Accepting applications for the class of 2018-2019 now!

Austin Center for Design is now accepting applications for the class of 2018-2019. Admission details can be found here. Application deadline is January 15, 2018.

For those who are hearing about us for the first time, you can learn about our curriculum, type of student projects, and what our alumni are up to after graduation – Check out this three-min video about us! There’s also an entire book about the designerly approach to wicked problems you can read online for free.

Can I experience what it’s actually like in-person?

There are three ways to join us in person to learn about our pedagogy and approach:

  1. We will be hosting our annual Design for Impact Bootcamp on October 21, 2017, on our campus. This one-day workshop is the very best way to experience our curriculum and determine if it’s the right fit for you.
  2. If you can’t make it to the Bootcamp, you can find us during Austin Startup Week and Austin Design Week. Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest updates.
  3. You’re welcome to sit in on classes anytime you’d like. They run every Monday to Thursday from 7pm-9:30pm, and Saturday from 9am-3pm. Reach out to admissions@ac4d.com to set up a visit.

Can I speak to the alumni to find out more about their experiences?

You bet! You should also know that they all love talking about Austin Center for Design – so be prepared. They have recorded a couple Q&A videos for you to watch (here and here). If you prefer to read, they share their journeys pre- and post-ac4d in these interviews. You can also find all of them here and reach out directly, if you wish!

How do I follow along to get a glimpse of what life is like as a student?

We regularly post to Instagram, share happenings in the space of design and social impact on Twitter, and live stream our students’ presentations on Facebook. Our students also post their assignments and reflections on the ac4d blog.

What else do I need to know?

Even though the application isn’t officially due until January, we highly encourage anyone considering applying to reach out to admissions@ac4d.com. We want to get to know you!

A New Chapter

I’m excited to share that I am starting as the new director at Austin Center for Design. Jon Kolko, the founder of the school, will be transitioning into an advisor role and remains as core faculty. I know many people will wonder what this means for the school, so I hope to take a moment today to share some thoughts.

I was part of the AC4D’s inaugural class of ten students back in 2010. I was drawn to the school’s immersive approach, entrepreneurial spirit, and its opinionated focus on working on problems that matter. The inaugural class acted as co-founders of the school. We shaped the curriculum for future years, and charted new territories with the career paths we each took on after the program.

My own personal journey since graduation involved building two startups from the ground up. I co-founded HourSchool, an education platform where anyone can take or teach a class, inspired from the research we did with the homeless population during AC4D. It was bootstrapped and scrappy. I learned to code, grow a team and market with very little budget. A few years later, I moved on to join Aunt Bertha, a search and referral platform for social services. I helped grow that company from 4 people to 40 people through 2 rounds of funding, built and led multiple departments, and our product has touched the lives of over 300,000 people to date. As I began teaching at AC4D in the last couple of years, I had to reflect on my own experiences in order to share the lessons learned with my students. Those experiences – taking something to scale, relentlessly iterating and executing, while convincing others to join my mission – are also what I hope to bring to my new role at AC4D.

Jon and many faculty members have built an incredibly strong foundation: an education pedagogy that embraces empathy, prototyping, and abductive logic; that stands upon a foundation of solving problems worth solving. The program features small class sizes, affordability, and access to world-class working design practitioners. The faculty instills in our students a culture of rigor and constant iterations. Their success is reflected in the AC4D alumni’s career paths, happiness, and salary. As I take over the director position, the lofty vision that the school was founded on remains unchanged: to transform society through design and design education. My job is to build upon the foundation Jon and others have created.

I have spent many hours chatting with alumni and faculty as they reflected on their experiences. I have also talked to people in the industry to understand what they are demanding from new designers. With these findings and together with AC4D’s theory of change, I believe the following are the biggest opportunities to extend the impact of our school:

1) Design Jobs in the Public Sector: When the school first started, design jobs in the public sector were rare, at least in the United States. Designers who want to work on social issues had to venture out on their own, or resorted to working for Fortune 500 to make a living. We had supply, but not a lot of demand. In recent years though, more and more progressive organizations have been joining forces and started to invest heavily in the role of design when considering how they deliver services to their constituents. AC4D is in a great position to work directly with governments and foundations to tackle the challenges they face, through our students’ studio projects, fellowship placements after graduation, and other consultative engagements to support capacity-building initiatives within these institutions. This will ultimately lead to more design job opportunities in the public sector. My vision is to see design positions proliferate through every department of our government and a Chief Design Officer at every institution that is working towards the public good.

2) Support our Social Entrepreneurs: A focus on social entrepreneurship has always been with us from the start. When our students graduate and decide to venture out on their own, like most entrepreneurs, they have to be scrappy and lean. Anyone who has started their own business before would know that the runway doesn’t last forever and often times, it’s a race against time. AC4D will continue to build partnerships that help our students take their ideas further, faster: working with coding academies to get concepts off the ground, piloting minimal viable products with schools and clinics, or collaborating with data scientists and policy makers to inform go-to-market strategies.

3) Growth and Sustainability: This transition also marks a good time to evaluate our internal operations. Creating a diverse funding strategy, building a team of staff, and providing more formal support for students, such as financial aid, are all natural progressions as the school heads into the new decade. This is also important to ensure that our education remains affordable and accessible, for people from all walks of life who aspire to use the power of design to address the wicked problems we face today.

People have asked what my motivation is to taking on this role. My answer is a simple one: AC4D changed my life, and I have witnessed it changed many others who went through the program. I’m excited and honored to be part of the journey of our future students. Here’s to a new chapter and all the new possibilities it will lead us.

Thanks,
Ruby

Passing the torch

It’s with pride that I announce the new Director of Austin Center for Design, Ruby Ku. Ruby is an alumni of Austin Center for Design’s first graduating class. She has held roles of Interaction Designer at Thinktiv, Co-Founder of HourSchool, and VP of Product at Aunt Bertha. She has been a teacher and mentor here at AC4D, and now, she’ll take over setting the vision for the school as well as running the day to day operations. As Ruby takes over, I’ll be stepping down as Director, but will continue to act as an advisor, and to teach at Austin Center for Design.

When I reflect on my teaching and my experiences at AC4D over the last few years, here are some of the highlights that I am proud of.

Together with several of my friends and colleagues, we started Austin Center for Design in 2010. We managed to secure a building for the low cost of $0 (thanks Thinktiv), attract 10 amazing students who made a huge leap of faith to engage in a new program, and recruit exceptional faculty to help teach these students. We worked through the painful legal logistics of running a school, and while we were overwhelmed with the experience, we were blown away by the outcome. The inaugural class was scrappy and lean, and we’ve retained that sense of speed in our curriculum development and program changes. We’ve also retained a focus on social entrepreneurship that’s been with us from the start. We found a large and passionate community of people interested in learning and helping out. We experienced the pains of a startup, and as a result, we were able to empathize with our students who simultaneously pursued their own entrepreneurial journey.

Over time, we outgrew our space and secured a new facility. In this space, our program evolved to focus more explicitly on the relationship between social entrepreneurship and interaction design. Students learned competencies in designing for behavior change, and learned theory and method that would help them take on the complexity of social problems. They explored service design, design theory, entrepreneurial practice, ethics of design, and the craft of making. These early students helped us iterate through our course content, and set a precedent for our reinvention of our curriculum each year. And these early students are now in positions of management and influence at consultancies and corporations, making broad change.

In 2013, as we arrived at a permamant home, we grew into a much more refined and professionally active organization. Over the course of the next four years, we:

Finally, I’m extraordinarily proud of all our 52 alumni have accomplished. They have started companies, like HourSchool, Girls Guild, and Love Intently; they have joined socially minded companies, like Aunt Bertha and The Australian Centre for Social Innovation; they’ve contributed to civic engagement by joining the City of Austin’s innovation initiatives; and they’ve developed a strong presence at leading corporations like GoogleX, HP and IBM, and at leading consultancies like Chaotic Moon and frog design. 93% of our alumni are professionally employed in design related careers, where their mean salary is $99,195. 86% of our alumni are happy in their roles, and they report being challenged, fulfilled, and empowered. In a word, our alumni are autonomous: they are each setting a career and personal path, and achieving what they desire. Most importantly, our alumni remain connected to one-another as a community – the AC4D student alumni community is one of the most caring and supportive that I’ve ever seen.

As I reflect on my experience, I feel very lucky to be surrounded by supporters, and very proud of all we’ve achieved. Thank you to this community of friends, alumni, and my parents in helping shape my vision for Austin Center for Design, and supporting the school. Ruby will begin the next chapter of AC4D with a great network of support, and she needs no wish of good luck – I know she’ll do great.

Thanks,
Jon

Announcing our 2016 Design For Impact Workshop

Austin Center for Design is pleased to announce and host our 7th annual Design For Impact Workshop on March 5th, 2016.

This one-day workshop will teach you how to design for impact—how to use the design process to focus on big social problems, like homelessness and poverty or our broken education system. This design process includes ethnographic immersive research, synthesis, and rapid ideation. These are all skills used by practicing designers in their day to day jobs; in this workshop, we’ll use those same skills in the context of Wicked Problems.

This all-day workshop is held on Saturday, March 5th, 2016, from 9am – 4pm, at AC4D. Learn more about the event here, or sign up here – there are a limited number of seats, and we sell out quickly each year.

Iterations & Ideals

I want to introduce you to a story of the last 24 weeks of my life, introduce you to the individuals that I have met along the way, show you the places I have visited and how I learned the most powerful lesson of the entire year was the power of THE story and the ability and genuine curiosity and bravery to ask each individual tell me their story… to please keep talking. 

My focus was initially on the dealing with the issues surrounding healthcare, but through contextual inquiry found that access and the stigma surrounding mental healthcare was a much bigger problem, as it has been defunded completely by the government and left to individual philanthropist and donors to open facilities to help those who actually need help. 

I found AC4D as my opportunity put something good out into the world. My final product was inspired and dedicate to my father, whom I had barely a relationship with at all really. My father suffered from a depression that I don’t think anyone could understand, was truly stubborn, and never received any help for his condition. 

Looking back and having conversations with my mother I realized as an adult things that I completely did not acknowledge or understand as a child. How does an impoverished family of 5 living in a town of around 1000 people located 60 miles to the nearest hospital where you can birth a child deal with healthcare, let alone mental healthcare? 

That was the question and I went to find the answer. I initially went back to my hometown to do some detective work on the issues surrounding mental health in rural text. The last 24 weeks I’ve been interviewing, researching, building and creating life long friendships all with the purpose to create a “thing” that would help low income or non insured individuals living in extreme rural areas. My product first and foremost had to not rely on any individuals personal access to technology. Then meet the design insights and pillars I had established from my research. 

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When it was time to begin actually producing a thing, I knew it would be a “journey kit’  of sorts that included both stories from individuals dealing with similar situations living with a mental illness, as well as a 2 week starter pill pack or holder. 

In interaction design iteration is the heart of everything you do. You create, test your creation, then iterate on the feedback to make it better. 

Do date my product has gone through I believe 6 iterations now. 4 of which I prototyped out

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Placing all these iterations against my design pillars and user testing responses, I found that the power of the human story plus a plan of attack for medication regimen would be the most effective tool. But something that is very easy to understand, inexpensive to produce, familiar enough to not be foreign or strange but interesting enough to insight curiosity and interaction.

My thoughts went back to one of my home interviews where this woman had 3 separate pill boxes, the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday types, and in a brain storming session one of professors threw out an idea – what if it’s a dip can and eureka. I could craft a round pill box  that includes a small mp3 player in the center with headphones.

Each time the “wheel” is turned exposing the medication, the user can put on the headphones and press play to hear the story that identifies with that days progression in the 2 week cycle.

Click to watch animation and hear sample audio

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I tried to stay true to my design pillars, and to the core values that I tried to keep true to. My idea is that these would be distributed to MHMR centers, the centers that give psychiatric council and prescribe medication to individuals who are on medicare, medicaid or no insurance at all. 

I stayed silent to long in dealing with facing the difficult issues surrounding a low income family members mental health, so hopefully going forward my product may inspire behavior change to even the most stubborn individual. 

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The Final Presentation.

AC4D set up the final presentation as a sort of museum situation where the public was invited and it was an interactive experience where people could see your entire process from start to finish.

My station included my research, my insights, my design pillars, ALL my prototype iterations. And the actual final functioning prototype, as well as a listening station where people could hear various short stories that went along with the program.

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About being human…

This week is winding down. There has been, on my end, a lot of interaction with new technologies which I thought I could find some clarity in what I am trying to do. To bring the compassion of group therapy, through a vocal documentation of real people going through symptoms that the user of the book I am making may be going through. Things like introduction to taking medication, side-effects, stigma, and making it through the though times.

In my case, I just want to bring the feeling that mental illness is not uncommon, or weird to those who, say in rural west Texas.

So I did A LOT  of user testing this week. Hacking a Hallmark “talk to me book” was actually a good idea. My users loved it. I loved i, well I hated it and loved it. It served as a good testing tool in bringing the stories of a real humans, with their real voices, inflections, stutterers, all somehow making this thing, this book thing, like a token. Like a virtual companion. It was like turning the pages to different bits and pieces of information told from someone who is not you, but still is like you.

The addition of the human voice makes it for some reason somewhat more real. Yes there will always be a stigma around being open and honest about mental health, that may never change,  but hopefully this will help, one person seeking help for them self to get through that day, a little easier. Bringing the patient self contained technology and not relying on wifi or cell phones is both genius and problematic. You have to look at it from both sides. There is a lot of potential for technical difficulties. But this week is all about the content.

The second part is the medication regimen, this to my advantage had been just a part of everyone that I have user tested lives. From last week you know that the carrot to keeping to the regime is by taking the pill out of the container it is in the user get access to hear the voices talking about the subject that page is addressing.

I am currently working on the content, the layout, the design that make the most sense to the audience I am trying to reach,  and doing user testing along the way.

I am focussing on a 14 day program, focusing on the major pain points of a 2 week program on a new medication.

1. An introduction to the program, and an indication of how the program works, and an introduction to the “cast of characters” that the user will be hearing throughout the journey.

Here are some quick sketches, of Please, Keep Talking.

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These are very rough, as I said more clarity tomorrow. I can say this however, what has resonated as a means to mundane user testing vocabulary has almost captured the essence in which I am trying to give an bring to those who feel they are weird or alone in a vast being of scarceness and isolation to which on occasion I can totally identify with. The next step is to get into illustrator yet, I need to do more sketching I know.

 

Policy Design: Creating Value, Getting Results

Next week’s Speaker Series features Leah Bojo speaking about “Policy Design: Creating Value, Getting Results”.

Leah, policy aide to Council Member Chris Riley, spends a lot of time thinking about how to implement innovative solutions around issues such as transportation, land-use and public space. By explaining the mechanisms by which the City of Austin governs itself, she is going to elucidate why some technology platforms thrive in Austin and why, for example, the car sharing service Uber remains prohibited by law.

Come learn about the City of Austin’s Comprehensive Plan, the “Vision” and the “Code”. Walk away with a better understanding of how to influence local policy to support and implement the innovations you think will make the city a better place to live.

Wednesday, April 9th. 6pm. Tickets are available here.

 

Design for Impact Bootcamp – Dates Announced

We’re pleased to announce the dates and availability for the AC4D Design for Impact Bootcamp: March 8th, and March 23rd. Now in our fifth year, this event introduces the ideas and methods we teach at AC4D, in a single (but intense) day of workshops. We sell out each year, so if you are interested in learning more about our program and method, please join us!

Visit http://ac4d.com/bootcamp/ for more information and to sign up; hope to see you there.

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Quarter Two in Review: Research into Wicked Problems

On Saturday, December 21st, students at Austin Center for Design presented the results of their 8-week research inquiry into a large, systemic social problem. Students explored topics like disaster relief, teenage pregnancy, health records, and gender identity and safety, and presented their work in an open forum to the Austin community. You can learn more about their progress below.

James Lewis, Meghan Corbett and Anna Krachey have been doing design research around pregnancy and child birth decisions. Their research led them to speak with expectant mothers, public health workers, doulas, and social workers, and they identified three core insights that can drive their further ideation and exploration. One of their insights was “taking care of a baby gives teen moms a sense of purpose and motivates them to take care of themselves.” This idea then led to the idea of “Daddy Doula” – a service that would help “fathers become more informed of the physical and emotional challenges of birth that their partner endures and learn how they can best support and assist them during labor. Teen fathers would then be empowered to take an active, supportive role in the birth of their child.” You can learn more about this idea – and others from this team – here.

Chelsea Hostetter and Alex Wykoff have been investigating the process of gender identity, and safety, for those going through gender variant transitions. Their research has identified heart-breaking stories – and opportunity for design-led change – and as a result of their synthesis process, the team developed over 300 divergent ideas of ways to help a community in need.

One of their ideas – Pickle – is “underwear exclusively for trans-men”, while another – Find a Family – is “a location-based app that allows open-minded families and individuals who have an extra seat at the table for holidays to invite others to participate in their holiday. The app connects people based on their location and interests, and facilitates a conversation that develops into a connection over the holidays.” You can learn more about their process here.

Kurt Hanley is exploring how a city, and community, responds to a disaster to provide relief and support. During his exploration, Kurt engaged with the Red Cross, with first responders, and with those who have been displaced by the recent floods in Onion Creek. He identified a number of socioeconomic inequalities and inefficiencies, and has begun to develop a hypothesis about how to better support those in need. You can read more about this hypothesis – often called a theory of change – in his recent post, here.

Scott Gerlach, Bhavini Patel, and Jacob Rader have been immersed in the chaos that is our health record system. The team spent time with hospitals and clinics, with health providers and the recipients of care, and with the impoverished and homeless; they acquired an understanding of the challenges faced by the healthcare system, and gained empathy with the various constituents in this complex system. Through sensemaking, the team arrived at a place advocating for holistic care and patient control, and will then carry this idea framework forward during ideation and design development. You can learn more about their work here.

Next quarter, these students will further ideate and begin to iteratively develop systems, products, and services that can offer social and cultural value.