Most companies consider strong product management to be the “glue” that holds together products as they are being conceived of and built. They treat product management as either a marketing or an engineering activity. However, modern start-ups like Airbnb and large corporations like JetBlue or Starbucks have proven that industry disruption is possible not by focusing on adding features or just improving sales but instead by focusing on providing deep, meaningful engagement to the people that use their products or services. This engagement is achieved by designing products that seem as though they have a personality or even a soul. These products feel less like manufactured artifacts and more like good friends.
Design doesn’t refer only to aesthetics or usability, although these are things consumers are most likely to notice or appreciate. Design is both a noun and a verb. It can mean the visual or tactical quality of a product as well as the process by which products are conceived. Design is more of a comprehensive way to think about people and human behavior rather than engineering or marketing. It is a product development process that uses empathy with a community of potential consumers in order to identify problems to solve. Design leverages a certain way of thinking in order to infer solutions to those problems that will have meaningful emotional appeal and a strong market fit. Jon Kolko shares how to apply this process to your work in four steps.
Jon Kolko is vice president of consumer design at Blackboard. He joined Blackboard with the acquisition of MyEdu, a start-up focused on helping students succeed in college and get jobs. Jon is also the founder and director of Austin Center for Design. His work focuses on bringing the power of design to social enterprises, with an emphasis on entrepreneurship. He has worked extensively with both start-ups and Fortune 500 companies, and he’s most interested in humanizing educational technology.
Jon has previously held the positions of executive director of design strategy at Thinktiv, a venture accelerator in Austin, Texas, and both principal designer and associate creative director at frog design, a global innovation firm. He has been a professor of interaction and industrial design at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where he was instrumental in building both the interaction and industrial design undergraduate and graduate programs. Jon has also held the role of director for the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) and editor-in-chief of Interactions magazine, published by the ACM. He is regularly asked to participate in high-profile conferences and to judge design events, including the 2013 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Awards. He has taught at the University of Texas at Austin, the Center for Design Studies of Monterrey (Mexico), and Malmö University (Sweden).