Jon Kolko’s career in design started with a secret desire to create CD covers. Jon went to school for industrial design where he learned about computer interaction, psychology, and computer science and developed a deep interest in interaction design. His career has since evolved working in a software enterprise, several start ups in Austin, TX, teaching and developing design curriculum at Savannah College of Art and Design, and working alongside Fortune 20 companies at Frog Design (Austin). It was these latter two roles that amplified Jon’s interests in academia, design education and the business of design.

Cameron and I first met Jon in April 2011 in Austin, Texas at the Design for Impact Bootcamp. As two curious Canadians with a deep interest in designing for social good and social impact, we signed up for the day-long deep dive. The Bootcamp was just a taste of the programming offered to students at the Austin Centre for Design (AC4D), an educational institution Jon founded in 2010 that brings together design education and business. AC4D uses interaction design and social entrepreneurship as a way to apply business practices to problems with a social or humanitarian bent to them. Throughout the bootcamp, we put this approach to design into action by interviewing people on the streets of Austin, understanding local design problems within the community, creating opportunities for addressing these problems, and finding ways to develop and produce solutions through sustainable business practices. Jon is currently the director of AC4D.

In October 2011, we caught up with Jon once again, this time to interview him for the Project. As an academic and active designer, he shared with us a unique perspective of his learnings from the field. We began by asking Jon to share with us his take on the term, “design thinking”.

Through Jon’s stool analogy, we understand design thinking as being held together by three major principles or ‘legs’: empathy (understanding what its is like to be another person), public prototyping (making things in front of and with other people), and abductive reasoning (moving forward with an incomplete world view but enough to make an informed guess to take action). It is these principles that are taught to AC4D students who are both designers and non-designers alike. As Jon explains, design thinking can perhaps be taught, but may only be relevant to one’s own craft:


Designing with social awareness and responsibility was an important area of discussion with Jon, particularly given the social aims of AC4D. He spoke to this and the lack of dialogue around designing with consequence rather than designing for artefacts:


Jon’s very honest and compelling perspectives on design thinking leave much to consider as one explores not only what design thinking is, but what impact it can have beyond the product that is designed.