Colin Dunn

Dec 13, 2013

Hello, Goodbye

Dropbox

It is with sadness, excitement and a little bit of fear that I announce today is my last day at Facebook.

Facebook is one of the rare companies in this world that is trying to solve really meaningful problems at a global scale. We are chasing elusive ideas that have the potential to impact over a billion people. Being able to chase one of those ideas, Graph Search, for over a year was a really incredible experience. I was lucky enough to work with a group of intensely smart and talented people and I'm incredibly grateful for that.

After the holidays I'm going to start somewhere new. I'll be joining the Dropbox design team where I will get to think about a new set of problems. I'm excited and humbled to be joining such a talented team. Dropbox has built a rock solid syncing platform and a brand that people love and trust. I can't wait to see what we build.

Sep 29, 2013

Great Brands

Think about a great brand. What comes to mind? Are you picturing an inanimate object? Or are you thinking about a person? When I think about Harley Davidson I get the image of a burly dude with a great beard wearing a leather jacket riding down Route 66. He just happens to be riding a Harley. Nike brings to mind a tremendous athlete sprinting down the track who just happens to be wearing a pair of Nike shoes. Apple makes me think of a young creative person pursuing self expression who just happens to be using a Mac.

A great brand should transcend the products or services they represent. It should be emotionally complex, opinionated and have personality. It should feel human. Product is what you do, a brand is why you do it. A compelling brand will pull you into its orbit. Its message is clear enough that you can disagree with it, but cogent enough that you don't.

Take this Proctor & Gamble video ad. On the surface it has all the makings of a good brand video. But "The power of the everyday" is a meaningless message. What gives brands their power is their contrast to the everyday. It should make you feel special, like you are part of an exclusive club. By attempting to appeal to everybody, Proctor & Gamble's brand appeals to nobody.

These are companies who focus on the what and ignore the why. They compete on speeds and feeds, features, performance, and price. Without a strong brand, there is no loyalty among customers. If someone else can offer a competing product that is cheaper/better/faster people will have no reservations about jumping ship.

Driving growth, engagement, and monetization is important, but focusing entirely on what attributes don't build trust or loyalty. If a company has answered the what, explaining the why is an opportunity. Give people a reason to love your product.

Apr 14, 2013

Thoughts from an Ex-Graphic Designer

I recently got an email from two MICA students asking for advice about transitioning from student life to "real" life. They wanted to know what I had learned since graduating. This got me to thinking about just how much my perspective has shifted since being a graphic design student and what I would want to tell my past self.

For context, MICA is a fine art college in Baltimore that offers a degree in graphic design. I studied at MICA for four years and it afforded me the opportunity to work at traditional print design studios including Pentagram, Post Typography, and Oliver Munday Group. At these studios "interaction design" means applying the principles and concepts of print design to a digital format. A website or app is no different than a book, business card, or product package: it is just another vehicle for expressing a brand. Typography, aesthetics, and editorial pacing are the chief concerns while little attention is given to usability or the inherent properties of the medium.

I say this with love: MICA students and faculty worship at the alter of the printed page. We value tactile design. Our practice is rooted in fine arts. Technology is the enemy and a threat to our way of life. We lament the rapid decline of print and limited jobs at design studios, branding agencies, and letterpress shops.

We are chasing a reality that is rapidly fading. We are skating to where the puck has been.

There is a tectonic shift to digital and design is playing a huge role in this new world. While many new grads from schools like MICA are competing for a limited number of jobs in the graphic design space, there are literally more jobs than there are people to do them in the digital product design space (words uttered by one of the recruiters at Facebook). My generation is uniquely positioned to have a massive impact on the world. Many of the architects of the technology industry are under 30. At Facebook, for example, the product managers I work with are 25 and 21. The engineering team has an average age of 25. I'm 23. We present our work directly to Mark Zuckerberg who is 28. This is a company run by children.

Print, by comparison, is a very mature industry. It takes much longer to reach a similar level of impact. Most of the leaders in the industry have been working for 20 or more years. Think about Paula Scher, Michael Bierut, Jonathon Hoefler, Tobias Frere-Jones, Stefan Sagmeister, and the rest of the people art school designers look up to.

I'm not saying everyone should be an interactive designer. The world does (and will continue to) need many talented print designers, branding specialists, advertising agencies, and environmental designers. But there is a space that has began to emerge and it is providing significant opportunities for many people, especially young people. We are digital natives and there is nobody who understands this stuff better than we do. But also realize that this is an anomaly of our time. In 20 years, we will be the Paula Schers, Michael Bieruts, and Jonathon Hoeflers. Interaction design will be a mature industry and something else will come along to take its place.

Jan 12, 2013

Social Business

Last October I quit my job at Lore and started working at Facebook. It was a really hard decision to leave my life in New York. I had been on the east coast for four and a half years and in New York for only five months.

I feel like years passed in those five months. And the truth is it didn't matter that I was in New York. I spent my waking hours in an office in SoHo and slept in a studio apartment in Brooklyn. I experienced the city primarily through subway rides and carry-out food. I was working days, nights, and weekends. It was unhealthy and I was unhappy. I wanted to be closer to my family in Oregon.

But being at Lore, and now Facebook, has allowed me to take a closer look at business. I'm fascinated by business. I'm fascinated by the art of business. It's democratic and darwinistic. I love the idea of making something and putting it into the world and if people buy it you get to keep making it. And make it better. And make new things. Art making is responding to your environment and art is anything done well and good business is the distribution of art.

It's a shame then, that the yardstick for success in business is profit. Companies have been optimized against this constraint. They have been distilled into profit maximizing machines. But people are complex creatures, not money making robots. Material possessions by themselves cannot satisfy our spiritual needs. Our world deserves better. As Muhammad Yunus has pointed out, the instruments of capitalism can be used for many things, including solving social problems. We deserve a new type of capitalism that measures success in social impact. That's the world I want to live in.