A Means to an End

Our material is less then 25 years old. HTMLwas invented in 1990, and most of us have enjoyed building with it since. Many of us actually helped invent it, or parts of it: the HTML specification, advancements in client-side scripting, new device platforms, new possibilities. We have an intimacy with the material, in the same way that a potter knows her clay. This technology — this powerful force, this beautiful material — can be aimed and directed. But where shall we direct it, and to what end? In this talk, Jon Kolko introduces design-led Social Entrepreneurship as the profession for humanizsng technology. You’ll learn about what it means to be an entrepreneur, and you’ll hear some examples of failure and success. Ultimately, you’ll learn how, and why, to aim technology at problems worth solving.


Two parts to the talk – Means, and Ends.


(mesmerising time lapse of Jon making a clay pot)

Jon learned how to make ceramics from a very young age and it took him a long time to appreciate craftsmanship, that the goal is to get things right not do them fast.


source: slide deck (pdf)

Craft is about engagement and quality.

What happens when you gain expertise? You learn what the medium can and can’t do; you gain patience; you slowly gain understanding. You learn what the medium wants to do, how it wants to work.

“Art resides in the quality of doing, process is not magic.” – Charles Eames.

There is a message to creation, there is a wider reason for making things in the first place.

Where do we choose to aim our mastery of craft, material, process and voice?

What problem do we solve?

Ask these three questions…

  • Should I make things?
  • What things should I make?
  • For whom should I make these things?

Your selection of subject matter is a complex political decision which always has consequences.

If you do a wonderful job of designing a McDonald’s website, did you cause the rise in diabetes? Probably not. But did you amplify something that was already happening?


Ethonography around homelessness in Austin, TX…

His students set up a sign at a gathering saying “hi can we ask you a question?” and they asked “what do you want to have happen by the end of the day”.

They realised homeless people are a lot more like them than they realised. They have phones, they have Facebook accounts… they just don’t have homes. They realised self-actualisation was important to them. What if they were teaching something?

So they set up HourSchool; and an online platform for people to teach things. “We believe that when people teach, they gain self-worth; and that empowers them to take control and change their situation.” (inexact transcription)

Notion of a social entrepreneur – someone who takes on risk and reaps a reward in a social context. They can still make money, they can still be financially successful, without sacrificing positive social impact.

Design is now getting into the boardroom; it’s not longer a service to the business, it’s part of the entire strategy.

Three ways to control the subject matter:

  1. build a theory of change
  2. become a social entrepreneur
  3. run the show – get into the boardroom