How College Interdisciplinary Studies Shape Design Career - Jon Kolko

In Chapter 4 of 17 in his 2011 Capture Your Flag interview with host Erik Michielsen, designer and educator Jon Kolko learns problem solving in a Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) interdisciplinary studies program. Studying Human Computer Interaction, or HCI, Kolko majors in computer science, cognitive psychology, and statistics. These problem solving skills prepare Kolko for his design career. Kolko is the executive director of design strategy at venture accelerator, Thinktiv ( He is the founder and director of the Austin School for Design ( Previously, he worked at frog design and was a professor of Interactive and Industrial Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). He has authored multiple books on design. Kolko earned his Masters in Human Computer Interaction (MHI) and BFA in Design from Carnegie Mellon University.


Erik Michielsen:  How did your interdisciplinary studies at Carnegie Mellon impact your career trajectory?

Jon Kolko:  Directly.  I got a Masters in Human Computer Interaction or HCI which traditionally has been a convergence of cognizant psychology, computer science, design and statistics and that – so fundamentally that career is interdisciplinary, that career path and then if you combine that with sort of an under – underlying approach on just in design like with a big D or however you want to frame it. 

I’ve always approached problem solving with those different lenses on, albeit be not nearly as equally weighted.  I always tended toward the computer science design side of things and away from the cognitive psychology and statistics point of view.  It’s only recently that I’ve actually started embracing both of those two. 

Arguably, they are harder for my small little creative brain to understand because those are like real science elements as opposed to these design disciplines.  I say that completely tongue in cheek so – and so I learned an interdisciplinary approach but I don’t think it ever occurred to me that that’s was what it was because it just seems like how else would you approach solving a complex human problem and then – then from multiple perspectives.  That idea of empathy of being able to view it from a different – a different point of view, I think is pretty fundamental to solving any problem.