Cameron Koczon and Chris Shiflett created Brooklyn Beta, the design conference that felt more like a reunion with friends and which aimed to bring talented designers and developers together in the hopes that something great might happen. Cameron is one of the leads for the creative agency Fictive Kin where he helped create Very Goods and some recent client work for Samsung, Rookie, and This.cm.
Tell me the story behind Brooklyn Beta, how did you get started?
Chris Shiflett and I started Brooklyn Beta very much as a side project five or six years ago. Our aim was to get the nicest, most-talented designers and developers that we knew into a room in the hopes that something special would happen. At the time, Chris and I were both working at startups with designer-developer teams and we were drinking that kool-aid pretty good. Brooklyn Beta ended up surprising us with how successful it was. It sort of got away from us. We never thought it could be so big, and it soon was hard to keep it as just a side project.
What kind of side projects are you working on right now?
At Fictive Kin, we pay the bills with client services. We build iOS and web products for other companies which hones our skills and affords us the time to work on the things we’re excited about internally. I guess you could call them side projects, but I hope that like Brooklyn Beta they’ll become more and more difficult to keep on the side. Right now we’re working on all kinds of things but the two that are the furthest along are called Amigos and Mined.
Amigos is an app for playing cards. Games like Bridge, Hearts, Spades, Canasta, and Euchre. There isn’t a very good way to play those games online. We’re twelve people in eleven cities and love cards so we’re very much building this one for ourselves. Our friends Jessica Hische, Frank Chimero, & Alonzo Felix designed some very pretty cards for the app and we were even able to get funding to print them through Kickstarter. That was cool.
Mined, which probably won’t be ready until the end of the year, is a marketplace for digital goods. There’s some other stuff out there that in this space but (surprise) we think we have a unique take on it. Ideally, this would be a product could help designers and other folks make money from their side projects.
In terms of side projects in the design community, what would you like to see?
I’d like to see designers push themselves a bit. A lot of the side projects that come from designers tend to be for our community by our community. We more often release posters or playing cards (self-burn) than we release web products or test the limits of the web. I’d like to see designers thinking bigger and deeper, taking on the digital space, and making products that can be used by an actual audience. An audience of any size really.
Your aspiration for the design community is for more designers to use independent work to push their thinking?
That sounds nice. I’d love to see designers make something real, something that they would try to convince an engineer to work on. Less play-acting, more projects that are at the level of a product and not simply an interaction.
I’d also love to see designers talking about the decisions they made throughout that process. That would be such an interesting change of pace for the discourse in our community. People are really busy and it’s also not that easy to write stuff up properly, but I believe sharing process and the reasons behind decision-making are hugely beneficial to the design community at large.
What would you say to someone who has an idea but does not know how to start?
I would say what everybody else probably says, just start. But I also believe if you need to be pushed really hard to do something, you probably don’t want to do it. You don’t need to do a side-project because other people say that those are so great and wonderful. Maybe your thing is sitting in a hammock and reading a book. Just sit in the hammock and read a book; that’s one of my favorite things, it’s nice.
What’s the perfect mix of projects for you, at any given time?
In terms of side project versus not side project; the perfect mix would be a hundred percent side project. I have friends who like the variety or challenges of day jobs, etc., but I’m not convinced.
Two things Cameron wants to See More of From the Design Community
• Make a Product, Please: Designers should be leading the conversation about product design. The people who I see getting better at product design are business people and engineers.
• Share Your Thinking and Process: Once you’ve built / while you’re building your product, share what you’re learning. I’d say Jonnie Hallman a.k.a. Destroy Today is the gold standard on this front.
How to Side Project with Cameron Koczon
Have a Purpose.
For any project I think a good starting-place is to kind of ask yourself what your purpose is. Why are you doing this. Maybe write that down? Kind cheesy but it is easy to forget your purpose in the middle of building and give up.
A Realistic Scope
Some people call this an MVP. I tend not to like those people. But a realistic scope is probably the most important thing you can set for yourself. Set yourself up for success. This is tough because when you’re excited you want to add more—keep your excitement but kill your features.
Actually Like the Project Idea
If your purpose is “this is gonna make me rich,” you’ll have a hard time overcoming any roadblocks. If your purpose is “I’m gonna make the sh** out of this project because it’s all I can think about doing,” you’re probably better equipped to finish what you started.