Day 97

Day 97

We are the builders. We are the makers. We are the users. We are the explorers.

— Simon Collison

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This past week the Build team announced the 2012 conference, and as we write this there are 10 Days, 13 Hours, 33 Minutes, and 28 Seconds left to launch. We’ve posted about some great lectures from the 2011 conference, including Wilson Miner’s “When We Build” on Day 68. Today, we return to Simon Collison‘s, “We Are The Explorers.” Simon, who goes by the nickname Colly, has been practicing web design and publishing his thoughts on his site for the past nine years. His archives are extensive, with 404 articles and 3983 responses, there are some great reads in there, including some of his favorites, “Bauhaus Ideology and the Future of Web Design” and “Redesigning the undesigned,” his reflection on designing his site.

“We Are Explorers” is an optimistic call to action for designers to continue to learn, master our craft, inquire about our profession, and allow our personal stories to infuse our work. Simon calls on the metaphor of a bricklayer, which ties into his personal ancestry and his place in a lineage of craftsmen, makers, and builders, and relates this to how we as designers shape the web. He says, “When I think about what they did with bricks, and what I do as a designer with pixels, or whatever tools I use, I start to understand a little bit more about my principles, why I am fascinated with order and structure, building things, and hopefully trying to make things better.” Simon asks that we all reflect on our interests, our tendencies, and our practices so that we can truly make something with a unique place in the world. “How we as individual builders of the web, leave our own trace on the web.”

Simon doesn’t believe in goals. Instead of working toward a destination he suggests we should focus on “the doing.” For Simon, setting goals in a profession as transient and in-flux as web design, can be dangerous, misleading, and most importantly it restricts a willingness to change. He encourages us all to think deeply about the role we play in the future of the web. And to do this, he urges us to step back from the browser and ask ourselves, “Am I in my work?” He says, “We hear a lot about storytelling on the web. I think that’s an extremely important subject, but let’s not forget that each of is a story.”

Each of us is a story. We love that line, and one of the most exciting things about talking to designers and entrepreneurs has been discovering more about their lives, their ambitions, and their explorations. Their work provides some of their story, it builds the story and allows it to grow, but it’s not the whole story. The story lies in what they, as the makers, bring to their work.

This idea of getting rid of goals hits home with us and the way we built Kern and Burn. We had goals. We knew they would change. We didn’t set out and say we were going to build our project in any which way, it just grew organically. Even within the 100 Days, we tried to plan out what we thought we might want to talk about, and we curated it to highlight topics, designers, and entrepreneurs that we think are doing amazing things that need to be shared. But, we let these people lead us to others, we discovered new work and new ideas, and let those ideas guide and change us along the way. We didn’t, and couldn’t, have planned this experience. We just hoped, we reacted, and we grew.

Simon also speaks about how we learn, how we consume and use new information, and how we tackle new tools. He says we should define what we are truly interested in and invest our time in what we love, and that we can and should learn from each other. The web, perhaps more than most industries was built around an idea of community. Web design encourages the practice of learning from others, sharing your skills and inventions so that others can benefit. Simon quotes Jon Tan, who says, “I’m web taught. Colleague taught. Empirically taught.” We have found one of the greatest benefits of being a part of a graduate design community is the opportunity to learn directly from and in tandem with our peers. We gain insight from our classmates’ interests and strengths that are greater than our own. We allow their paths to shape our path.

Simon champions our unique instincts as designers and he believes that we should do everything in our power to reflect ourselves in our work. He thinks that designers should, “Find problems and design responses. Not answers, not solutions. Responses.” This speaks again to the impermanent nature of the web. Our response for a website design, or an app may not be a permanent result (that’s why it’s not a finite solution) but it should be a response that’s crafted, thoughtful, inventive, and courageous. A response that leaves a trace of the you, the designer.

He says, “We are the builders. We are the makers. We are the users. We are the explorers.”

Simon’s post on March 30th announced his new full-time position at Fictive Kin, he writes, “If you hadn’t already guessed. This is the kind of role I always dreamed about, and it feels like a perfect fit.” But, he didn’t set goals for his dream role, or put it on a list, he allowed it to happen, serendipitously. We are excited to see what’s in store from the Fictive Kin dream team, and we can only hope that this year’s Build conference proves to be as inspirational as the previous.