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John Cain

Design Strategist, Entrepreneur, & Educator

John Cain

John Cain is a design strategist, serial entrepreneur, and educator whose work has consistently focused on innovation—developing robust methods for creating products and services amid the startling challenges and opportunities of the past three decades. In the face of new technologies, globalization, and the current data economy, he has persisted in applying an integrative approach, drawing on the humanities, technology, and design traditions to inform his own work, and that of his clients and students.

John joined the Institute of Design (ID) as an Adjunct Faculty member in 1997. From 2017 to 2019 he served as a full-time Visiting Professor at Illinois Tech before returning to Adjunct Faculty instruction. As Visiting Professor, John developed courses at the intersection of design, technology and business that bridged ID and Illinois Tech’s Department of Computer Science. In addition to his work at ID, John has served as a consultant and visiting professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and as a guest lecturer and project sponsor at Carnegie Mellon University. He has also lectured at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

John has a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering and industrial design from Illinois Tech. He also trained at the Yale Design Program in Brissago, Switzerland.

Industry Experience

John has been active in a number of ventures including consumer products, data, and analytics start-ups. He is a frequent writer and lecturer on topics ranging from experience design and consumer research to innovation, data analytics, and the internet of things (IoT).

In 2010 John and longtime associate Rick Robinson launched a research and development firm, Iota Partners, to design and build sensor technology platforms for ongoing collection of smart data. When Iota was acquired by SapientNitro in 2013, the intelligence platform developed by John and Rick became the centerpiece of Sapient’s Consumer Intelligence services.

In 2007 John became Cofounder and Managing Partner of Sideriver Ventures, a business incubator whose mission is to identify industries and product categories ripe for disruption. Prior to that, he was at HWT, an innovative start-up data analytics firm that he joined 2004. As COO, he led programs for public health payers to implement audit, analysis, and payment recovery solutions. In 2008, HWT was acquired by UnitedHealth Group, where John led data innovation programs.

John and Rick Robinson first worked together in 1994, when they cofounded the pioneering human-centered research firm E-lab, widely recognized as the first standalone social research and design services firm. In 1999, E-Lab was acquired by Sapient Corp., a technology consulting firm at the forefront of design, business, and technology integration.

From 1987 to 1994 John was Design Practice Lead at Jay Doblin & Associates (later Doblin Group), where he helped shape design strategy for clients including McGraw Hill, Amoco, and Apple Computer, among many others.

Speaking Engagements

John has been keynote speaker at the annual EPIC Conference and an invited speaker for Ford Motor Company, Design for America, Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum, Oracle OpenWorld, and Strata & Hadoop World, and L2, Inc.

Select Work

Cain, John and Paradis, Zachary. 2015. “Planning and Doing Innovation.” Insights 2015. SapientNitro.

John Cain, Todd Cherkasky, and Rick Robinson. 2014. “The Bottom Line on Experience: Measuring Return in the Age of Storytelling.” Insights 2014. SapientNitro.

Cain, John. 2010. “Experience-Based Design: Toward a Science of Artful Business Innovation.” Design Management Review 9, no. 4 (June): 10–16.

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