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creative:impact - It’s game night, and Lana Krolikowski is ready to play!

Lana Krolikowski at her Saving Throw Pillows booth.
Lana Krolikowski
Saving Throw Pillows
Lana Krolikowski at her Saving Throw Pillows booth.

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explores the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

Creative Washtenaw CEO Deb Polich at the WEMU studio.
John Bommarito
89.1 WEMU
Creative Washtenaw CEO Deb Polich at the WEMU studio.



Lana Krolikowski
Saving Throw Pillows
Lana Krolikowski

User Experience Lead January 2019 – Current

Owens Corning (Contractor) Toledo, Ohio

  • Conducts user interviews for internal products and manufacturing facilities to better understand current problems and facilitating workshops to design and develop creative solutions
  • Lead a project that conducted over 150 interviews across 12 facilities to better understand how Owens Corning could better serve their Front Line Workers.
  • Researches and designs interfaces for internal and external products and supports associated development teams in bi-weekly agile sprints
  • Writes and conducts iterative series of user testing in addition to 1:1 interviews and observational studies to confirm project hypothesis and direct strategy as a whole for internal products
  • Conducts research to Journey map within internal systems and to discover problems, create shared understandings, and to help look for areas of system improvement
  • Mentors junior members of the UX team to develop a team dynamic centered about learning and professional growth that deepens our UX understanding and collaborative skills.

Lecturer September 2018 – May 2020

University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Michigan

  • Created and instructs graduate level course on Creativity and Design Thinking for the Center for Entrepreneurship, part of the College of Engineering.

Product Designer April 2018 – January 2019

Ford Motor Company (Contractor) Dearborn, Michigan

  • Conducts user interview for internal product for Data Scientist and Product Development Engineers
  • Create designs and interfaces for internal Big Data products and supports associated development teams in weekly agile sprints.

Information Architect November 2017 – April 2018

The Understanding Group (Contractor) Ann Arbor, Michigan

  • Researched organizations to understand their culture, needs, and constraints to inform future designs
  • Conducted background research, expert reviews, competitive analysis, taxonomy analysis and interview analysis to inform designs
  • Created interview scripts, user models, object models, and reports for stakeholders
  • Facilitated discovery meetings, stakeholder interviews, stakeholder group discussions

User Experience Lead February 2017 – October 2017

Aysling Ann Arbor, Michigan

  • Led updates to UX projects on MagHub, an end-to-end SaaS for media publishers
  • Collaborated with product managers and the service department to document and correct common mistakes and problems with the product

Senior User Experience Designer July 2013 – September 2016

Perficient (formerly Grand River) Ann Arbor, Michigan

  • Served as UX lead for multi-UX Designer projects and mentored junior designers
  • Worked with B2C and B2B clients in developing commerce and related websites
  • Created high quality deliverables such as requirements documentation, sitemaps, taxonomies, personas, wireframes, and technical specifications
  • Collaborated directly with developers and visual designers to provide holistic and viable solutions
  • Participated in Agile development processes for multiple projects
  • Led the initiative for the documentation of the Magento Commerce Platform 1.14.x and all of its responsive features
  • Worked with sales to reach out to new potential clients and estimated new projects

Usability Auditor July 2009 – March 2011

ForeSee Results Ann Arbor, Michigan

  • Performed usability audits on private and public sector clients
  • Wrote and presented audit findings for clients
  • Researched usability issues to improve the auditing process
  • Mentored team members in client communications, auditing, writing, and presenting

Usability Specialist November 2006 – July 2009

Ford Motor Company (Contractor) Dearborn, Michigan

  • Designed and developed use cases and wireframes based on requirements
  • Performed quality assurances to ensure consistency and usability of designs from wireframe to live application
  • Conducted usability testing on internally developed systems, evaluated results, and made design recommendations
  • Conducted interviews and observations with users on current and potential products to gauge interest and discover where improvements could be made
  • Performed heuristic evaluations on multiple internal sites, creating reports of recommended updates


University of Michigan School of Education, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Master of Arts in Education, August 2012

  • Masters of Arts with Certification (MAC) Program, an intensive one-year program
  • Certifications in Physics (DE) and Mathematics (EX)
  • Rackham Non-Traditional Fellowship, 2012

University of Michigan School of Information, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Master of Science in Information, 2005

  • Human Computer Interaction (HCI) concentration

Hope College, Holland, Michigan

  • Bachelor of Science in Physics, minor in Mathematics, cum laude, 2002
  • Study Abroad: University of Adelaide, Australia, February – July 2001


Human Computer Interaction

  • Design Thinking Methodology
  • Requirement Gathering
  • Focus Groups
  • User and Stakeholder Interviews
  • Heuristic Evaluations
  • Content Audits
  • Competitive Analysis
  • User Models
  • Intention Modeling
  • Benchmarking
  • Survey Creation and Analysis
  • Personas
  • Wireframe Creation
  • Prototype Development,
  • Contextual Inquiry
  • Usability Testing
  • Agile Methodology
  • User Interface Specification Documentation


  • Axure
  • Figma
  • MS Office
  • Snagit


  • 2019 Penguicon, Putting the Problem back into Problem Solving
  • 2015 Penguicon, User Testing Panel Discussion
  • 2012 MACUL Conference, Web 2.0 SMACdown!
  • 2012 Teachers Teaching Teachers Technology Virtual 4t Conference, Three Quick Looks at Three Great Resources: Dipity, Edmodo, and the Khan Academy
  • 2012 Birmingham Learning Conference, Web 2.0 SMACdown: Four Quick Looks
  • Tolliver, Robert L., Carter, David S., Chapman, Suzanne E., Edwards, Phillip M., Fisher, Jeanie E., Haines, Annette L., Krolikowski, Lana E., Price, Rebecca M. (2005). Website Redesign and Testing with a Usability Consultant: Lessons Learned. OCLC Systems & Services, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 156-166.


Saving Throw Pillows

About Saving Throw Pillows

Saving Throw Pillows on Facebook

Saving Throw Pillows on X (Twitter)


Deb Polich: Welcome to 89 one WEMU's creative:impact. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host. It is a pleasure to have you here with me to join us as we meet artists and creatives who add color, texture and sound to our community. It's game night! Lana Krolikowski is at the table and ready to play. Lana, welcome to creative:impact.

Lana Krolikowski: Thank you so much, Deb.

Deb Polich: Lana, you claim to have an alter ego, and we hope to meet that alter ego before the show concludes. But my invitation was to you, Lana, the founder and proprietor of Saving Throw Pillows. It's a local, soft goods business that you founded that, shall I say, has a very "dicey" market. I understand it started with a "nerdcation." We need to hear about this.

Lana Krolikowski: Yeah. So, my D&D group, once or twice a year---

Deb Polich: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait! You got a whole bunch of non-gamers here? What's D&D even mean?

Lana Krolikowski: My Dungeons and Dragons group.

Deb Polich: There we go.

Lana Krolikowski: Dungeons and Dragons is a tabletop role playing game. And so, I have a group of people that I've been playing with for a little over a decade. And so, once or twice a year, we send the kids and the dogs and the cats away, and we rent a place. And we go play Dungeons and Dragons for a weekend. And it's a whole lot of fun. And as a thank you gift for all these awesome people that I get to hang out with, I made them pillows shaped like the dice we use to play the game. And from that, they showed it to their friends. And there was sort of a demand. And it just sort of started with a roll.

The Saving Throw Pillows team
Saving Throw Pillows
The Saving Throw Pillows team

Deb Polich: A roll. I love it! So, you know, I like to play board games but never really got into what you call tabletop role playing games or TTRG's. I know a number of people who do, but I really know little about them. What was the hook for you, and how did you get learned into a role-playing game and then just falling in love with it?

Lana Krolikowski: I think, for me, it's very much about getting to hang out with your friends and telling a story in a collaborative way, which is really what most tabletop role playing games are. The reason that we call them game solos, because there's dice involved, and the dice just help alter the story in ways that maybe you were prepared for or didn't want to happen. But that helps create a better story as the game progresses. So, I got started with a friend of mine whose husband was a dungeon master or a game master, and that was, oh my gosh, almost probably about 15 years ago. And I just really enjoy of the format of being able to hang out with your friends in a way that's not necessarily at a bar that lets you all hang out and do something fun together.

Deb Polich: So, these players, these role players--they're really serious about their game boards and equipment. I know that there's plenty of suppliers to find online, but there are gaming conventions too, right? Are you and Saving Throw Pillows involved with those?

Lana Krolikowski: Oh, yes. Very much so. That's most of the places where we do our presentation of the pillows and the dice boxes that we make. And so, we go to big conventions like Origins, which is in Columbus, Ohio. And we do smaller conventions, like the Ann Arbor Gaming Convention.

Deb Polich: So, you mentioned the pillows, which we've talked about a little bit, but what other products do you make and then sell?

Lana Krolikowski: So, I do a lot of woodworking as well. That was one of my pandemic pick-up hobbies.

Deb Polich: Okay.

Trays and boxes from a recent show
Saving Throw Pillows
Trays and boxes from a recent show

Lana Krolikowski: And I do all of my work out of Makerworks here in Ann Arbor down by the airport. I also do stickers that are sort of memes on the themes of tabletop role playing games. And one of our best things that we sell is cat-based pillows. So, these are tinier dice pillows for your pets. Because often, our pets want to be involved as well. And sometimes, you want them to stay away from your actual dice.

Deb Polich: So, tell me how the name "Saving Throw Pillows" came into play? Are you saving? Are you using repurposing materials or what?

Lana Krolikowski: A little bit of both. So, in tabletop role playing games, saving throws are what you do when something happens, and you have to try to figure out if you're going to succeed at something or not.

Deb Polich: Oh, I get it now!

Lana Krolikowski: Yeah. If you're going to slip on some ice, you do a saving throw to see, "Did I slip," or "Did I catch myself?"

Deb Polich: I thought you were saving "the throw pillows." So, now I get it. Thank you.

Lana Krolikowski: Yeah!

Throw pillows for cats (Promo photo from the Seattle Times Holiday Gift Guide for Pets)
Saving Throw Pillows
Throw pillows for cats (Promo photo from the Seattle Times Holiday Gift Guide for Pets)

Deb Polich: 89 one WEMU's creative:impact continues with Lana Krolikowski. I'd like to know more about the business. So, you mentioned that you're working out of Makerworks. Tell us about that just really quickly.

Lana Krolikowski: Yeah. Makerworks is a collaborative community workspace. And basically, their goal and their mission as a charity is to give people access to tools that they might necessarily have access or be able to afford on their own. They have a full wood shop, metal shop, a creative space where they have lasers and embroidery machines, an electronics studio. So, you can do custom circuit boards and a jewelry studio, as well as meeting spaces and offices. And I have an office out of there.

Deb Polich: Okay.

Lana Krolikowski: And then, they have an amazing selection of tools, and it's awesome. I can't speak highly enough of that.

Deb Polich: Well, we've had them on the show. Are you doing this all on your own, or do you have others that help you?

Lana Krolikowski: So, my mom is pretty involved. She runs all of the embroidery files. That was her post-retirement investment in herself. And then, I have some people that I met through Makerworks that I do contracting to help me with, like finishing things or help me at shows, because it can be a lot to be in person and talking about yourself for two, three or four days--ten, 12 hour days. And so, it's always helpful to have somebody else to express the excitement you have for the games we play.

Deb Polich: Sure, sure. And we talked about the conventions, but are you also selling in other ways?

Lana Krolikowski: Yeah. So, I do obviously Etsy for the eyeballs. But I also have my own website, which is savingthrowpillows.com, where you'll find pillows and the ability to do customization of pillows. So, you can make it match up with whatever works for you, your couch, your lifestyle. We have a lot of various options that way. That's also where I have a lot of the boxes. Because, with woodworking, everything's very unique. So, you want to be able to show off the things individually.

Throw Pillows you can really throw.
Saving Throw Pillows
Throw Pillows you can really throw.

Deb Polich: Got it. Got it. Got it. So, I mentioned your alter ego. Now, I didn't claim that you had it. You claim it on your promotional materials. Tell us about that side of yourself--your other side.

Lana Krolikowski: Yeah. So, I'm also a user experience researcher. It's Owens Corning down in Toledo. And I love it because it's another way for me to get to talk to people and figure out what makes things work for them, which, I think, has really influenced how I approach my business is doing a lot of prototyping, doing a lot of talking to people, showing them things, seeing their reaction, seeing what works when they're actually, maybe at a tabletop or what works in terms of sizing. And I love that my two passions get to overlap in those ways.

Deb Polich: So, it sounds like both of your egos get along just fine.

Lana Krolikowski: Yeah. It helps that I'm a very talkative person. And so, both my dogs let me talk a lot. And I love it!

Deb Polich: That's great. So, is it such a thing as having a favorite character in these games? And if you do have a favorite character, what is that?

Lana Krolikowski: So, I would say I probably have a favorite class, which is like the type of character you play, and that would be druid 100%. I love the fact that you can wild shape into other creatures. I love the connection to nature, and it's just my favorite.

Deb Polich: And the people who are now being introduced to gaming, I have to think that this whole chance thing that you talked about actually builds skills that help us through life. Am I right? Am I accurate at that?

Lana Krolikowski: Absolutely, when I do shows, I call it like tabletop proselytizing in some ways because a lot of people are like, "Oh, my kids are really interested in it." And I'm like, "It is amazing for letting you try out social situations in a low impact way." So you're playing a game with your friends. So, if you mess up something like it's not the worst. And you can see how people react to certain things that you say in a way that's not as maybe, like, big world impactful, and you just get to be a little bit playful in a way that doesn't have as many social--

Deb Polich: Repercussions?

Lana Krolikowski: Thank you. Yes.

Deb Polich: Yeah. So, you get to try stuff on, and I suppose to some extent, try out another alter ego.

Lana Krolikowski: Be a different person and try something else out.

Midwestern Nonsense on stickers
Saving Throw Pillows
Midwestern Nonsense on stickers

Deb Polich: Well, Lana, it's been a blast meeting all of you. Thanks for being on the show!

Lana Krolikowski: Thank you so much!

Deb Polich: Lana Krolikowski is the founder of Saving Throw Pillows, a specialty, soft goods store serving the tabletop role playing market. Find out more about all the sides to Lana and her company at wemu.org. You've been listening to creative:impact. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host. Mat Hopson is our producer. Please join us every Tuesday to meet the people who make Washtenaw creative. This is 89 one WEMU Ypsilanti. Public radio from Eastern Michigan University.

If you'd like to a guest on creative:impact, email Deb Polich at deb.polich@creativewashtenaw.org.

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Contact WEMU News at 734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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