Jon Kolko: How Design Career Choices are Changing

In Chapter 19 of 21 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, design educator Jon Kolko answers "How Do You See Design Career Choices Changing?"  Kolko notes how design careers in the United States are going through a massive overhaul.  For the very top craftsman, there will be jobs in furniture design, graphic design and industrial design.  For the majority, however, students career choices benefit from changing design programs, including interaction design, interactive design, service design, systems thinking and organizational management.  

Jon Kolko is the founder and director of the Austin Center for Design.  He has authored multiple books on design, including "Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving."  Previously he has held senior roles at venture accelerator Thinktiv and frog design and was a professor of Interactive and Industrial Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).  Kolko earned his Masters in Human Computer Interaction (MHI) and BFA in Design from Carnegie Mellon University.


Erik Michielsen: How do you see design career choices changing?

Jon Kolko: So, design as a whole in the US is undergoing a massive overhaul whether it wants to or not. And so, typical professions like graphic design, and industrial design, and furniture design still exist and for those in the 1% and 0.01% percent who are just exceptional craftsmen will get awesome jobs doing them and will get awesome jobs and be happy forever after. But there’s always been sort of a middle ground of, the mid-60 percent in the Bell Curve of designers who just aren’t very good. They're not bad, they're just not very good and they will not be able to get jobs doing graphic design, industrial design, and furniture design anymore. And they may or may not have been taught to do anything else, in which case they’re sort of shit out of luck, which is awful. It's a huge disservice to them because when you're 22 years old, you don’t know any better. You trust your professors and you trust the program you're going through. That the stuff I'm learning is relevant, right? Well, you wouldn’t be teaching it to me if it wasn’t, right? 

So, consequently and probably a decade too late, but still consequently all of the programs in the US are starting to reevaluate what they're teaching. And so you're starting to see programs in interaction design, programs in interactive design, programs in service design and systems thinking, and amorphous programs and design management and organizational change, all of which probably have a component of this design thinking stuff and also still this design-making stuff but the making is really, really, different. 

Service design, which I've always thought of as part of interaction design but I realized I'm in a huge minority and that’s probably a topic for a different point. Service design is poised to be the most needed thing in the United States as we transform into an entirely services-based economy. And so, you go like, “Fine, we're not going to do manufacturing anymore and we still have 300 changed million people, like what are they going to do for a living? Well, they're going to provide services. 

And so, somebody’s going to have to design those services and then train them how to do it. And service could mean anything from service in a healthcare capacity, just walk into the hospital and what happens, start to finish, or it can mean the really menial, like McDonald’s service worker, both of which are designed and both of which need a team of designers and all the agencies and consultancies and advertising, all that horse shit that comes with it to support it. And so, that’s what we're starting to see creep up in design schools and you're seeing it, you know, at the name schools but all of the community colleges and all of the state schools will follow.