Farewell Brooklyn Beta

This month I attended the fifth – and final – Brooklyn Beta, an annual gathering of some of the friendliest folks on the web.


What started out as a small gathering of friends has grown into an amazing event with an even more amazing community. It takes place at a beautiful venue, no speakers are announced upfront and there are long breaks between the talks that enable you to talk to other attendees. With speakers ranging from musicians to artists, from CEO’s to ex-convicts, the talks are always very diverse and inspiring.

The Reunion

The first two days of the conference were at The Invisible Dog Art Centre with about 300 attendees, most of which have attended the previous years.

We saw John Maeda – design parter at KPCB – share random bits of knowledge like the amusing advice he got from design legend Paul Rand to “make lots of money”. Next up was David Lowery, a musician, mathematician and businessman. He gave an insight into the way the music industry works and how the internet changed it. Anthony Casalena, founder & CEO of Squarespace talked about how his company – a tool to build websites – started from a one-man side-project in a dorm room to having a Superbowl-commercial.

This year the Designer’s Debate Club debated the motion “Design is self expression”. Is there room for self expression in design? Or does the nature of design demand that the hand of the designer be invisible, that the voice be purely empathetic? We saw Joe Marianek, Randy Hunt & Jessica Hische arguing for the motion and Elle Luna, Cap Watkins & Aaron Carambula against.

From designing at IDEO, Uber, Mailbox and Medium to becoming a painter, Elle Luna talked about the Crossroads of Should and Must. She kept dreaming about a white room, decided to look for it, found it and started painting. You can read more about this in her interview at TGD.

Shaka Senghor, a former drug dealer convicted for second-degree murder talked about his life and journey to redemption through literature and writing. Senghor served 19 years in prison including solitary confinement and was released at the age of 38. Senghor is now a writer and a Director’s Fellow of MIT Media Lab and has collaborated on imagining creative solutions for the problems plaguing distressed communities. More about this in his TED talk.

Naz Hamid gave us some very inspiring thoughts on the balance between work and life. The more time we spend looking at screens, the faster we are going to reach burnout. His advice is to make a system for your life. Some of those guidelines are: work hard, with interesting people on what interests you; be thoughtful and generous; don’t overcommit and make a life you love.

The Grand Finale

The third day of the conference was at the Duggal Greenhouse with about 1200 attendees.

The first talk, by Sugru founder Jane ní Dhulchaointig gave a nice insight into her path from design-student to entrepreneur. Sugru is a self-setting rubber that can be formed by hand. It moulds like play-dough, bonds to almost anything and turns into a strong, flexible silicone rubber overnight. Jane couldn’t get a working prototype made in the labs she approached, so she learned chemistry and made it herself. People use Sugru to fix or enhance lots of things and the community shares these findings online.

Start small and make it good.
– Jane ní Dhulchaointig

The interview with Tavi Gevinson was a nice followup for her interview at Brooklyn Beta 2013. Tavi is the founder of Rookie Magazine, a blog she started when she was 15 that turned into a massive community for teenage girls. Since then she has appeared on many magazine covers and is now acting in a Broadway Show with Michael Cera and Kieran Culkin.

David Hieatt is the founder of Hiut Denim and he talked about finding your purpose and his business-plan that got a town in England making jeans again. His company comes up with innovative ideas, like the HistoryTag (enabeling user to record stories about their jeans) to stay at the forefront of the selvedge denim market. You can read more in his blogpost.

Jason Scott’s talk was very entertaining and had an important topic as well. He works at The Internet Archive a non-profit building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. In Jason’s words: “The Internet Archive was founded because some millionaire (Brewster Kale) decided not to be a shit.” The last decade or so we have all been putting our thoughts, memories, our lives online. And we might think they’re safe, but what happens when the services where we put our lives are acquired and shutdown? You might be able to export your data if you’re lucky, but that doesn’t always happen. That is one of the reasons the Internet Archive exists, to preserve our history and memories.

Cameron Koczon, one of the founders of Brooklyn Beta, ended the day with an analogy of the relationship between business, development and design as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When these aspects are in sync we can do wonderful things.

Farewell Brooklyn Beta

Chris Shiflett, also one of the founders of Brooklyn Beta, mentioned three goals Brooklyn Beta has:

  • build strong relationships between designers and developers
  • encourage you to work on your own ideas
  • shine a light on important issues

For me these three goals have definitely been met. I’ve met many interesting people that work in various fields related to mine, not just designers. Seeing the talks by people from diverse backgrounds talking about their success and failure has inspired me to become better at my work. It has broadened my horizons and I’ve made some new internet-friends along the way.

Thank you Chris, Cameron and all of the Brooklyn Beta crew. I had a great time and look forward to what’s next. See you on the internet!

Thanks to Erica Heinz for her blogpost, her notes remind me I’m not a very good note maker.