Design is a full-bodied discipline, but we’re letting new entrants to the profession only scratch the surface.

When I was an undergrad, I took a class with Randy Pausch called Programming Usable Interfaces. One of the first things he did was give us a free book called Usability Engineering, which reiterated the main theme of the course: that it’s critical to make interfaces that are usable.

At a similar time, I took a class with Dick Buchanan, and one of the first things he did was ask us to reflect on and explain the differences between design and art. 20-something…


From time to time, I like to pretend I’m an academic. After many years as a practicing designer, design researcher, and educator, I’ve seen the importance of integrating academic knowledge into a designer’s practice alongside drawing, building wireframes, and the other tangible skills most utilize daily.

While I’ve taught at four universities, built curricula, and my own school, I think of an academic as someone who spends their time researching, teaching, and guiding, with an end goal of knowledge production and mentorship. But the word “academic” comes with a lot of baggage. For many, that word implies someone whose actions…


There’s no doubt the world feels strange. For years the phrase “flying cars” has been a colloquialism to the impossible future. But now we have drones that can lift massive amounts of weight and algorithms to drive them autonomously—cars that fly pale in comparison to the coming realities of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and space travel. For many of us in technology fields, this is exciting: we grew up watching Blade Runner and reading Snow Crash, and the real world that’s emerging today feels a lot like the magical world that captivated us when we were young.

The realities of…


For most of the history of design, the designer has enjoyed the role of creator and a quality of authorship. A designer makes a thing, and that thing is produced in large quantities, distributing the designer’s vision, ideals, and values — cultural influence — into the world. In fact, these days, a design and its creator’s values can be introduced into the digital world in a day or even an hour. Given the power of designer as author, critique is usually aimed at a product’s characteristics: how it looks, how it provides value, how easy it is to use. Outside…


When I went to graduate school, my professor drilled a simple statement into my head: The user is not like me. This was a reminder that the people we are designing for have different wants, needs, desires, and characteristics than we do.

It doesn’t make sense to base my design decisions solely on what I would like, or what I would do, or what I would buy, because I’m not the one liking it, doing it, or buying it. “The user is not like me” is a simple way of reinforcing the idea of user-centeredness.

At the time, in design…

Jon Kolko

Chief Operating Officer, Modernist Studio

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