Kevin is a strategist, lighting designer, and product manager with an appreciation for the oxford comma. He believes good design rooted in thorough research and synthesis is the key to innovation and successful problem solving. With more questions than answers, Kevin is excited to create insightful solutions with impact. Prior to AC4D, Kevin spent most of his life either in school or working with light. He designs for the stage, and has incorporated haptic technology with user interface design to create the lighting control systems used for Broadway, TV studios, and event venues. When not in the studio he can be found on his bike or exploring Austin’s taquerías. Kevin holds a BSEE from Purdue University and a MBA from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.


Reflections

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Recent Blog Posts

 

BringUp selected for the 2nd round of the $50K Arch Grants Global Startup Competition

Although Will Mederski and I may have been in radio silence around AC4D recently, that doesn’t mean we haven’t continued to work on BringUp.

This past fall we got our software about 2/3rds complete with help from 2 students from MakerSquare. The automated parent signup process now works, and you’re welcome to try it out by texting the number  27  to 512-861-8455.

This winter, we submitted BringUp for the 3rd Annual St. Louis Arch Grants Global Startup Competition (www.archgrants.org) This organization provides $50K grants to about 20 companies willing to relocate their headquarters to the St. Louis area, along with lots of free accounting, marketing and legal assistance. It’s free money, no strings attached. Will and I are proud to announce that BringUp has made it to the 2nd round of the 2014 competition!

The 2nd round is a bit of a lighting round, as we had one week to prepare a 3 minute YouTube video, as well as an additional presentation. Luckily, Will and I were readily prepared from the work we did last year at AC4D. Creating this material on top of SXSW and a bad case of strep-throat was no problem at all. Please check out our video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v25N0fNBCCs

Posted in AC4D In The News, Social Innovation, Startups | Leave a comment

Is the Design Movement Commoditizing Engineers?

Just about every news outlet has written about the importance of Science, Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) education recently. Businesses report that they cannot find enough engineers domestically and advocate for greater STEM education in middle and high schools. Many believe that the US is losing its competitive edge and cite the lack of skilled engineers and scientists. Even President Obama has said that improving STEM education is one of his top priorities.

Beginning a half century ago, scientists and engineers were credited for doing amazing things at the time. They put a man on the moon, invented the pacemaker, and put a calculator in our pockets. Society regarded engineering as a highly respected profession. They were truly changing the world through their own research, hypotheses, and personal competitive motivation. Engineers in a corporation were responsible making products and discovering new applications for technology.

In high school, I enjoyed and excelled in my science and math classes. No one was surprised in 2005 that I graduated college with an engineering degree, much like about 60,000 others in the US. I believe I represented the ideal STEM graduate: I enjoyed math and science at a young age, pushed myself in high school, studied electrical engineering and graduated with an employment offer. On paper, I am part of the solution, but realistically I’m part of the problem. 8 years later I’m not an engineer, and never want to be again. Roughly one half of Americans with engineering degrees do not work as an engineer. If there is such a shortage of engineers, why aren’t these seemingly qualified people taking those jobs?

My short engineering career was spent creating circuits and software to meet the specifications in a product requirement document. I was lucky enough to work in an industry I love, and for an employer which gave me some freedom to visit customers and make product decisions outside of my job description. Unfortunately such freedoms are rare in many companies. Now days, most engineers are kept in offices far away from customers, they work to build the product which the marketers and designers define. I realized this after two years as an engineer, and re-enrolled in school so I could have more influence over product creation and definition.

Marketing departments increasingly carry much of the responsibility to define new products. R&D or more specifically the engineers, who were once the competitive edge and pulse of a company are now just an expense line item on the income statement. (It’s interesting to notice that R&D, Research and Design now refers to technical personnel and expenses, while actual product research and design increasingly happens in the marketing department.)

Design is becoming the new competitive advantage which companies are investing in. My experience here at AC4D has been life changing, and I’m excited to rejoin the workforce as a designer. I’ll get the opportunities to drive change in society, create new products, and apply technology in new way. Oddly, that was the same reason I wanted to be an engineer.

For the past 9 months at AC4D, we learned how to ‘create’ new products and services through generative research, ideation, synthesis and prototyping. But since every designer is not also an electrical, software, industrial and mechanical engineer at the same time, we create product requirement documents, we draft wireframes, and sketch mockups.  We use these artifacts to communicate our intent to someone else with the skills to build make our idea into a reality. (e.g. engineers.)  At AC4D, faculty and a students alike (myself included) will say things like “just find a developer” or “we need a mechanical engineer” in the same way a farmer may say “I need someone to pick these berries” or Apple wants to find the cheapest labor to “just assemble this iPhone.”  Has engineering become a commodity resource?

Within the past few decades America began to outsource labor for textiles, electronics and internal processes among many other things. That’s not surprising as America’s economy is increasingly service based.  Labor and knowledge processes which were once important part of a company became line items on an income statement, just like engineering is now. It’s no surprise that some American companies now either outsource engineering labor, or hire engineers abroad to lower their expenses. If an engineer in the US can follow a specification document or make a webpage look like the wireframe, why can’t an engineer in China or India? Why should a college student in America study a field which is treated as a commodity resource by companies?

To recruit America’s most creative and intelligent students into engineering, we need to redefine engineering as a profession, not push middle school children in to math and science classes. Universities and employers should work together to incorporate design into curriculum and job responsibilities.

Students like myself are attracted to engineering to define and make things, not execute some else’s designs. Let’s add generative research and ideation courses to engineering curriculum and teach engineers how to approach ill-defined problems and service design. Companies should break down the cultural barriers between marketing and engineering. They should include engineers on customer visits, and co-mingle the designers and engineers at the beginning of the new product development cycle. The cultural shift needed to redefine the field of engineering is itself a wicked problem, and I look forward to chipping away at it wherever I may end up next.

Posted in Design Education, Discursive Design, Reflection | Leave a comment

What did you do in school this year?

When you ask an 8 year old “What did you do in school today?” They will invariably answer with “Nothing.”

Ask Will Mederski and me what we did in school, and our answer is “A lot!”

We’ve designed a service to combat “Nothing” and help parents discuss school at home with their kids. Our goal is to extend the classroom experience into the home by giving parents the necessary information to have insightful conversations with their children. Our service, BringUp will automatically send parents a SMS text message each evening with that day’s classroom highlights and talking points. While many other teacher to parent text messaging services are available, BringUp is the only one which allows teachers to input their lesson plans ahead of time and then delivers them when parents are with their children.

While we spent 6 months formally learning design, the past 6 weeks have been a crash course in entrepreneurship.  I’m personally accustomed to pitching and selling ideas from my industry experience, but speaking to potential customers about a product which doesn’t yet exist is difficult. From my point of view, there’s a fine line between delivering a weak message, and being overconfident.  Much like designers must know their customer’s expectations, entrepreneurs must understand the expectations from everyone they meet with. (Customers, partners, advisors, funders etc.)

One part of our experience, which is most likely unique from the rest of the AC4D companies, is that we had the opportunity to form a partnership with an existing company before we even started software development. These discussions felt different that other partnership meetings I’ve had, but I initially couldn’t figure out why. After the 2nd meeting I realized that it was because Will and I had complete control over making decisions for BringUp, which is a pretty powerful (and scary) feeling. We’re not making decisions on behalf of our other companies, or bosses. We’re doing it for ourselves, and BringUp. Cool.

Will and I want BringUp to be used in schools. We believe that BringUp really can help drive student engagement and allow parents to get into a habit of talking about school with their children daily.  Whether or not Will and I build BringUp as a standalone product, or sell the design to another education company, we want it to be used.

www.bringuptogether.com

Posted in Reflection | Leave a comment

Where should we go, and how do we get there?

I’ve really enjoyed discussing Strategy over the past few weeks in the IDSE 302 – Theory of Interaction Design and Social Entrepreneurship.   I spent a lot of time doing case studies and strategy evaluations while studying for my MBA with a focus in Strategic Management. At the time, I understood strategy as  “Where do we want to go, and how do we get there.”  I was taught Blue Ocean Strategy, Porter’s Five Forces, and PESTLE Analysis. Those tools are great for evaluating the market to determine strategic intent, or where a company “should go,” (strategic intent) but don’t add value when determining the strategy of  “how to get there” at a product level. Instead, we learned how to communicate intent and to steer the ship, but not how to design the next product or service.

Enter AC4D.

The past 5 months, and particularly this class at AC4D has give me the ability to design the strategy at the product/service level with high confidence. This stage of my education is exactly where I hoped I would be.

In my latest Position Diagram, I highlight the process to get from a solid Strategic Intent to the creation of the Product Strategy.

 

 

Posted in Strategy | Leave a comment