Designing for Impact with Jon Kolko

This past weekend I participated in a great workshop put on by Jon Kolko. It was excellent, not because the concepts were so new or crazy, but because they were so succinctly brought together in a cohesive format. Beginning with an introduction we were kicked out of the studio to go talk to people. We had been formed into groups and were suppose to speak with people to learn about their perspectives relating to our specific topic, each group’s was different. The premise of the whole event was to design for impact, not just design. Thus all of the topics were developed around the idea of improving health and wellness.

By the end of the day we had developed an iphone app. We had taken our research, applied the processes of design using our biases and abductive leaps to storyboard a potentially revolutionary digital tool addressing people’s health. It was recognized that an iphone app, or even a digital tool, may not be the most appropriate solution for the problem at hand, but it provided contraints that enabled the lessons to be taught and the workshop to flow, and so it was a contextually useful goal.

In the end my group had developed a concept that motivated the user to walk more by enabling his steps to charge his phone. This required an external accessory that would create the electricity, we envisioned this integrated into a phone case, and an app to manage it. The app would provide walking directions to the user’s destinations and make suggestions, based on passed journey’s, for where they could walk to return their phone to a full charge. Maybe not the best idea, but with design, often good is good enough, then you iterate.

For me the power of the workshop was not in the outcomes of the tasks though, but rather in the interstices between the lectures and the interactions. The seminar portions were over, the points were made, but it wasn’t yet time to re-engage in the group work. This is when his concepts, or more his framing of the concepts really started to color my perceptions of my education. The ideas of ethnography, synthesis and prototyping were so similar and yet different. They were so clear and unambiguous and seemed to lead directly to a new business model, contrasting the heady ambiguity that I often feel stuck in.

I’m still determining how to interpret it all, but one thing is for sure – it was refreshing.