Recent Writing

Published in Interactions Magazine

There are two paths of design, diverging. There are people and firms practicing design thinking by making things, driven by practitioners aware of the history of making things and skilled in the craft of making things. And then there are people and firms practicing design thinking by, well, thinking about things. The difference is profound.

Recent Presentations

.pdf of presentation at IxDA 2019.



I'm the Chief Operating Officer, and Partner, at Modernist Studio. Modernist is a strategy and innovation company; we help our clients build a design strategy and launch great new products and services.

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I founded Austin Center for Design, a design school in Austin, Texas, in 2009. At AC4D, we teach autonomy through design.

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Selected Writing


Jony Ive and the Myth that Only Certain People Can Design In a new window...Published in Harvard Business Review Blog, July 1, 2019

The Failure of Fast Education In a new window...Published in EdSurge, June 2, 2019


The Divisiveness of Design ThinkingPublished in Interactions Magazine, May-June, 2018

Want To Build A Culture Of Innovation? Master The Design CritiquePublished in Fast Company, January 1, 2018

How I Teach

How I TeachJanuary 15, 2018


The Simple Idea That Drives Creativity At Amazon, Airbnb, And Dell: Think Small.Published in Fast Company, November 14, 2017

Creative Clarity

Creative ClaritySeptember 15, 2017


Strategic PatternsOctober 30, 2016

The Problem of Bolt-On Acquisitions in a Digital WorldPublished in Harvard Business Review, July 5, 2016

Simplicity on the other side of complexityJanuary 11, 2016


Look, I Made a Thing: Confidence in Making
December 18, 2015

Moving on from RequirementsPublished in interactions magazine, November 1, 2015

Design Thinking Comes of Age In a new window...Published in Harvard Business Review, September 2015

Learning the Long, Hard Slog of ProcessPublished in interactions magazine, July 1, 2015

Lean Doesn’t Always Create the Best ProductsPublished in Harvard Business Review, May 14, 2015

A Process for Empathetic Product DesignPublished in Harvard Business Review, Apr 23, 2015

Teaching a Confidence in ProcessPublished in interactions magazine, March 1, 2015

Make Enterprise Software People Actually LovePublished in Harvard Business Review, Feb 12, 2015

Dysfunctional Products Come from Dysfunctional OrganizationsPublished in Harvard Business Review, Jan 21, 2015


Why I Teach TheoryPublished in interactions magazine, November/December, 2014

Why Investment in Design is the Only Way to "Win" in EducationPublished in UX Magazine, September, 2014

Running an Entrepreneurial Pilot to Identify ValuePublished in interactions magazine, July/August, 2014

Learning Entrepreneurial HustlePublished in interactions magazine, March/April, 2014


Stop Chasing Scale in Higher EducationDecember, 2013

From Interaction Designer to Product ManagerPublished in interactions magazine, November/December, 2013

ManipulationPublished in UX Magazine, July 23, 2013

The Optimism of DesignPublished in interactions magazine, July/August, 2013

The Academic Journey: Beyond MOOCSPublished in The Huffington Post, May 16th, 2013

Now Hiring: The Most Liberal ArtPublished in The Huffington Post, January 7th, 2013

Trusting the Design Process Published in interactions magazine, March/April, 2013


Transformative Learning in the Design StudioPublished in interactions magazine, November/December, 2012

Design, in the Big and SmallPublished in interactions magazine, July/August, 2012

Changing the Career Outcomes of Design EducationPublished in interactions magazine, March/April, 2012


Heart Of DarknessPublished in core77, November 8, 2011

CraftsmanshipPublished in interactions magazine, November/December, 2011

Stupid, Stupid ClientPublished in UX Magazine, August, 2011

The Conflicting Rhetoric of Design EducationPublished in interactions magazine, July/August, 2011

Endless Nights - Learning from Design Studio CritiquePublished in interactions magazine, March/April, 2011

How Do You Transform Good Research Into Great Innovations?Published in Fast Company, January 12, 2011

Cultural Values That Will Make Your Office an Idea Factory
Part 2 of 3: A description of the cultural values that support synthesis.Published in Fast Company, January 19, 2011

When Trying to Invent, Being Objective Can Cripple Your ProcessPublished in Fast Company, January 27, 2011

Unveiling the Magic of Design In a new window...Published in Rotman Magazine, Winter, 2011.


On Academic Knowledge ProductionPublished in interactions magazine, September, 2010.

On EducationPublished in interactions magazine, July, 2010.

Jon Kolko On Design That Changes Human BehaviorInterview in Forbes, June, 2010

On Language and PotentialPublished in interactions magazine, May, 2010.

Sensemaking and Framing: A Theoretical Reflection on Perspective in Design SynthesisPublished in 2010 Design Research Society conference proceedings.

Designing in the Face of Change: The Elusive Push Towards Emotionally Resonant Experiences In a new window...Published in The New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia, published by Taylor and Francis.

Abductive Thinking and Sensemaking: The Drivers of Design SynthesisPublished in MIT's Design Issues, 26:1, Winter 2010.


The Authenticity ProblemPublished in interactions magazine, November/December, 2009.

On Hopelessness and HopePublished in interactions magazine, July, 2009.

Our Misguided Focus on Brand and User ExperiencePublished on Johnny Holland, December 1st, 2009.


The Tenuous Relationship Between Design and InnovationPublished in Artifact Magazine, Volume 1, issue 3.

Information Architecture and Design Strategy: The Importance of Synthesis during the Process of Design.Published in the IDSA 2007 Conference.

Information Architecture: Synthesis Techniques for the Muddy Middle of the Design ProcessPublished in the 23rd International Conference on the Beginning Design Student.


Design as Communication: The Increasing Case for Literacy in AcademiaPublished in the IDSA 2005 Conference.

New Techniques in Industrial Design EducationPublished in the 6th International Conference of the European Academy of Design.

TRIBA: A Cable Television Retrieval and Awareness System In a new window...Published in the 2005 Computer/Human Interaction Conference proceedings.


Mixing Disciplines in Anticipation of Convergence: A Curriculum for Teaching Interaction Design to Industrial DesignersPublished in Interactions Magazine.


User-Driven Brand Design : Establishing a Convergent Brand ExperiencePublished in Tweak, Q4/03.

Selected Blog Posts

I blog at Modernist Studio and somewhat irregularly at Austin Center for Design.

Jan 7, 2019 A Strategic Storytelling Tutorial In a new window...
Stories can make or break a design strategy. Streamlining the mechanics of storytelling makes it easy to focus on the art and craft of narrative...

June 18, 2018 Design Is A Mess. In a new window...
Design is muddy and frustrating and wonderful...

May 28, 2018 Enough Design Methods In a new window...
A method is a way to do something. It’s standardized: it’s repeatable, structured, and systematic. And methods run counter to the ethos of creativity, the magic of making something from nothing...

April 30, 2018 Making Big, Bold Assertions to Drive Design Strategy In a new window...
Design strategy is built on assertion. On the way to a great design strategy is the creation of a series of value assertions: driving statements that guide creative exploration and describe our commitment to our customers...

April 23, 2018 How Does a Design Strategist Think? In a new window...
Some forms of design are easy to judge. I can look at a website, judge the aesthetics of the site, and then form an opinion about it (and I can also judge the talent of the team that worked on it)...

April 16, 2018 The Rise (And Fall?) of Corporate Design Education In a new window...
Corporate design education is saturated. Some of these take the form of workshops and training in-house, often led by consultancies, while others are bootcamps that are separate from companies but funded by corporate training dollars...

April 9, 2018 The Power of a Story In a new window...
We all know it’s important to be “user centered.” When we move pixels around and build flows and put pieces and parts together, we’re in the pragmatics of building and shipping products and user-centeredness is clear. But what about strategy – how do we put people at the center of a design strategy?

April 1, 2018 A Key to Growth: Do Something You Suck At In a new window...
Late last year, I hit a big wall. I ran out of steam and became complacent. I didn’t push my professional work – I made things that weren’t very good. I didn’t try. I was in a funk...

Jan 6, 2013 Designer as Product Owner In a new window...
There's a creature in software companies called the "product manager" (almost always referred to as the "product guy", hammering home the unfortunate fact that nearly all software companies are full of men. For fun, I'll switch it 'round for the remainder of this post.) The product gal has a strange role, in that her focus is on product-market-fit...

June 26, 2012 Code Is Material: Why Designers Must Learn To Code In a new window...
It would seem obvious and non-contentious to say that if you are crafting a digital product, you should know how to code. It is neither obvious nor non-contentious...

April 30, 2012 Do You Want Critique, Or A Hug? How to Gain Valuable Criticism On Your Design In a new window...
One of the most fundamental parts of the process of design is the critique, a formal opportunity for the designer to receive feedback from a group of people. There's a lack of good literature on critique, although there are a few notable exceptions, and so for most, critique remains a mysterious tool...

April 15, 2012 It's Hard, And I'm Just Not Passionate About It In a new window...
Words that make me cringe. I get frustrated and annoyed with things just like anyone else, but I've never felt the sentiment of these sentences - yet I've heard them from entrepreneurs looking to start their own companies, from consultants working on projects, and from people trying their best to orbit the giant hairball that is a Fortune company...

April 4, 2012 Thoughts On Design Portfolios In a new window...
Designers are typically judged based on their portfolio of work. When I worked at frog, I encountered lots of unsolicited portfolios. The sad reality of sending a portfolio to a consultancy is that your chances of getting a job are a weighted dice roll, based on a mixture of extremely fast first impressions, serendipitous timing, and who you know...

Mar 3, 2012 How To Start A School In 10 "Easy" Steps In a new window...
When I describe what I'm doing at Austin Center for Design, the common reaction is, "You started a school? How do you do that?" I'm not exactly sure, honestly, because the process only seems logical in retrospect: I sort of made it up as I went along. However, I thought it might be informative to describe the steps I went through in a purely mechanical manner...

Mar 21, 2011 Bootstrapped Publishing - DIY FTW In a new window...
I've had a few different publishing experiences. I've published a book entirely by myself, I've worked with a large-scale publisher (owned by one of the Big Houses—Elsevier), and I've worked with a traditional and respected academic press (Oxford University Press). Here's what you can expect from a DIY approach...


Online Courses

I've offered a few of my courses online. Before you take them, you might consider reading this post that describes my skepticism with online learning, or this post that describes how Udemy is an emperor with no clothes.

Methods of Design Synthesis: Research to Product Innovation

An Introduction to Design as a Process for Innovation

Product Management: Building Great Products

Service Design: Designing for Experience Over Time