Jon Kolko on How to Better Articulate Your Vision

In Chapter 13 of 21 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, design educator Jon Kolko answers "How Are You Getting Better at Articulating Your Vision?"  Kolko notes the fundamental importance of repetition and how it helps not only hone your message but also increase your believe in that vision.  He notes the importance of getting his vision framework or scaffold solid so he can easily adapt the messaging to different audiences, for example designers or venture capital investors. 

Jon Kolko 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 are you getting better at articulating your vision?

Jon Kolko: The more times you say something, the more you tend to believe it. There is this phenomenon called “sense making” which is part of design synthesis, which is about creating knowledge and one of the sort of theories around how sense making works is that ideas are literally talked into existence, both in your own head. The more you say things, the more connections are made. And then in social psychology settings, the more that I say things and then the more you say things and then we talk knowledge into existence between us, the more we tend to either agree or disagree but at least we understand and empathize with each other. So the more times I say what that vision is, I think that the more I’m able to, the more I'm better able to articulate it and in some respects sell it, gain buy into a controversial idea. I found that the same message in a scaffold works across audiences but the details have to be tremendously different. So I have a fairly succinct story around what Austin Center for Design is, the way that I see the world and the way I’d like to be in 30 to 50 years. But telling that – And so that’s the scaffold. But telling that story to somebody who’s in venture capital and telling it to somebody who’s an NGO and telling it to somebody who’s a practicing designer, the word you use, the way you describe it, the case examples you tend to give, wildly different and they have to be. Just as a quick example, if you talk to a venture capitalist about the same types of things that get a designer excited, it's not that they don’t get it, it actually turns them off and they suddenly are not interested anymore. It seems like a no brainer probably that people speak different languages depending on their backgrounds and disciplines. I think it took me a long time to get the scaffold solid so that I felt comfortable easing in and out of different sort of interim storylines.

Like if I’m changing the story, somehow it's not the real story anymore. But I think I'm comfortable now with this idea that as long as the scaffold is consistent then I'm being true to whatever the vision is and in and out can come the details.