What is the most important part of design research? Recruiting participants!

Educator and design expert Jon Kolko walks through how to develop a research plan, define the right participants, work with a screener (or use participant intercepts and social media for broader groups), how many people you need to interview, and other methods needed to gather the information you really need to design for the end user.

Have you seen the first three videos in this series? If not, start with an Introduction to Design Strategy and learn more about the whole process!

Watch the newest video below.

Learn more about Modernist’s approach to…


When we set out to consider the new frontier of education, the world was contemplating — and rapidly responding to — the great unknown. With vaccine distribution ramping up to record highs and many educational leaders planning to resume in-classroom teaching this spring, we are entering a moment when it would be far too easy to ignore the learnings presented to us over the last year and return to the old way of doing things.

With that in mind, we’re sharing some key opportunities for later-stage education — many of which could be directly applicable today. For instance:

  • How to…


Human-centered design, design thinking, design strategy, user experience, UI, innovation…“Design” has been a buzzword for over a decade now. Companies want design. But are they ready for it?

At Modernist, we work with a variety of (mostly large) clients, and there are some consistent indicators that predict whether creative projects will be successful, and what some of the largest challenges will be. As we build up this predictive knowledge, we can start to strategically change our approach to help our clients achieve success. …


Many designers are intimidated by writing — but language is fundamental to crafting a design strategy.

Design is a craft-based discipline. We make things — traditionally, these have been physical, tangible objects — crafting furniture out of wood or steel, or printing posters with paper and ink. As design evolved to include interactions and behavior, the “materials” expanded to include pixels, motion, and diagrams — things that incorporate time and digital spaces. Now, design is expanding again, as we increasingly focus on design strategy.

Strategy includes plans, policies, and frameworks, and so our material toolkit is growing to include language…


Education used to set the pace for industry. Universities were hallowed grounds for scholars to experiment with world changing ideas and inventions. Along the line the tables turned — with industry innovations largely outrunning university ones. Graduating students began entering the workforce with inadequate real-world skills, lacking experience collaborating with groups and communities in ways that create impact, and missing the kind of curiosity of spirit that gives us a horizon to strive for.

Throughout history, major changes have fueled innovation — from the printing press to the automobile to globalization to pandemics. Change forces us to make room for…


Design research is about spending time with real people and using their experiences as the center of influence for our designs — rather than shaping them based on technical and market trends.

In this video on design strategy and research, Modernist COO Jon Kolko — expert designer, strategist, educator, author, and founder of Austin Center for Design — shares the details of how to conduct design research, including looking for anomalies instead of commonalities, shifting power dynamics to the user, getting buy-in from skeptics, and techniques that quickly build rapport with research participants.

Watch the video below.

If you haven’t seen them, be…


Thanks for your interest in writing for Modernist Studio’s Medium publication!

Submission Guidelines

* 300–1500 words
* Optimistic in tone
* Solutions-focused
* Clear thesis
* Topic areas: design, innovation, AI, software, UX/UI, etc.
* Focus on: design systems, leveling the playing field for diverse audiences and user groups
* Submissions can be word-driven (e.g. a blog/article) or visually-driven (e.g. redesigning an app for better experience)
* You will need a Medium account in order to submit a final draft to the publication — then we will add you as a contributor

For word-driven pieces: * Submit either: a full draft or…


If this past year has shined a light on anything, it’s the need for a robust overhaul to the education sector in America. Chronic misinformation, divisiveness, and untruths have run rampant, leaving our nation to fall behind in the fight for healing during the Covid pandemic. And even as experts blaze forward designing new communications technologies, contact tracing platforms, and scientific solutions like vaccines and rapid testing, many in the general public continue to ignore a universe of fact — in lieu of opinion.

This, more than anything, points to a missing link in education — the inability to creatively…


What day is it? November.

More than ever, the aging population has been at the forefront of conversations since COVID-19. Many of us are wondering how to spend time with our parents, grandparents, or other aging friends and relatives. And as we check in with them — often by phone — we’re curious how they’re actually coping with the rampant isolation beyond the friendly voice they wear for our calls. Here in the US, where we tend not to live in multigenerational households, that’s especially true.

Increasingly, we’re turning to technology and automation as bridges to maintain connections and to…


The Future of Aging is an exploration into the inevitability of technology as a well-intentioned support structure for aging. As the baby boomer generation grows into their later stage of life, many of us are watching our parents, or grandparents, age. Their expectations for growing old are unique to this generation — they’d prefer to avoid nursing homes and are looking for creative solutions to retire on their own terms — and in their own homes.

It’s tempting to throw technology at the challenge of aging in place, given that ability to see potential in helping our parents through designing…

Modernist Studio

Modernist Studio is a strategy, experience design and innovation consultancy that designs and builds the future across products, services, experiences and teams

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