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:
- Published a free book called Wicked Problems, focused on curriculum and practice definition related to large-scale social problems
- Offered our free content library of practical resources that support the process of design
- Ran a design conference with amazing internationally renowned speakers, and published the videos from the conference online for free
- Offered a yearly free bootcamp where we taught our design process to members of the community
- Attracted world-class faculty to join us in educating future design leaders
- Developed great student projects like Summit, Stitch, Inner Circle, and Girls Guild
- Won awards from a variety of competitions, including the Interaction Design Association’s 2013 Student Design Challenge, the Design Ignites Change concept award, the Pitch Some Good competition, and the Core77 Service Award
- Published high-profile blog content, such as “Do you want critique, or a hug? How to gain valuable criticism on your design“, “It’s Hard, and I’m Just Not Passionate About It.“, “Code is material: why designers must learn to code“, and “Designer as Product Owner“
- Received great media coverage from KXAN, Fast Company (twice), Interactions Magazine, Culture Map, the Austin Statesman, and Core77.
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.