental Models provided the Functional Specification for additional new features to be rolled-out over time in future EFR releases.

First to File Electronic File Room™

The interface presented lawyers with the familiar tir-fold for storing documents in their logical place combined with a powerful workflow that captured all the business rules in a set of simple to follow tasks.

Visual Design

As always visual design requires pixel perfect specifications.

Content Monetization Platform

Kachingle founder Cynthia Typaldos was ahead of the pack with her ideas on using micropayments to keep information free on the web. Mental Models was "employee number 2" and we helped realize these concepts into a service on the web. Cynthia and Kachingle continue the good fight against paywalls and has expanded the concepts to freemium services. Our interest in "fair trade" content can be seen in several of our projects.

— 2008 —

Warner Music Group
Artist and Fan Club Websites

With a wide range of U.S. and international artists, Warner Music Group includes a number of the most well known record labels in the music industry. Mental Models assisted Warner with the creation of several new artist sites that incorporated significant fan interaction features and associated e-commerce sites. The project also included the creation of a template-based site development process to allow additional sites to be quickly customized, built and launched.

Artist websites and associated e-commerce and fan club sites were built for Paramore, Shinedown, Buckcherry, Laura Izibor and Sean Paul.




Laura Izibor

Sean Paul

Young Steff

Interactive Data
QuoTrek by eSignal (for iPhone)

Interactive Data Mobile provides global, streaming real-time financial quotes, charts and news to a variety of mobile devices. Interestingly they introduced a wireless, hand-held device offering real-time, streaming quotes and news back in 1983! Now that is mobile first design.

Mental Models helped Interactive Data’s Desktop Solutions port this application, already popular on the BlackBerry platform, to the iPhone and iPod Touch. In doing so, we took advantage of the standard iPhone gesture language and accelerometer capabilities to increase usability by—among other things—emphasizing the interconnectedness of the data types, while also adding enhanced functionality. QuoTrek is currently available in the iTunes Store.


This was "old school" responsive design.

Use Cases

As with all design, but in particular mobile design, it all starts with use cases to understand the most intuitive and efficient navigation for the user.
Transplant Resources & Support Website is a website that serves the transplant community. Started by a transplant recipient, the site has grown to include extensive transplantation resources, message boards, news, and recipient and donor personal stories. Mental Models was brought in to perform a reskin of the site to give it a new visual design and more modern look, and to take over hosting and ongoing administration and maintenance. Once the new design and production system was in place, Mental Models served as webmaster for hosting and ongoing administration/maintenance for the site till the owner of the site took over.

Mental Models is committed to furthering use of the web for meaningful purposes beyond commerce; is one of several clients Mental Models works with at reduced rates or pro bono hours to support their worthy efforts.

— 2007 —

Email Marketing Program Development and Management Tool

We originally worked with Bigfoot Interactive who first developed the email marketing platform. After they were acquired by Epsilon we were a design and implementation partner in integrating the product into the larger Epsilon vision as a true multichannel marketing campaign manager for offline and online communications.
LEAPS - Drug Development Company Project Management Portal

The drug development and licensing process in Theravance was complex and multi-layered. To manage the process, Theravance employees used a variety of tools and sites to gather and track information. This method was not meeting their needs: moving forward, they wanted comprehensive information to be available within a single system, enabling users to have immediate access to all data that might be relevant to their projects.

Mental Models’ role was to help Theravance understand the pieces and path to such a system. Many techniques for information capture and discovery were combined in the design, the key challenge being how to render information discoverable regardless of source, initial intended use, or timeframe. By incorporating Web 2.0 concepts, users could be given more sophisticated and powerful capabilities for "Enterprise Bookmarking". The prototype also illustrated how discoverable information could be combined with Workflow, Relationship Management, Scheduling and Document Management applications to create a powerful project management tool.
For Grace’s World
For Graces World Web Store

The For Grace’s World non-profit group empowers women of the world today and provides educational resources for the children of our future. The For Graces World web store helps women in Uganda by selling their handicrafts and using the proceeds to educate secondary school girls at the Duhaga School in Uganda.

Mental Models is committed to furthering use of the web for meaningful purposes beyond commerce; For Grace’s World is one of several clients Mental Models works with at reduced rates or pro bono hours to support their worthy efforts.

— 2006 —

Taleo (Acquired by Oracle)
Taleo Candidate Experience: On-line Recruitment Platform
Taleo Business Edition: On-Demand Talent Management Application
Taleo Enterprise Edition: Talent Management Platform

We had a long relationship with Taleo and were involved in design of their full strategic suite. Our first project with Taleo was focused on improving the User Experience of the candidate when applying for a job online. The solution has been deployed at over 200 large employers across all industries and in over 100 countries and included novel approaches to improved accessibility.

Taleo Business Edition is a web-based talent management solution providing automated recruiting and performance management processes for small to mid-sized companies. Mental Models was brought in to assist with the product evolution in two strategic directions: (1) to improve the usability of the existing workforce recruiting and hiring application and to create a new look and feel for the application, and (2) to create a new module for employee performance management.

Mental Models worked with Taleo to develop a tool for large enterprises that unifies several talent management activities such as Performance Management, Career Management, Goals Management and Succession Planning.

Talent Cards for Enterprise Edition

We designed this popular "baseball card" approach with the employee picture on one side, and their "employee stats" on the other side. Those stats include critical information on employees such as performance review information, career plans, goals and objectives and succession plans.

Taleo Business Edition

Our redesign incorporated Web 2.0 additions and other techniques to improve page layout and data presentation, and make it easier for users to interact with the system, e.g., find, show or hide data, take actions on data, etc.

Syndera (Acquired by TIBCO)
Real-time Business Intelligence Suite

Syndera's software suite provides real-time visibility and control of mission critical business processes by enabling users to monitor, analyze and act on business process operational events. The Suite had extensive functionality for extracting business system data and presenting it in various ways. Mental Models was brought in to help Syndera in two key areas: revamp the application to better suit business users in how they think about and access data, and simplify and expose more functionality within the self-service dashboard for consuming the data.
Point-of-Purchase Product Information Kiosk

ReadyTouch offers point-of-sale kiosks that provides pricing, availability, feature list and product review information to customers at the moment they are making their buying decisions. For example—in a food market—a customer picking up ingredients for a special dinner can scan the items in his cart and the ReadyTouch kiosk will suggest recipes and the perfect wine. Shoppers have a better meal and shop keepers increase sales.

The flexible ReadyTouch kiosk can also be configured to allow shoppers to make complicated purchases in-store; such as the appliances and associated accessories needed for a kitchen remodel. In this way, the kiosk is an invaluable virtual salesperson. In fact, this customer-targeted kiosk worked so well that the salespeople started using it also, when working with customers.

As a full-service design and marketing partner with ReadyTouch, Mental Models helped develop the Information Architecture of the back-end software for managing the kiosk system. We also designed the front-end kiosk UI, designed and developed the corporate web site, created the corporate logo, and—before all that—we ran the brainstorming session where the company name was discovered.
Cydelity (Acquired by Digital Resolve)
Online Fraud Detection System

— 2005 —

California Independent System Operator (CAISO)
CAISO Software Infrastructure Business Rules (SIBR) Web User Interface

California Independent System Operator (CAISO) manages the flow of electricity across the high-voltage, long-distance power lines that make up 80 percent of California's power grid. In response to the California energy crisis of 2000 and 2001 the CAISO management initiated a project to take a comprehensive view of the changes needed in the structure of California’s electricity markets.

One part of the CAISO system is the Scheduling Infrastructure Business Rules (SIBR) component. This component accepts bids and trades for energy and energy-related commodities. The engine had been built by a large consulting firm and was quite well done. The web user interface for entering and submitting bid data was implemented as a set of web enabled spreadsheets and did not represent the same improvement as the other components. We had experience in bidding applications (@TheMoment) and energy trading (Automated Power Exchange) and working with a highly engaged user group we re-envisioned the interface as a calendaring application—think Google Calendar with bids and asks as appointment. The project had the bonus of again allowing us to delve into data visualization with the detailed Bid Curve Display being one of our accomplishments.
Advertising Management Suite for Publishers, Networks & Agencies

End-to-end solution for managing the entire digital advertising life cycle to effectively package, sell, traffic, manage, optimize and collect revenue on advertising products.

— 2004 —

XDx (Now CareDX)
Biomedical Laboratory Accessioning Application and Corporate Web Site

Founded in 2000, XDx is a molecular diagnostics company located in South San Francisco. XDx scientists have applied microarray, RT-PCR (real time polymerase chain reaction) and bioinformatics technologies to develop a clinically useful way to monitor the immune system.

Most of our work on applications today is focused around removing the necessity for moving physical objects around and we love doing that (although I have been reading about the paperless office since my days at Bell Labs). Nothing gets the juices flowing for a UI guy more than mapping the movement of real physical objects (blood samples here) from their arrival at the loading dock, through multiple steps and quality tests to recording the final results and sending them out.
National Cancer Institute Center for Bioinformatics (NCICB)
Portal for the Scientific Researcher and Clinician

The NCI Center for Bioinformatics (NCICB) provides biomedical informatics support and integration capabilities to the cancer research community. A key aspect of the Portal was that it allowed scientists to add their own content. Over time, however, this led to too much information with too little organization.

Mental Models was brought in to create an Information Architecture and reorganize the entire site. The challenge was to define Information and Page Architectures sufficient for the diverse kinds of information being added and easily usable by the different types of users accessing the site. The portal was constructed on a Zope platform and we have built custom Zope components to facilitate deployment of our Information Architecture recommendations.
CenterBeam (Acquired by EarthLink)
Customer Portal for Outsourced IT Services, Customer Care Console

This project was in our enterprise sweet spot - creating a call center application which had all the bells and whistles supporting a superior customer service experience for the customer and efficient access to a knowledge base and customer information for the agent. What was most fun for me was the opportunity to fire my data visualization neurons which has been an interest since doing my dissertation in the area. It was in fact our previous work on dashboards at CXO Systems that brought us to the attention of Centerbeam.
Interactive Development Environment for Expressive Web Applications Based on Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) Specifications
GridApp Systems (Acquired by BMC Software)
GridApp Clarity Database Automation Management Software

GridApp Clarity allows organizations to ensure all SQL Server database instances are standardized and managed according to the same set of best practices and company guidelines. Key is the ability to inventory your servers and detect which one of them does not meet your best practices.

The solid functionality was obscured by the interface's clutter of information. We addressed this by allowing the user to explore the servers in context of the question they were asking, the state (health) of the server, the relation of the servers to other objects, and the events being watched and reported. The result was an award winning snappy exploratory as well as reporting and management tool.

GridApp Clarity

Among other things it was easy to see the relationship of servers to other objects in the particular context being investigated.

Responsive Design

Design included early versions of responsive design that adjusted the amount of information shown to the canvas available.

Product Accountability Management Application
Solutions Experts
Website Development

We teamed with our copy- and graphic-development partners to lend HTML development and usability expertise to the re-vamped Solutions Experts web site.

— 2003 —

Phone Manager for IP Office Suite and Contact Center CRM Application

Avaya is a global leader in communication systems, applications and services. They design, build, deploy and manage networks for enterprises. We did the design work for Avaya IP Office, an "all-in-one" office communication solution that brings together voice, data and communications applications for small and mid-size businesses. The job was to look at the over 20 applications included in IP Office and provide a consistent look and feel for all the applications, identify overlapping functionality, and document user classes. The results were two unified applications; one — targeted for the Agent user — that could scale from an individual to a large network of Agents in a Call Center, and two — for a Supervisor user — that could scale from the an office manager to the Supervisor of a large Call Center.
CXO Systems (Acquired by Cisco)
Business Visibility Dashboards—Development Tools and End User Experience

CXO System is a complete enterprise software solution for delivering a single view of distributed intelligence specifically geared for the needs of the CXO. This includes not only the backend components that form the functional core of the solution, but a complete set of design tools that make the creation and maintenance of dashboards simple and visual. We participated in the design and implementation of all components providing Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Visual Design, HTML Wireframes, Style Guidelines, and Marketing Material. We have also worked with some CXO customers as they have deployed the CXO Dashboard throughout their enterprises.
CenterRun (Acquired by Sun)
Enterprise Application to Automate Deployment of Datacenter Services

This project focused on CenterRun’s system for automating the configuration and deployment of new application services in the datacenter. At the time – 2003 – CenterRun was at the leading edge of rich applications and AJAX implementation. The existing application was due for a major redesign to simplify presentation of features, push the richness of the interface and address scalability. Mental Models was asked to assist with the redesign, and as a first evolutionary step, provide a reskin of the application in the context of the more extensive redesign to come. This sequence is one we are often asked to undertake.
LaBranche Financial Services
Corporate Website Design, Development and Webmaster Hosting

LaBranche Financial Services, Inc. provides execution and clearing services to institutional investors, professional traders and NYSE floor member brokers. We are a true one-stop-shop for this client as we were able to develop the site — in terms of content, as well as back-end coding — plus we provided Webmaster Hosting services.
Elemental Security
Enterprise Security Application

— 2002 —

eQ and eQ CS Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Applications

eQ extends ERP into the supply chain with a private trading exchange applications suite. QAD eQ CS (Customer Self Service) Edition involves changing sell-side transactions and services into Web-based, self-service processes.

We participated in a major overhaul of the User Interface Infrastructure providing Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Visual Design, HTML Wireframes, and Style Guidelines.

A "Quick Order" entry table, designed for keyboard-only data entry, was a required deliverable for one of our QAD projects.  The heads-down no-mouse required interface produced large productivity gains.
Pennsylvania Regional Housing Legal Services
Public Legal Assistance Application

The HEMAP Help Center is a public legal assistance application designed to allow Pennsylvania residents to take advantage of a state-run program (the Homeowners' Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program) that offers money to homeowners who are in danger of losing their homes. The application process (hard copy form) was problematic as users often did not properly fill out the form nor bring proper supporting documentation to the processing center, resulting in frequent rejections. Mental Models was asked to redesign and integrate legal counseling within the process.

Mental Models is committed to furthering use of the web for meaningful purposes beyond commerce; PA Regional Housing Legal Services is one of several clients Mental Models works with at reduced rates or pro bono hours to support their worthy efforts.
Tao Secure
Network Security Appliance

— 2001 —

Upshot (Acquired by Siebel)
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Application

The task here was to—in a one month time period—create an updated and more business-like look for this web-based CRM application. And the update had to be accomplished via new art and stylesheets that the engineers could seamlessly "drop-in" to their build; no changes to the structure of the page were allowed, we had to work with the existing framework. We accomplished this and the re-skinning helped their acquisition soon after this.
Nextance (Acquired by Versata)
Enterprise Software for Contract Management and Commitments

Nextance provides enterprise software for managing contracts, commitments, and related business processes to Global 2000 companies and public organizations. They are a classic Silicon Valley startup. Nextance is also a classic example of the Product Realization Process as we were involved long before there was a shipping product, and —while it is true that the User Interface Functional Specification and HTML Wireframes were our most salient deliverables —the journey to discover the interface and its other byproducts was just as important.

One of the first steps in creating any interface is defining the Information Architecture. In dynamic application such as this the Information Architecture is quite fluid. Our first task was to collect the workflows from as many potential users as possible in order to abstract out the state changes and actions that the workflow engine would need to support. We did this in detailed Visio diagrams. These Visio diagrams, together with the early interface prototypes, drove much of the engineering object development during this phase of the software design.

We also developed a spreadsheet that represented these flows and that tied directly to the developing API of the workflow engine. This spreadsheet format became the first tool used by Nextance Professional Services to capture the flow of a new customer.
Sponsorwise (now called Versaic)
Web-Based System for Posting and Purchasing Sponsorship Properties

Sponsorwise has developed the first—and most widely used—platform for streamlining the sponsorship proposal process. The Sponsorwise system lets corporations and agencies eliminate their proposal backlog, and lets properties get their information directly to the decision makers.

This was true product realization. Mental Models worked with the promotion industry experts at Sponsorwise to develop a prototype that gave life to their full-scope vision. We then went to work with their engineers to help them implement a realistic chunk of the full-vision functionality. And over time we continued to work with Sponsorwise, helping them roll-out increasing levels of functionality as their business evolved.
Annuncio (Acquired by Oracle)
Marketing Automation Application for Email- and Web-Customer Interaction

— 2000 —

Eloquent (An Open Text Company)
Rich Media Management and Presentation Applications

When originally developed, LaunchForce was "the only enterprise-class application to provide a comprehensive, closed-loop solution for posting, accessing, and measuring use and understanding of all your product and sales information. With LaunchForce, you gain fully integrated communication between your sales force and channels, executive management, and marketing team". By providing engaging rich media content, personalized delivery, detailed results measurement, and rapid follow-up, LaunchForce helps organizations ensure the highest possible sales readiness at all times - at a lower cost than with current business processes alone.
Platform for Real-Time Trading, TicketMaster Ticket Auction Application
Oncology Therapeutics Network (OTN)
LYNX2OTN Portal for Medical Office Drug Purchasing and Management
Self-service Printing Website was the first site to provide self-service printing capabilities across a wide range of printing services. When we encounter a project with a large scope like this the first order of business is to help the team focus. It was during this project when we first formalized our Golden Thread approach. A Golden Thread interactive demo is used to explore the design space—key usage scenarios and associated features/concepts are explored and consensus is built. The goal is not a detailed description of how functionality will be expressed, but rather a single, interactive instantiation of the product vision. The Golden Thread helps bridge the gap between the concepts of the visionaries and the details needed by Product Managers,
Website Development, Integrated Marketing Collateral

ecVision provides robust application solutions to manage supplier relationships in real-time and to support the complex order management requirements of international trade.

We were responsible for design, implementation, and hosting of the corporate web site, as well as the design and production of their integrated marketing collateral.

In order to keep the navigation area readily available to users at all times, while also maintaining visibility of site branding, we implemented a "sliding" nav panel that allowed the navigation controls to remain visible at all times. This was new stuff back then. An important benefit of this design is that it eliminates the need for frames, which confuse users, reduce usability of shortcuts, and interfere with printing.

Another nice feature of the site is the "easy-update interface" that allows an ecVision employee with absolutely zero knowledge of HTML to post updated Press Releases and event information. Mental Models created a collateral system for ecVision that integrated—visually and in terms of messaging—with the corporate site.
Concept-Clustering Metasearch Engine

We developed this metasearch engine because it emphasizes the point that User Interface design solutions do not always require throwing technology at a problem, they just require discovering what a user needs.

The original purpose of brainespot was to provide searching for specific topics, for example the power industry. Rather than using spiders, which took time and were limited in the pages they discovered, we used the individual site's search function. This gave us access to "deeper" and "fresher" results, something that more recently has been referred to as the "hidden web". We were interested in the problem of how to organize the results. Since with fresh results we did not have the hits in advance we could not build directories. We used fast clustering techniques to organize the results. It turns out that this flat organization, built from the results themselves, where very popular with users. While the need to do the organization in real-time drove the functionality, it turns out that this relatively low-tech solution gave users a great deal of functionality.

We are sorry to report that brainespot is no longer available. We were a casualty of our own success as we can no longer support the growing traffic and maintenance this web search tool generated. The design lessons learned, however, will be carried forward to future projects.

— 1999 —

Automated Power Exchange (APX)
Web-Enabled Real-Time Trading Application for the Power/Electricity Industry

We have been fortunate enough to have a long working relationship with the good folks at APX. During our time together we worked on several projects, including the APX Market Window, a real-time trading application, as well as the APX corporate web site.

Market Window users needed real-time information—such as pricing data and weather predictions—to help them make the best possible energy trades. This information was kept up-to-date on the APX corporate web site and, in order to make the most efficient trades, users would need to switch between the site and the app. Therefore, we incorporated the web site into the information architecture of the application. And to help users avoid what we call the "Application Abyss" (a situation where users are forced to deal with disparate interfaces solely because of back-end incongruity) we designed the Market Window interface and the web site layout to work together seamlessly.

The client wanted high-impact images, but did not want huge downloads or long start-up times. Our solution was to create a series of vignettes—one for each section of the site. The vignettes make a strong impression without going overboard. (Although that may be hard to tell when looking at them all on one page as shown above ;-) The images help tell the company's story, load quickly, work in any browser and do not require a plug-in.

In addition, we developed a collateral system for APX, consisting of many data sheets and a 2-pocket folder with business card die-cut. We also developed print ads, materials for trade show booths, mouse pads, etc. All the materials reflected the design, tone, and messaging of the corporate web site.
Bits2Go for Vadem Clio

The Clio was a convertible tablet computer, designed by Vadem and had a "SwingTop" pivoting arm and 12 hour run time on a single charge. The 180 degree screen rotation allowed the unit to be used as a touch screen tablet or as a more traditional notebook with keyboard. Originally introduced in 1998, the Clio product line won numerous awards and accolades.

Bits2Go was an equally innovative application for the Clio. Together with the Vadem team Mental Models realized now familiar concepts for the application that included, curated content from the web, syncing content for offline reading, and suggestions for additional content base on reading choices.
World Telehealth
Healthcare Portal

HealthePoint was an ambitious project done in cooperation with the United Nations to bring health services and resources to third world countries.

Working for WorldTelehealth, we designed and developed a portal that could be tailored to a diverse set of users including Healthcare Professionals, Healthcare Consumers, and Purchasing Agents for Healthcare Institutions.

In addition to considering traditional aspects of the design, we spent a great many cycles exploring the balance between commerce and providing services to a population in need. This tension continues to be an issue as companies such as search providers look for the right internet business model. Unfortunately, funding for this project did not survive the dotcom bubble burst.

— 1998 —

Clarify (Now Amdocs ClarifyCRM)
eFrontOffice eCommerce Platform Including eSupport, eOrder and Customer Portal

eSupport (ClearSupport) was a pure re-skinning project. The application existed and our job was to give it an updated look that matched the new Clarify corporate style guidelines. A key to the project was achieving the same look in both Internet Explorer and Netscape. (Cross-browser compatible HTML has become much easier to produce with the latest generation of browsers, but we still get to use some of the useful tricks we learned in the early days.)

eOrder is a great case study for our jingle (Turn Your MRD Into Reality). We were handed a Marketing Requirements Document and asked to create an HTML front-end that supported the specified functionality and had an integrated look and feel with our newly designed ClearSupport.

The Customer Portal was added as a unifying entry point to the application suite. In addition, the portal delivered critical messages, order and service request status, and information about special offers, etc. User authentication for all applications was also handled here.

And, as is often the case (since we do come from the "native application world") we also had a hand in the UI design of the Windows-based Sales Force Automation (SFA) component of Clarify eFrontOffice.
Resumix (Acquired by Yahoo!)
Human Resource Management Application

Resumix provides advanced Human Skills Management solutions that enable organizations to identify the most qualified candidates for hire, promotion and reassignment quickly and efficiently.

In the period before the Yahoo! acquisition it was a native Windows and UNIX application so the first order of business was our sweet spot of recasting "thick apps" into web apps. They also wanted to expand to addressing "cradle to grave employment management". These concepts were a great proving ground for our Golden Thread approach. After viewing the demo the VP of Engineering remarked that the Golden Thread was a management tool for him and critical to his negotiations with Marketing. This has been Mental Model’s sweet spot ever since.
Web-Enabled Document Management System, Contact Management System

Oracle had developed a document management server. When they saw our work recasting Documentum's native Document Management Application as a web application, they contacted us for this project. Working from the API document we gleaned the capabilities of the server and developed a prototype that showed off how the "Docbase" could play in several vertical markets. Oracle was also attempting to brand their web applications during this period. We contributed early concepts to this branding and we provided final icons for their Contact Management application as well.

— 1997 —

ManageWise Network Management Application
iChain Web Portal

ManageWise was Novel’s comprehensive network management platform and included server and desktop management, network analysis, software management, virus protection, and automatic network inventory.

We developed the original UI Functional Specification for the application implemented in JAVA with Swing components. We also designed a UI prototype for iChain, a high-security web portal.

— 1996 —

Documentum (Acquired by EMC Corporation)
Web-Based Document Management System
Sales and Marketing Application

One of our specialties is to recast native applications as web applications. This skill set was forged and honed in the tail end of the 90's and the early 00's when web applications were suddenly the order of the day, and this is when and we handled the initial realization of Documentum's Document Management System port to a web application. Since then we have been involved in several projects with Documentum that were vertical specializations of the base product. The web-based Sales and Marketing Application was one such project in which the functionality of the base product was repackaged for a less technical user, one who more approximated an Amazon user.
Fujitsu Network Communications
NetSmart Network Management System

Next generation distributed and scalable network management system.
Mental Models
Aaron Joins

By the mid 1990’s the web and the worlds of software development and brand identity began to intertwine in new and interesting ways and Mental Models was evolving. My brother Aaron had spent the previous nine years in the advertising industry as an Account Manager at various agencies, including J. Walter Thompson and Ammirati Puris Lintas. A call went out to my mother—Aaron left New York City for Silicon Valley.

— 1995 —

SamePage™ Intranet Work Processor

SamePage™ Intranet Work Processor was the industry's first off-the-shelf Intranet application, providing a uniquely powerful and easy-to-use set of Intranet-based facilities for workgroup tasks such as document review and approval, ongoing virtual meetings, and action item management. It introduced the concept of allowing users using multiple desktop platforms anywhere in an enterprise to work together in a dynamic, shared space, rather than simply annotating or exchanging messages about static materials.

Mental Models helped the team translate a rich set of features that had only been seen at that point in a thick app to a web app. We blazed many new patterns and for many years when we ran into members of the WebFlow team they referred to us as the "Go Button Guys" as one of those patterns was the first use of a Go button next to a drop down to initiate a command.

— 1994 —

Sterling Software
Star:View and Star:Gate software

Star:View and Star:Gate, allow users access to legacy applications via Web browsers. They support "screen scraper" technology functions that render GUI from mainframe applications' text-only screens such as MVS-based applications on a mainframe that generates 3270 data streams.

Mental Models helped define the rules for translating the text-only screen patterns to HTML-based graphical UI patterns. In addition we designed an interactive development application for enhancing the auto-generated graphical UI and integrating information from other applications.
Digital Tools
AutoPlan & AutoTeam Project & Resource Management Software

AutoPlan & AutoTeam were the first project management applications specifically designed for the UNIX platform. We helped fully redesign their first release product into an award winning enterprise tool.

Mental Models Born

Mental Models
Product Realization Specialist

Started Mental Models a boutique design firm to provide user-centered product design.

— 1992 - 1993 —

Make Systems
NetMaker Network Management Application

At Make I began my requirements with the thesis born while working at Bell Labs that with data at this scale the UI would be designed around searching and not browsing (these were carrier networks). This led to an award winning product (Best of Show at Interop) based on "SmartViews" which combined searches with presentation optimized to the needs of the user. There is more than one person who has suggested that I spent the intervening years reusing this one design.

This was also the time that native applications were migrating to web applications. Recasting "thick apps" as "web apps" was the dominant theme of my consulting career for the next few years.

Lastly this was the time that I coined the term “browser-based promiscuity” to refer to the trend I saw whereby companies would reject our native applications due to security concerns but would let wholly insecure applications walk in the door if it was delivered in this new thing called a browser. This was the spark for thinking I have been doing on the role of technology in cultural evolution that I am now returning to.

NetMaker SmartViews

SmartViews combined searches with presentation optimized to the needs of the user. This approach of combining visual presentation and behavior into a single lens will show up throughout my career (e.g. see Zendesk in 2013).

Go Make Systems!

— 1988 - 1991 —

AT&T Bell Labs
Network Management, WIMP Interfaces, Style Guidelines

It is only from my current perspective that I fully appreciate the privilege it was to be working in this still new area of User Interface Design at Bell Labs. First, it is impossible to convey the concentration of talent there was. Secondly, I got to work on the early stages of applying WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus and pointing device) Interfaces to UNIX which included X Windows and Open Look. Thirdly, while coauthoring AT&T’s Style Guidelines for Network Management and working on enterprise class networks I began to see that the solution to data at this scale was searching and not drilling and browsing.

— 1982 - 1987 —

Northwestern University
Ph. D. in Cognitive Psychology
Dissertation Title: "Towards an Information Processing View of Graph Comprehension"

It was in graduate school studying cognitive psychology that I had my first lessons in the competitive advantage of good UI. At Northwestern, students participated in experiments as part of their course requirements and there was lots of competition for the scarce student subject resource. The Mac had just come out and I decided to learn Pascal and conduct my experiments on it. The challenge was to be able to hand naive users a piece of plastic (a diskette) and tell them to hold another piece of plastic (a mouse) and do what the screen told them to do. I was presenting data visually and reported lots of trivia like "what percentage of American farms grow corn". The combination of the personal computer, interesting content, and visual presentation made my experiments wildly popular - thank you Steve Jobs.