ÄKTA is Chicago's premier Innovation and Digital Product Design studio for products of all shapes, sizes, and platforms. Over the last three years, we have defined and lead the 'next generation' of innovation consultancies with our contemporary process, focused offerings and obsession with quality.
Born in 2010, ÄKTA has quickly become a boutique powerhouse of top-tier thinkers, from psychologists to product strategists, technologists and artists, who came together from all over the United States (and some from overseas) to create a fun, energetic, and passionate product design team.
A visit to our beautiful downtown Chicago loft studio will give you a good idea of what we are all about. You won't find cubicles or any closed offices, but rather bright colored walls, lots of toys, an Olympic-sized ping-pong arena, and a collection of some of the most gifted designers in the country.
Look below to meet some of the wunderkinds from the ÄKTA team.
Oh, and we're hiring!
Founder / CEO
John is a life-long digital entrepreneur and international thought-leader in User Experience and Human-Centered Design. After successfully exiting from a founding role in a LA-based video game marketing firm at the end of 2006, he came to Chicago to start ÄKTA. John is an active angel investor in the Chicago start-up community, and was recently recognized as one of Crain's 40 Under 40. He founded and runs Digital Hope, a not-for-profit charitable organization that uses the power of crowd-funding via social media to support underfunded international NGOs. You can find him on the speaking circuit (including TEDx) promoting the art and science of User Experience. Outside of work, he is an avid world traveler (aiming for 50 countries & all 7 continents before age 30), beach volleyball junkie, and photographer. Challenge him to a ping pong game. You’ll probably lose.
A Silicon Valley veteran with a track record scaling emerging growth companies in Chairman, CEO and lead director roles, DeBiase has built leading brands in media, social/local/mobile commerce, analytics & insights, games & entertainment, retail & distribution, innovation, technology and Internet services industries, and led global organizations through expansion, turnaround, roll-up, M&A and IPO phases. As Executive Chairman, DeBiase leads ÄKTA’s global expansion efforts and partnerships with mid-cap and multi-national brands, business technology firms, agency and marketing channels, and also develop ÄKTA’s board to help guide the company’s rapid growth.
Inmate Control (VP - Operations)
As the first addition to the team, Kevin keeps the team working on schedule and our clients happy. Between juggling all of our clients, seeking new talent for our team, and keeping our wild designers in check, He’s the ultimate multi-tasker. Kevin Lerash is a lover of all things people. He loves working with them, reading about them, and accomplishing awesome things with them. In his spare time, he can be found debating Kant with his cats, grilling something delicious with his better half, or trying to sink a long putt on the disc golf course.
Friend Maker (Business Development Director)
Using her international background and loud social network from Michigan State University as ammunition for making new friends, Pascale helps run business development and keeps clients happy throughout project duration and beyond! Her weeks are filled with tech industry networking events and running, while weekends are consumed by MSU football and the occasional "Call Me Maybe" dance party. Let her know how she can help you, she loves to connect using twitter and LinkedIn.
Knot Detangler (Sr. Experience Director)
Drew grew up a farm boy, but knew he had a different calling when his grandpa introduced him to the first Macintosh computer. A few Macs later, he began creating websites for local businesses and learned the key to a good design is understanding people. At ÄKTA, he uses his deep experience to ensure a smooth transition and consistent vision through all stages of the user experience work on a project. When not working, Drew spends his time as a professionally amateur photographer and taking his camper and a dystopic scifi novel to enjoy the great outdoors.
Inspector Gadget (Sr. UX Researcher)
Scott uses research and design to understand users and help our clients identify the right problems to solve. He strives to help businesses think of design as more than "making things pretty" at the end of the product development process. Always on the lookout for new things to immerse himself in, Scott's everchanging interests cover everything from local breweries to behavioral economics to discovering new meetup groups. Be careful of Friday Scott, he’ll probably outwit you and you won’t even realize.
Undercover Agent (Innovation Strategist / BA)
Growing up a studio dancer, Olivia has a lifelong affinity for creative expression. Mix this with her passion for technology and consulting experience, and you get ÄKTA’s lead innovation and business strategist. She likes to connect the dots across people, technology, business and design to vision a holistically greater experience for everyone. Simply put, Olivia likes to make good things even better. Outside the office, you might find her running up lakeshore, checking out the latest happenings around town, or having fun with the people she loves. She was once struck by lightning in the Swiss alps. She lived.
Wizbang (Information Architect)
As ÄKTA's lead information architect, Dave's number one goal is to make the complex simple. A few ways he achieves this is by providing order and structure to our content, mapping out the flow of how users find their way from point A to Z, planning the functionality of how applications should work best, and designing interactive prototypes to test design concepts against the people who will be using our applications the most. Outside of the office Dave can be found biking the street of the windy city, setting up art installations, making videos about cats, and rocking sweet low end bass groves until the wee hours of the morning.
Crouching Tiger, UX Dragon (UX Director)
Bridging the gap between fresh ideas and the end-user has always been a passion for Art. Formally trained in Fine Arts and Communication Design, he made the transition into UXD, before the term existed. A self-described "process junkie", Art gets equal joy out of the creative journey itself, as he does seeing the final product launch into the market place. When not busy helping intrepid clients navigate the murky waters of the future, Art spends his time pursuing sun, surf, great food, and amazing experiences.
Coach (UX Engineer)
From the moment Ashley's Dad brought home his family's first computer, he was hooked. As soon as his parents weren't looking, he took it apart and put it back together again; carefully keeping out of sight all of the parts that he couldn't get to fit back in. Since then, Ashley has become an expert in all three phases of user experience work: Research, Design and Technology. This hybrid ability allows him to go from interviewing participants to obtain usability feedback, to crafting information architecture and flows, and understanding how a back-end API will affect the user interface. In his free time, you can find him either on a volleyball court, heading to some distant locale, out with friends trying as many new restaurants as possible, or being silly with his better half.
Professor UX (UX Researcher)
As a User Experience (UX) Researcher, Mike is responsible for researching and understanding the users of our client’s online products. Understanding their needs and frustrations at the cognitive level is paramount to designing the best user experience possible. On a normal day at ÄKTA, you would find Mike interviewing users, creating wireframes or assisting with information architecture. Outside of the office, you’ll find him hunting zombies in video-games, perfecting his spell casting as an accomplished wizard or searching for Chicago's best Pad Thai.
The Reanimator (Visual Designer)
As ÄKTA's visual utility player, Ryan has his hand in many roles. His main duties lie in UI design but other primary roles include 3d design, animation, and illustrative work. Basically he spins the team’s ideas into visuals that are easy on the eyes. ÄKTA's researchers have yet to come to a general consensus on whether Ryan has ever spoken to another living being, but gained though careful observation we know the following: he enjoys Tigers baseball, watching episodes of Arrested Development for the 100th+ time and has no interest in chocolate.
Mean Muggin' (Sr. Visual Designer)
Sean spends most of his time pushing around pixels as a UI Designer. It's his job to make the team's hard work look beautiful and communicate the creative vision to our clients. His background is in print design but years ago he started to really getting into UI Design for web and more recently mobile and tablet. Before he started at ÄKTA, he freelanced for a few years and pretty much worked exclusively on iPhone apps. Outside of work Sean loves to screenprint, is a huge Chicago Bulls fan and enjoys spending time with his Boston Terrier Kizzy.
Master of Ceremonies (Executive Assistant)
Julia’s love of helping others is expressed at ÄKTA as she keeps everyone’s head just straight enough to keep their creative juices flowing. Ask her the location of our Head Wizard or a missing HDMI adapter and she’ll direct you right to them. From organizing team events to documenting all the internal excitement for the outside world to view, Julia keeps ÄKTA looking good and running productively. There’s really no need to ask her weekend plans, as 9 times out of 10 she’ll be running further than you’ve walked all week.
Web Slinger (Visual Designer)
Using sheer aesthetic beauty to immerse users in our carefully crafted experiences, Isaac meticulously pours himself into every pixel of his UI designs with a relentless attention to detail. Isaac began honing his design skills when he discovered Photoshop as a child, and began picking up professional freelance work as a teenager. After gaining experience at multiple agencies, he enthusiastically joined the team at ÄKTA. Seen daily skating intimidating distances across the Chicago urban landscape, Isaac is adventurous in both the physical and digital worlds.
The Oracle (Project Manager)
Kyle’s love for people, technology and sticky notes make managing projects a natural affair. His top priority is keeping projects on schedule and clients happy. In his spare time, you’ll find him digesting an obscene amount of technology news articles, camping, and playing Settlers of Catan, but mostly, along with his wife Anna, spending time with friends and family. Oh and he has a black cat named Felton that thinks he is a dog.
Raider of the Lost UX (UX Researcher)
Trained as an architect, inspired by design, & motivated by improving people's lives, David is both driven by & captivated by passion. Pair this with his insatiable desire to learn & understand the world around him & you get a truly dedicated design researcher. No matter the problem or project, his desire to enhance a person's world by understanding their successes, shortcomings, & stories help to uncover insights & solutions that reveal new paths towards empathy & innovation. Beyond the studio, you'll find him in a coffee shop working on his next idea, in the gym working on his fitness, or around town feeding his soul with culture. Always Satisfied, Never Content.
Cartographer (Business Analyst)
Bennett grew up in Silicon Valley immersed in the emerging technology and the "dot com" boom. When you add his strong passion for all things web, his systems engineering degree from University of Wisconsin, and his consulting experience, you have an ÄKTA business analyst capable of understanding the process needed to transition awesome ideas into awesome products. Outside of work Bennett can be found playing golf, exploring Chicago and all it has to offer, speaking fluent pig latin, and competing against his friends in pretty much anything.
Dances with Words (Communications Manager)
Soon after her frightening first encounter with math, Sara decided to become a writer. It was a good decision (especially for numbers), as it eventually led her to ÄKTA, where she uses her journalism background to craft stories and bring words to life. She's forever curious, so if you're looking for a friendly ear to bend, she's your girl, especially if you want to talk about hats, cats, dad jokes or trashy TV. Don't mention camping.