Simon Collison on the privilege of being a designer

This article first appeared in issue 237 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

There’s a lovely scene in Simon Collison’s essay in the first issue of The Manual in which he remembers, as an art student, meeting the artist Ian Breakwell. He was, Collison wrote: “a diarist, painter, collagist, filmmaker, performer, broadcaster and writer… He was the most accomplished person I’d ever met.”

It was the 1990s, and as Collison – spattered in paint and reeking of turpentine – talked through his canvases and ideas, Breakwell listened intently and took notes. “At the end of our meeting, Breakwell passed me the handwritten note he’d scribbled down.” The note was a list of artists to explore and essays to study. Meeting Breakwell had a defining effect on Collison. “This marked a turning point in my methods,” he wrote.

And really, looking at Collison’s career so far, it is very much one of turning points. A fine artist turned designer, his current project, Fictive Kin is neither a design shop nor agency. Rather, as Collison explains over the phone, it is “a product shop”. Functionally, Fictive Kin is a collective: a lab of designers and developers spread throughout the UK, the US, Canada and Denmark.

The shop’s credo is: “Work hard, be nice.” And work hard it most certainly does. Products include to-do app TeuxDeux, online archiving tool Gimme Bar, the Brooklyn Beta event and the BB Summer Camp: a project funding startups. There are more, too, but Collison is tightlipped: “We’re working on a couple of other big projects I can’t talk about, and an even bigger one called Rushmore.”

Rushmore – a designer-led project currently in private beta – has occupied Collison and the Fictive gang for the last 20 months. “People are starting to be excited about it,“ he says. “It’s a beautiful music ecosystem for fans and artists. Our goal is to bring fans and bands closer together.”

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