A Dozen Questions for Mr Koczon
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.