Jack Morgan: Designing for Impact

For most designers, their craft is so much more than a creative outlet. Jack Morgan is a perfect example of this. As the design lead at Duolingo, his career has enabled him to help 300 million people (to date) to learn a new language. A tremendous achievement that actually magnifies in impact as you begin to peel back the layers.

Jack has been designing to help educational platforms find a voice and solve large-scale problems for nearly 10 years. Formerly the design lead for Google’s education division, he helped create the Google Academy London — a purpose-built facility on Buckingham Palace Road dedicated to helping people improve their tech skills. From here, Jack has moved on to his current role at Duolingo, where he is currently designing the company’s AI-testing platform that will help thousands of underserved foreign students gain the skills required to get a college education.

Through his work at Duolingo, Jack has realized that the language-learning app is not just for people interested in taking up a new hobby. For some, it’s a mechanism for survival. There are approximately 1.2 billion people learning a new language, and the majority are doing so in pursuit of a better life. Part of Duolingo’s mission is to make education free, entertaining, and uplifting for each of its users, no matter their circumstances — and design plays a crucial role in fulfilling that mission. Duolingo’s thoughtful design transcends cultures, societies and continents, to not only make language learning approachable and accessible to all, but the bite-size lessons have become a bright spot in many of its users’ days.

As a speaker at this year’s Evolve Design Conference, Jack will talk more about his work with Duolingo and the avenues it has allowed him to take in his career — including helping produce and award-winning documentary. Before then, let’s take the time to get to know Jack a bit more.

Tell us about a project or accomplishments from the past 10 years that had a major impact on your life or career.

I produced, art directed and designed an Oscar-qualifying documentary called Something Like Home, which explores the impact of language and free education on the lives of four refugees. I’m a designer, not a filmmaker, so I asked my team to film everything for posterity. I kept my plan to turn the footage from our journey into a documentary a secret from them until later because I wanted the audience to feel like they were really in the room with us, not like they were watching a movie. The film has since been endorsed by the United Nations, played at festivals around the world and been watched by more than one million people.

What is your favorite color, and why? Pantone numbers and Hex codes totally allowed.

Nothing gets the heart going like #ee0000.

What keeps you going when you’re focused on a project? Is there a particular saying or song that gets you moving?

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our discipline.” – Archilochus, a Greek lyric poet.

What’s your superpower, or one you wish you had?

Obsessiveness with a healthy dash of ADD. I like to think anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

What design or career advice would you give to your younger self?

Sleep more.

If you were given the opportunity to see into the future, what would you want to know?

What happens during the next industrial revolution? What does life look like beyond what you can imagine life looking like?

How do you think design impacts your everyday life? The community?

Big wins can be undermined by tiny mistakes. Take for example, air travel — a big win for everyone, but an experience that’s fraught with tiny mistakes that hinder most. The same is true when designing anything — cities, garments, gadgets, societies. The bigger the win is, the harder it is to correct those tiny mistakes.

If you hadn’t ended up in the career you are in, what do you think you’d be doing?

Probably something reckless like biathlons (the combination of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting) or chess boxing (Google it).

If you’d like to learn more about Jack, his outlook on design, how he leverages it to create meaningful change, or to challenge him at chess boxing, catch him at the Evolve Design Conference on October 12 and 13.

Story by Breanne Krager