beth kolko

Capitalism for Humans

Speaker: Beth Kolko, Ph.D., Professor and Associate Department Chair in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington

Date: 2024-4-18 12:30 pm

Technology Square Research Building (TSRB, 1st Floor Ballroom)
85 Fifth Street NW
Atlanta, GA 30308

This is a talk about how to redesign capitalism, focusing on how startups are built, products are made, and customers are reached. I research how design and capitalism are intertwined, and how design perspectives can inform practices of entrepreneurship, commercialization, and tech transfer, practices which ultimately govern what new products and services are created and launched into the world where they have the opportunity to affect how people live their lives.  

Translational work in HCD and HCI often focuses on product development and how to create technologies that effectively meet the needs of the people who adopt them — generally through iterative, research-oriented practices. This talk explores how the frameworks of HCD and HCI can be used more expansively —  to guide not just how to build products, but how to build entire companies that address the needs of individuals and communities while minimizing downstream harms. While discourses of “how to start a startup” courses, whether formal university offerings or Startup Weekend style community events, address products and users in ways that borrow quite a bit from HCI and HCD, this talk will show how design and HCI can drive multiple aspects of startups —  including the development of business models, employee policies, pricing strategy, and more — to help create companies that are less extractive and more beneficial to society at large.  

For this talk, I will provide concrete examples of tools that can help translate social, environmental, ethical, and critical perspectives into technical designs. I will also talk about how business models – when paired with technological innovations – can be used as levers to increase the extent to which ethical considerations inform the foundation of a company. Finally, I will discuss how identifying user needs in a commercial context can be done within a morally and critically informed framework and then translated into technical specifications that guide product development work.  

This work is based on my experience founding a medical device company, my work as a venture capitalist, and my past several years teaching a graduate course on “Building a Human Centered Venture.”  

Beth Kolko is Professor and Associate Department Chair in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington. She led the Design for Digital Inclusion Lab from 2001-2014, and since then has collaborated as co-lead of the Tactile and Tactical Technology Lab. She also co-founded the Y-Combinator backed medical device company Shift Labs. She is a Senior Venture Partner at Pioneer Fund, and Founding Venture Partner at Pack Ventures. Her recent work in HCDE focuses on entrepreneurship with a particular focus on how the intellectual frameworks of design can inform the creation of more human-centered companies.