Jon Kolko is Vice President of Consumer Design at Blackboard
Jon joined Blackboard with the acquisition of MyEdu, a startup focused on helping students succeed in college and get jobs. Jon is also the Founder and Director of Austin Center for Design. His work focuses on bringing the power of design to social enterprises, with an emphasis on entrepreneurship. He has worked extensively with both startups and Fortune 500 companies, and he's most interested in humanising educational technology.
Jon has previously held positions of Executive Director of Design Strategy at Thinktiv, a venture accelerator in Austin, Texas, and both Principal Designer and Associate Creative Director at frog design, a global innovation firm. He has been a Professor of Interaction and Industrial Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where he was instrumental in building both the Interaction and Industrial Design undergraduate and graduate programs. Jon has also held the role of Director for the Interaction Design Association (IxDA), and Editor-in-Chief of interactions magazine, published by the ACM. He is regularly asked to participate in high-profile conferences and judged design events, including the 2013 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Awards. He has taught at the University of Texas at Austin, the Center for Design Studies of Monterrey, in Mexico, and Malmö University, in Sweden.
Jon is the author of three books: Thoughts on Interaction Design, published by Morgan Kaufmann, Exposing the Magic of Design: A Practitioner's Guide to the Methods and Theory of Synthesis, published by Oxford University Press, and Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving, published by Austin Center for Design. His fourth book, Well Designed: How to use Empathy to Create Products People Love will be published by Harvard Business Review Press in November, 2014.
We have to admit to having a bit of an intellectual crush on Jon, having walked away from many of his talks with our minds blown and in need of a nice cup of tea and a sit down. However it was the deafening applause he got after his IA Summit talk on the subject of product design that made us realise we needed to invite him back to UX London again this year.
Most companies consider strong product management to be the “glue” that holds together products as they are being conceived of and built, and most companies treat product management as either a marketing or an engineering activity. But modern startups like Airbnb and large corporations like JetBlue or Starbucks have proven that industry disruption is possible not by focusing on adding features or just improving sales, but instead by focusing on providing deep, meaningful engagement to the people that use the products or services. This engagement is achieved by designing products that seem as though they have a personality, or even a soul. These products feel less like manufactured artefacts and more like good friends.
Design doesn’t refer only to aesthetics or usability, although these are things consumers are most likely to notice or appreciate. Design is both a noun and a verb. It can mean the visual or tactical quality of a product, as well as the process by which products are conceived. Design is a more comprehensive way of thinking about people and human behaviour than engineering or marketing. It is a product development process that uses empathy with a community of potential consumers in order to identify problems to solve. Design leverages a certain way of thinking in order to infer solutions to those problems that will have meaningful emotional appeal, and a strong market fit.
In this talk, you’ll learn how to apply that process yourself using these four steps:
- Identify product/market fit, by seeking signals from communities of users
- Identify behavioural insights, by conducting ethnographic research
- Sketch a product strategy, by synthesising complex research data into simple insights
- Define the product details, using visual representations to simplify complex ideas
Product Management is the glue holding together products and services as they are being conceived of and built. Until now, product management was generally an engineering activity or a marketing role in a large corporation. In marketing, product management was called brand management and was heavily influenced by what competitors were doing. Brand managers studied massive amounts of quantitative pricing, sales, and trend data in order to make small shifts to soft goods or consumables. Their impact was derived from maximising value from small market positioning shifts. In more engineering-centric corporations, like big software companies, product managers learned to gather requirements from stakeholders, mix them together into a series of features, and work with developers to launch software. Their role was heavily focused on developing software with a large breadth of features and functions that could be viewed as competitive.
But modern startups have proven that industry disruption is possible by focusing not on adding features or improving sales, but on providing deep, meaningful engagement to the people that use their products or services. This engagement is achieved by delivering simple products that have a soul: the products feel less like manufactured artifacts and more like good friends.
Achieving this type of emotional engagement is often considered a black art. But for social communities like Etsy or physical products like Nest Thermostat, product management is a competency rooted in the field of design. Design doesn’t refer only to aesthetics or usability, although those are things consumers are most likely to see or appreciate. It is a more comprehensive way of thinking about people and human behaviour, and it is a product development process that features empathy with a community of potential consumers in order to identify problems to solve. This process leverages pattern matching in order to “infer” solutions to those problems that will have meaningful emotional appeal. Designer and consultant Jon Kolko has been engaged in this process of design for over 15 years, and has perfected a repeatable, teachable set of steps for identifying lucrative opportunities, designing for innovation, and producing products that have deep, meaningful emotional engagement.
Workshop attendees will learn how to use a process of design thinking to develop their own engaging products. Also:
- That empathy is the key to building meaningful products, and empathy can be taught and learned
- How to work through the complexity of human and qualitative research in order to arrive at the simplicity of a new offering
- That a product’s personality – which is critical to its success – can be established through a rigorous process of ideation
- How to sketch visual representations that help communicate a vision of the future to a small team of cofounders or a large group of stakeholders
- Adam Connor
- Andrew Pairman
- Angel Anderson
- Anthony Mann
- Brad Frost
- Cecilia Weckstrom
- Chris Noessel
- Cyd Harrell
- Danny Bluestone
- Des Traynor
- Google UX Mentors
- Jeff Patton
- Jenna Marino
- John Willshire
- Jon Kolko
- Julie Zhuo
- Karen McGrane
- Kim Goodwin
- Meng To
- Patrick Haney
- Rachel Hinman
- Sophie Dennis
- Stephen Anderson
- Steve Cable
- Tom Coates