AC4D at Austin Design Week 2018

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Austin Design Week is happening on Nov 5-9, 2018 this year. The lineup is incredible and we are so proud to be a part of this inspiring community.

Here are a few places you can find us at:

We are also particularly excited to attend and geek out at the following sessions:

Hope to see you all out there!

Expanding to Springdale and Applications are open again!


We’re excited to announce we’ll be moving to Springdale General this summer! We’ll be joining a community of creatives and makers, such as Center for Social Innovation, Latinitas, and the many other creative studios. We also can’t wait to get over-caffeinated at Cafe Medici’s new roasting facility which will be right across from AC4D’s new home.

With this new expanded space, we will be able to offer a few more spots in our 2018-2019 cohort! Applications are open again until July 1, 2018. Acceptances will be sent out by July 15, 2018, and classes start Aug 13, 2018. Admission details can be found here.

Be sure to browse through our curriculum, type of student projects, and what our alumni are up to after graduation. There’s an entire book about the designerly approach to wicked problems you can read online for free. Our students also post their assignments and reflections on the AC4D blog.

How do I speak to someone about the program?

  1. We have a booth at ATX Hack for Change on June 1-3, 2018. If you’re going to be there, swing by!
  2. We’ll be having a virtual info session and Q&A with the Director on June 12 at 12-1pm and June 20 at 7-8pm. Sign up here.
  3. Reach out to directly and schedule a chat.

Can I learn more about the experiences from alumni?
Check out this three-min video, and Q&A videos (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.

What else do I need to know?
Even though the application isn’t officially due until July 1, 2018, we highly encourage anyone considering applying to reach out to We want to get to know you!

Interaction 18 Recap

Congratulations to the team who put together an inclusive conference at Interaction 18. For those who weren’t able to make it to France in person, all the talks are now available online!

Our faculty member Jonathan Lewis presented a talk on “35 million dollars in 30 seconds – Designing a cryptocurrency”. It explores the role of design when creating opportunities to leverage blockchain technology, a space many are saying is the most disruptive technology since the internet.

Another faculty member Richard Anderson presented at the Education Summit where he continued to ask “Is it Ethical for Designers to Function as Activists When Practicing Their Profession? If So, When? If So, How?” Read the recap and the full presentation here.

Adam Chasen participated in the Student Design Challenge where nine finalists were tasked to design an interactive way to teach rhythm to a student with a mobile impairment disability using Microsoft’s Inclusive Design toolkit. When he returned, Adam reflected on his experiences and shared his thoughts on what having an inclusive design mindset can offer teachers.

We’re looking forward to Interaction 19 in Seattle already!

Design Research in Practice: Civic Engagement in Practice

As part of our Interaction Design and Social Entrepreneurship program, students immerse themselves in a wicked problem for a 24-week capstone project. This year, students partnered with the City of Austin Innovation Office to tackle civic engagement. For eight weeks, our students conducted design research by attending city council meetings, community events, and shadowing residents, city stakeholders and service providers. On December 16, students hosted a Design Research presentation to present these initial research findings to the community.

Watch the full presentation (or find the slides here):

Growing Pains

Austin is a hub of creativity — it is a place where people come for opportunity to make businesses, art, music, and create friendships. Austin’s nurturing culture and specialness has attracted huge growth. Over the last five years, Austin has grown five times the national average. With this expansion comes growing pains that threaten what makes Austin so special.  

What is Civic Engagement?

Civic engagement goes far beyond politics and voting. Civic engagement is promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and nonpolitical processes.

One of the biggest problems in Austin is social equity. How can leadership come from all citizens? How can a diversity of voices be heard no matter how much education, power, or money they have? How can we improve equitable civic engagement in Austin?

Focus on East Austin

For this project, students narrowed their focus to civic engagement among East Austin residents. East Austin is culturally rich but full of low-income, disenfranchised communities that are greatly affected as Austin continues to grow. Students interviewed 52 individuals — 40 residents and 12 subject matter experts in government, urban planning, and public policy.

Within the East Austin community, students identified three groups to follow: low-income individuals, young populations that are not enrolled in traditional universities, and long-time homeowners. Through these interviews, they identified gaps and opportunities for making Austin a more equitable city. 


From this design research, students developed insights — provocative statements that will drive designs moving forward.

Insight #1:

The structure and enablers of growth in austin threaten long-term residents who are core to its culture.

 How might we encourage growth in a way that doesn’t threaten these long-term residents?

Insight #2:

The perception that wealth determines influence discourages community and political action, and reinforces inequities.

 How might we leverage the power of perception to increase meaningful civic participation?

Insight #3:

People become discouraged from participation when they don’t see the outcome of their efforts.

How might we make participation easier and create a feedback loop so that people feel understood?

Insight #4:

For young working adults, the old ways of connecting with city government are remote but nothing has arisen to replace them.  

How might we create opportunities for young adults to contribute to civic life that are in tune with their evolving culture?

 Next Steps

For the next two quarters, students will take these research insights and opportunity areas and move forward to develop products and services that address some of these problems. Stay tuned for Q4 presentations in April as students present their final designs.

Interested in getting involved with AC4D? Applications for our 1 year program in Interaction Design and Social Entrepreneurship are due January 15, 2018.


Driving Sustainable Growth And Competitive Advantage Through Human-Centered Design

As we hit the ground running for 2018, the Austin Center for Design is proud to announce our partnership with Design Thinking 2018 taking place April 23-25 in Austin.

Creativity is key to addressing ill-formed business threats and for giving structure to poorly defined market opportunities, yet many of us have started realizing the limitations that come with creative mindsets such as Design Thinking and Lean; after doing a lot of thinking and pivoting, we realize we still have to do a lot of doing.

Design Thinking 2018 is full of hands-on learning workshops including Design Thinking University, site tours at IBM Studios Austin and USAA’s Chief Design Office, and keynote presentations led by innovative design thinkers from a wide variety of industries featuring our very own Jon Kolko, Partner at the Modernist Studio and the Founder of AC4D. Our alumna Maryanne Lee, currently design strategy manager at LegalZoom will also be making an appearance as one of the speakers.

Other featured design thinkers include:
– Eric Quint, Chief Design Officer, 3M
– Joni Saylor, Design Principal , IBM Design Practice
– Joel Kashuba, VP of Innovation, Fifth Third Bank
– Xavi Cortadellas, Head of Innovation, Gatorade
– Shawn Johnson, VP Experience Design & Innovation, NBC Universal

Take a look at the full speaker faculty or feel free to view the agenda.

If you are interested in attending, save 20% off current registration by using our partner discount code: 2018DESIGN_AC4D or email for more information.

Austin Center for Design at Interaction 18 in Lyon

We are excited to announce AC4D student Adam Chasen has been accepted as a finalist for IxDA’s Student Design Challenge! Chasen will join eight other top design students from around the world at Interaction 18 in Lyon, France. This year, the Student Design Challenge is inspired by 17 Sustainable Development Goals with a specific focus on Quality Education. Chasen will be assigned a team and work with them during a 72-hour workshop to tackle problems related to quality education; they will then present their work in front of 1000 future colleagues. Prior to AC4D, Chasen was an educator for over 15 years, teaching people around the world from kindergarten through graduate school.

Two of our faculty members will also be speaking at Interaction 18.Jonathan Lewis will be presenting a talk on “35 million dollars in 30 seconds – Designing a cryptocurrency”, where he will explore the role of design in a space many are saying is the most disruptive technology since the internet. He will also unpack core principles for thinking through the concept of tokenizing the human experience.

Another faculty member Richard Anderson will be challenging the community and asking “Is it ethical for designers to function as activists when practicing their profession?” In his talk, he will elaborate on the obstacles encountered by designers when functioning as activists and discuss the tools need to be taught to enable them to recognize how and when functioning as activists is appropriate.

Looking Back: 2017 Year In Review

Now in our eighth year, we have developed a strong network of alumni, faculty, and friends that continue to practice, train and build thought leadership in designing for impact.

Our alumni have been accepted to speak at IxDA, SXSW and Design Thinking 2018, their startup has gotten into pre-accelerator Div Inc, and they’re building products to make vital social services more accessible. Our faculty have written new books and participated in panels during Austin Startup Week and Austin Design Week. In addition to our one-year certification program, we ran two sold-out bootcamps and held workshops at Federal Reserve Board’s Community Leaders Forum 

Internally, we’ve also seen a lot of growth. In June of this year, Jon Kolko passed the torch of Directorship to AC4D alumna and faculty, Ruby Ku. Jon remains an active advisor and faculty member, as Ruby embarks on a new chapter.

For the first time we have established a partnership with the City of Austin Innovation Office. The students were tasked with exploring the topic of civic engagement and presented their findings to the community. Watch their research presentation, and stay tuned as they prototype and test ideas in the coming months.

Thanks to everyone who has continued to support us this year! Want to join us? Applications for our 2018-2019 class are due January 15, 2018!

AC4D Design Workshop at Federal Reserve Board’s Community Leaders Forum

On November 27, AC4D alum Eric Boggs and Jonathan Lewis led a workshop at Federal Reserve Board of Governors’ Community Leaders Forum (CLF). CLF is an annual two-day forum that brings together 35-40 emerging leaders from the federal government, state government, credit unions, banks, and nonprofits, who all focus in some capacity on credit needs for low-income communities. Austin Center for Design was invited to create a half-day workshop for CLF to introduce participants to creative problem solving strategies that emphasize divergent thinking, empathy building, and visual communication, in order to drive future product, service, or system innovation.

Eric Boggs and Jonathan Lewis designed and led the three and a half hour workshop which included both presentations and break-out activities. After introducing design thinking, divergent thinking and empathy as concepts, Boggs and Lewis led three hands-on activities:


Affinity Diagramming: Participants wrote down what questions and problems they are focused on in their own work, and created affinity diagrams to find common group with other participants of diverse backgrounds and jobs. This led to small group discussions, facilitated connections, and ultimately provided organization for subsequent activities.


Participatory Design Canvas: To prompt stories and emotions, participants created a participatory design canvas. This served as a tactical example on how to build empathy with a participant and highlighted the importance of recognition over recall through the use of word and image stimulus.

Journey Map

Journey Mapping: To start breaking down stories and problems visually, over time, and in sequence, participants created journey maps to shed light on opportunity moments for a designed intervention.

Overall the audience was very engaged and receptive to what we covered,” said Boggs. “Presenting these topics and methods in such short order sparked conversation around models for workshops or longer term engagements with designers in communities in order to foster change as opposed to a “fly in, fly out” type of workshop or engagement.”


If your organization is interested in a custom training session facilitated by our team, please get in touch with our Director at

City of Austin partners with Austin Center for Design to tackle Civic Engagement

City of Austin’s Innovation Office has partnered with Austin Center for Design to explore the topic of civic engagement as the city continues to evolve rapidly. The goal of this partnership is for AC4D students to engage with Austinites, identify patterns and insights, and use this research to design and develop ideas to improve civic engagement. On Saturday December 16, 2017, students will present their initial research findings to the public at their East Austin campus.

“Our goal is that this effort doesn’t just end up being another 100-page pdf sitting on someone’s desk. A big part of our design process is to co-create with our participants, design publicly, and figure out small ways to prototype ideas. When it comes to civic engagement, the process itself is as important as the end product.” said Ruby Ku, director of Austin Center for Design.

As part of AC4D’s Interaction Design & Social Entrepreneurship program, students immerse themselves in a wicked problem for a 24-week capstone project. The 2017-2018 class marks the first official partnership with the City of Austin’s Innovation Office. For the first half of the project, students have immersed themselves in city council meetings, community events, and shadowed residents, city stakeholders and service providers. Student groups have honed in on civic engagement problems as they relate to low-income communities, the young populations, and long-term homeowners in East Austin.

Members of the public are encouraged to attend the presentations to review initial research findings. After this presentation, students will use this research as foundation to design and develop ideas in various opportunity areas identified. Stay tuned for more showcases and presentations during Spring 2018 as the ideas begin to take shape and get piloted.

To RSVP for the presentation on Saturday December 16, 2017 at Austin Center for Design, visit here. Space is limited.

Interested in tackling wicked problems? Applications for Austin Center for Design’s upcoming 2018-2019 class are due by January 15, 2018. Additional program and application information is available at