April 2012 Archives
Cameron Koczon builds things, organises things and writes things (and, of particular appeal to our passion for gentlemanly pursuits, smokes an impressive variety of pipes). He lives and works in Brooklyn.
Mr Koczon is the co-creator (with Swiss Miss) of Teux Deux, a lean to-do list manager. He is also the co-founder (with Chris Shiflett) of Brooklyn Beta, one of the web’s most enjoyable conferences encapsulated neatly in its strapline: ‘Make Something You Love’. When he’s not busy building things or organising things he also writes, of particular note a superb and thought-provoking article on Orbital Content for A List Apart No. 326 (one of our favourite ALA articles of 2011).
We asked Mr Koczon a dozen questions.
Where did you learn your craft?
I guess my craft is building products and the only way I’ve found to learn about that is to start building products. You don’t really understand what goes into it until you’ve shipped a product and had people start using it. You learn so much by just going through that process. Our team has done this a few times now and I can feel us getting better. That’s an exciting feeling. We’ve got a strong product foundation now so I’m hoping to learn a lot more this year.
Who inspires you?
Lots. I’m just gonna start typing things ‘til I run out of juice: Disney, Pixar, Miyazaki, Hitchcock, Eisner, McCloud, Rams, Glaser, Hickman, Holmes, Dantes, Protagonist, d’Anconia, Jobs, Franklin, Edison, Lincoln, Hemingway, Rand, Stephensen, Gibson, Sturges, Coen, Coen, Anderson, Anderson, Day-Lewis, Hara, Theory11, Burt, Grove, Wallace, Wallace, McCarthy, Tufte, Bringhurst, King, Seth, Drooker, Miller, Busiek, Ross, Brubaker, Rachleff, Andreessen, Roth Eisenberg, Brown, Danzico, Santa Maria, Hische, Moll, Legend, Gutierrez, Oak, Weychert, Hunter, Johns, Bolt, Blankenship, Smith, Miner, Chimero, Pieratt, Desandro, Cole, Cheng, Brewer, Bondsy, Girl Walk, Clash, Withers, McKenzie, Park, Galpert, Zayan, Fadell, King, Rousso, Cederholm, Dhanaliwala, Krieger, Kickstarter, Airbnb, Square, Workshop, Paravel, Weightshift, OKFocus, betaworks, Less, Svpply, Build, Hyperakt, NY Mag, DIY, C.K., Henson, Rogers, Larson, Publick, Watterson, Hammer, Ward, Edlund, Tartakovsky, Franchi, Jaar, Murphy, Murphy, Persson, Laphroaig, Coates, Rios, Finkler, Battaglia, Collison, Wood, Howell, Tan, Perras, Birkebæk, Haas, Shiflett, Mincey, assorted McMahons and assorted Koczons. There are many others.
What are your influences?
Not sure. If my back was against a wall and I had to pick one person, I’d pick Fergie. We’re trying to do for the web what she did for music.
You work under the moniker Fictive Cameron and you work for a company called Fictive Kin. Why Fictive?
A ‘fictive kin’ is someone who isn’t related to you by blood, but you still think of as family. That describes the people I work with now and the people I want to work with in the future. It’s really the kin part that matters. As it pertains to my own online persona, I just wasn’t able to come up with anything better. My last name, Koczon, is difficult to know how to pronounce/spell so it doesn’t suit me to be Cameron Koczon everywhere.
The Fictive Kin menagerie appears to be growing rapidly. You’ve recruited a whole host of talented people, what are your plans for world domination?
We’re not really in the domination business. We want to build great products and enjoy ourselves doing it. We have a vision for the way the world could be and we’d like to build the kinds of things that nudge it in that direction. If you start talking the adorable, “change the world,” talk, it’s worth remembering that that takes some time. Fictive Kin needs to be in it for the long haul so we spend a fair amount of time thinking of our lifestyles as a product. We’re trying to develop a process and cadence that will enable us to keep learning, keep building, and keep having fun.
There are many content sharing services in existence, what makes Gimme Bar different?
The key difference is that Gimme Bar is not primarily a content sharing service. It’s a content saving service. The difference is subtle (which has caused us quite a few problems), but very important.
It’s important for users to own their content. Apps are fragile. They come and they gowalla (rimshot). People stick around. People are forever. Five years from now there’s a very good chance you’ll be using a completely different set of apps than the ones you are using today. Do you think you’ll still want your photos from the last few years? Probably. Remember. They aren’t instagrams, they’re your photos. They’re not tweets, they’re your status updates.
In aggregate all your content starts to tell some pretty interesting stories about you. Over time, as folks start to put more and more of themselves on the web, owning this aggregate content and keeping it safe is going to be a big deal.
The role designers are, increasingly, playing is changing; moving from mere service provision to shaping ideas from the outset. How does this change - foregrounding a design-lead approach - improve project outcomes and why are we witnessing it now?
Incorporating design improves project outcomes because it is a central ingredient. How does sugar improve cookie outcomes?
As for why we’re seeing all this attention paid to design right now, I think there are a few reasons:
1. Steve Jobs. Apple basically has a reputation as a perfect company and Steve as a perfect leader (if imperfect human). They tout design as their core and they’re about the most valuable company in the world. Hard thing to not notice if you’re an investor.
2. Supply and Demand. There’s a lot of money around these days which means lots of startups. Every one of these companies needs a designer and there simply are not that many competent product designers out there. The number of folks who’ve ever designed and shipped a complete web product is tiny. This may be a fault of design schools or of the past neglect of designers by the tech community or something else I don’t know of because I haven’t spent much time looking into it.
3. Differentiation. There is at least a little bit of concern that when your product is all bits, there is little room for differentiation. Things like design and branding offer opportunities for apps to stand apart even if other apps copy or do the same thing.
You’re visibly passionate about design and its potential to effect positive change. Brooklyn Beta and Brooklyn Beta Summer Camp have widened the frame of reference for design-lead startups. Is the future for startups as catalysts for change, doing good as opposed to evil?
I don’t think ‘design-lead startups’ is the right phrasing. While I certainly think this is an important time for design, it’s more about helping design play catchup to development and other disciplines. Chris and I like to talk about it in terms of ‘designer-developer teams’ or ‘design as a partner’. The following is from my A List Apart article:
It is difficult to rally for designers without making it seem like you are discounting the value of developers. It’s important to remember that what we’re trying to do is evolve the notion of the ideal team. The ideal team includes both design and development, working in tight communication and mutual respect from the beginning. This is an enviable dynamic and surprisingly uncommon.
I think that pretty well describes how I still feel. We want design to be a partner and partnership is a two-way street. If we improve the station of designers at the expense of their relationship with developers, we’re not really doing much of value.
As for the good vs. evil stuff, I’ll leave that to Google.
Meerschaum or Bruyere?
I can’t pick. Here is a picture of the pipes I own.
What’s your favourite typeface?
What’s your favourite plain text editor?
I don’t really have a favourite, but for notes I use Notational Velocity. I wish it did more, but I love it and I use it every day.
What’s your favourite tea?
I drink black coffee and Scotch whisky.
The A List Apart article on Content Modelling is, although rather advanced, at it’s core an important reminder of what should be the fundamental building block for any design process, both from a visual design perspective, and when it comes to choosing a Content Management solution.
Read it together with Tinker, Tailor, Content Strategist for a good analysis of where content strategy is at today.
It was with sadness that we woke this morning to discover that filmaker, designer and author Hillman Curtis had, after a long and fiercely fought battle with cancer, passed away.
The list of Curtis’s achievements is long: design director for Macromedia (he was, appropriately, christened ‘The Pope of Flash’ by Canoë magazine in 2000); author of four, celebrated books on design; noted filmmaker, working both on commercials and independent features; the list goes on….
The sheer list of subjects that Curtis captured in his noted Artist Series, give just one sense of a man who was both prodigious and talented. Set aside some time and watch an artist’s craft through a camera as he casts his lens across a who’s who of talent: David Byrne, David Carson, Brian Eno, Milton Glaser, Daniel Libeskind, Stefan Sagmeister, Paula Scher, Lawrence Weiner…
Farewell Mr Curtis.
Dustin Curtis’ The Open Brand is a framework for defining brands, a process that most designers have to go through at some point, but one that has been lacking in standardisation, especially from a technical standpoint. Currently in its infancy, the project includes a specification for optimising assets in various file formats, but is looking to expand:
The Open Brand template is currently very simple, but it will improve hugely in the future. To be considered complete, it needs to include more detailed documentation on brand usage, typographic styles, the preferred tone of copy and communication, and a company vision manifesto. Hopefully these improvements will come alongside external open source contributions.
The project is hosted on Github, we’ll be watching it to see how it matures.
Effortlessly underlining their efficient storage solution credentials, IKEA have built The Smallest IKEA Store in the World. Cleverly emphasising the point that their products save you space they’ve squeezed an entire store of 2,800 products into a 300 × 250 pixel banner ad. An impressive feat indeed.
You’ve got to hand it to them, these Swedes are pretty damn clever.
If you’re looking for Swiss typefaces, Swiss Typefaces – unsurprisingly – has just what you’re looking for (and very nice typefaces they are too).
Matthew Engel, a cricket writer and columnist for the Financial Times, writes a fond farewell to Ceefax, as he puts it, “The news service of choice for discerning BBC viewers for the past 38 years.” Farewell Ceefax, we’ll miss you.
If you’re an illustrator with a desire to have your work seen by hundreds of millions of viewers a day, Google has a job for you as a full time Doodler. As they put it:
As a ‘Doodler’, you have the world’s best platform to showcase your stylistic skills… From Jules Verne to Pac-Man, you have the reins to our brand and iconic logo and can run free with your innovative ideas. Go forth and doodle!
If the idea of ‘Doodler’ as an official job title appeals to you, you should apply now.
The True Cost of an iPhone - courtesy of MBA Online (an interesting experiment in non bricks and mortar learning) – charts the journey of an iPhone from mining to processing to manufacturing to consumption and, finally, to waste.
It’s an interesting journey and offers some solid insights into supply chains and the importance of supplier responsibility in this age of connected, global consumption.
The wait is nearly over…
Today’s the hotly anticipated day when our good friend Mr McMillan unveils the lineup for Build 2012. We’ve had a sneak preview and what’s on offer during this year’s week long conference is – it should come as no surprise – an outstanding mix of stimulating speakers, fantastic fringe events and wonderful workshops (and, yes, the Open Book Exam is back, for its third year).
With over 5,000 people registering an interest in tickets they’re sure to disappear, like last year, lightning fast. If you’d like to attend one of the web’s best conferences be sure to have your finger on the button at 16.00 GMT sharp, the very moment tickets go on sale. Snap one up, you won’t be disappointed.
We hope to see you there.
You don’t have to be a startup to take a lot away from Wells Riley’s Startups, This Is How Design Works. An excellent introduction into what design is and what power it can wield, it should also be required reading for anyone starting out in the design business.
The introductory paragraph summarises the proposition succinctly:
Companies like Apple are making design impossible for startups to ignore. […] But what is ‘design’ actually? Is it a logo? A Wordpress theme? An innovative UI?
It’s so much more than that. It’s a state of mind. It’s an approach to a problem. It’s how you’re going to kick your competitor’s ass…
Many people have a very limited opinion of what design is and what it can enable. Send them to this page. As designers, we too can fall into the trap of believing that we are less than what we are. Reminding ourselves that we’re not merely decorators – or a pair of hands – is invaluable. Take 15 minutes and read, or re-read it now.
It’s worth it.
A Book Apart has managed to do for books what Pixar did for films; pull off success after success, without even the slightest signs of stagnation. Design Is a Job, by Mike Monteiro of Mule Design, is no exception. If you’re a designer just starting out, or have had years and years in the business – as a freelancer or running your own studio – you need to read this book.
Although the style of the self-proclaimed raconteur Mr. Monteiro might be like Marmite (ask your British chums to explain), the guidance he shares, ranging, “from contracts to selling design, from working with clients to working with each other,” will certainly enable you to do your job better.
The underlying subtext throughout the 150 pages is how can you do a job you can be proud of, with honesty and integrity as primary driving factors. Design is a business, and you will run a better business taking this advice on.
The book went on sale yesterday, and you should grab your copy now.
The fine folks at FontSHop have rounded up The 100 Best Typefaces of All Time. As they put it, it’s:
A unique selection that differs from other typeface charts because it is both subjective and as objective as possible. By incorporating its own sales figures and various bestseller lists from the past ten years into the process, FontShop ensured that the users of the nominated typefaces also had an input into the selection.
No surprise to see Max Miedinger’s Helvetica in at Number One.
If you’re looking for subtle background patterns and textures, Subtle Patterns has you covered. It does exactly what it says on the tin and it’s all wrapped up in a nicely designed package. Very nice indeed.
Pulling down the tab in the footer gives some information on the libraries and frameworks used; libraries which have matured rapidly during the last few years, and now allows the standards based, non-proprietary players to compete on the arena once solely occupied by Flash.
Oh, and there’s pirates.
Neue Haas Grotesk, courtesy of Font Bureau, is, “A classic properly revived, once lost in translation.” As they put it:
The digital version of Helvetica that everyone knows and uses today is quite different from the typeface’s pre-digital design from 1957. Originally released as Neue Haas Grotesk, many of the features that made it a Modernist favorite have been lost in translation over the years from one typesetting technology to the next.
Type designer Christian Schwartz has newly restored the original Neue Haas Grotesk in digital form – bringing back features like optical size variations, properly corrected obliques, alternate glyphs, refined spacing, and more.
The result is a timeless classic of typography dusted down and given a new lease of digital life. Find out more about the typeface’s history and explore an extensive series of specimens in a very nicely designed site by Font Bureau’s very own Nick Sherman.
Never content to rest on their laurels, the fine folks at FontShop have created The FontShop Plugin that allows designers to preview FontShop fonts directly within Photoshop. As they put it:
Preview any of the over 150,000 FontShop fonts for free, in the context of your own artwork. This is a great new way to find the perfect typographic fit for your project.
Very nicely done and handy indeed.
Everyone’s favourite Irish illustrator based in Belgium, Mr Paddy Donnelly, has been hard at work creating a very nicely designed holding page for Funconf III. If you’d like a real ticket every bit as covetable as the virtual ticket Mr Donnelly’s designed, sign up to find out the moment tickets go on sale.
Take ‘idle minds’ and add ‘busy hands’ and you get – amongst other things – Brent Traut’s, “masterpiece,” Super Mario Animation via Media Queries; a proof-of-concept that sees everyone’s favourite, Mario, bounding across World 1-1 thanks to a judicious combination of media queries and image sprites.
As Traut puts it:
Because most mobile browsers have fixed window sizes, animation is only possible on desktop browsers.
Thus far, I see little practical use to animations constructed this way. Quite frankly, it feels like the wrong tool for the job. I’d love to hear if anyone takes it a step further or finds a dimension of practicality from it.
Wrong tool for the job notwithstanding, it’s an interesting experiment nonetheless.
Data visualisation doesn’t come much more expressive than the Wind Map, courtesy of Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg. Showing near-term hourly forecasts, the live, zoomable map showcases, “the delicate tracery of wind flowing over the US.” Beautiful work.