Alex Cornell

Alex Cornell — Cocoon

Alex is a designer and musician based in San Francisco. Previously, he was the lead designer for Facebook Video and Live, and he is now working on a new company called Cocoon. Before that, he co-founded UberConference and was an apprentice to Tycho/ISO50.

What led you into design?

I got into design through music, as many do. When I was in college, I was in a few bands and we frequently needed graphics to promote ourselves. My first taste of the influential power of Design was a sticker I made to advertise our first website – the sticker was a photorealistic electrical outlet, which we put up all over campus in places where outlets would likely be found. People would try to plug into them, discover they were stickers, and see our band's website written in small type along the bottom. They weren't happy about it, but they remembered it :)

What does a typical day look like?

I wake up around 7am and after a coffee, breakfast and a workout, I head to our new office in the Mission, usually around 10am. There are just three of us at my new company, so it's a really mellow work environment. The day is generally broken up into long blocks of focus time, mixed with long blocks of discussion. My co-founder and I both like talking through problems, and it's not uncommon for us to talk for hours at a time about a particular issue. We both used to work at Facebook, where the day is broken up into 30min blocks. So I think our new schedule of much longer, focused periods is a reaction to that.

What’s your workstation setup?

Where do you go to get inspired?

I'm a product of the design blog ecosystem (I wrote for ISO50) and used to get most of my inspiration from that community. That world is virtually gone now which makes me really sad. I have to look elsewhere for inspiration, and honestly, I am not satisfied with my current crop of sources. I have a lot of books, which I used for basic color and layout inspiration. For interface design, I stay inspired by downloading a lot of apps and being very aware of what works as I go through them. Otherwise, I rely on those in-between moments in my day where serendipitous inspiration can strike without warning. It's not reliable, but it works.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

I'm a big fan of the current ecosystem of Google apps, specifically because of their commitment to prominent and playful press states. It's a little thing, but I really enjoy thoughtful and obvious press states. Google is really nailing this.

The Notion desktop app is my current favorite. I use it to manage both my personal and professional life. I love the hover states lol – I must have a thing for hover and down states...

And completely random, but we don't wear shoes at home or the office, so I recently spent a lot of time searching for the perfect room shoes. I think I found them in these Sasawashis.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

I am really proud of a video I completed recently, called Lookout. It's a satirical look at our relationship with mobile devices. It was really difficult to pull off because I was trying to write it as an integral part of a talk I gave at FITC and Awwwards. The plan was to talk to myself in the past – me filming the video – while I was on stage. This made completing both projects really complicated. I was proud that I was able to do it at all; I definitely won't be doing that again anytime soon.

I am also really proud of all the work I did while I was at Facebook. I worked on our Video products, especially Facebook Live. I don't have screenshots of that work I can share, but I'll always be really proud of it.

What music do you listen to whilst designing?

I listen to one of three things while designing, and my choice depends largely on what type of work I'm doing. If I'm just getting started on a complex problem, I listen to absolutely nothing. I need perfect silence. If I'm starting to get somewhere, and doing some basic mocks with a viable direction in mind, I listen to Chilly Gonzalez Solo Piano I-III. And if I am really happy with where I'm at visually and starting to prototype, then I listen to hardcore trance and club music.

Any advice for ambitious designers?

Learn to write. Well. Doesn't matter if you work at a solo shop, agency, or a big company, being able to write well is one of the most important skills you can develop. At Facebook, I wrote constantly and it was incredibly useful. One of my favorite books on the subject is On Writing Well.

Don't read Twitter.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

My recent video for Lookout. And my Instagram profile.

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