Social media is a mirage. More often than not, what you see or experience is not reality. But every now and then, you come across authenticity, and you are reminded of the goodness of the Internet. Like yesterday, after following him for years, I met up with former Apple software engineer and designer extraordinaire, Ken Kocienda. Unsurprisingly, I found it easy to have a conversation with him — his tone and his way of discussing things he cares about are pretty much the same in real life as they are in his tweets. Though in real life, he is even more eloquently expansive.
We had a nice simple lunch, sitting outside Flour & Water Pasta Shop, and we talked about everything except what he did at Apple and what he does at the highly anticipated and exciting stealth mode company, Humane. We spent a significant amount of time discussing our love of watches and photography. Ken shared with me about this time studying photography at Yale and what he learned there. One of his professors — the name slips my mind now — told him that lived experiences are what really allow you to make photos from your heart and mind. A full life is a key to visual transcendence.
And then he asked me a question no one has ever asked before (and that I have never bothered to ask myself): what is my photography? Is it a moment? Is it a memory? Is it an artifact? Is it art? Stumped by the question, the best answer I could come up with was that my photography is an expression of what I am feeling at that moment. It was a tremendous example of the value of IRL interactions, which provide such powerful, unexpected opportunities for thought and reflection.
Another topic we touched on that I still find myself mulling over was the idea of living with the weight of a legacy. Success should help free one from the various chokeholds of life. Instead, ironically, it can force us into a trap of perfection, when often all we should be considering is hitting the big reset button.
Our conversation, while meandering, often returned to our common passion for “stories” and how they define our interactions with products, places, and people. For instance, I told Ken about my early love for German watchmaker Nomos, and the Bradley Price watch startup, Autodromo. (Read my interview with Price.) He told me about Erika’s straps, his love of the 1970s watches, and his affinity for independent and obscure upstart brands.
The lunch went by too fast. As a parting gift, Ken gave me a signed copy of his book, Creative Selection. I look forward to reading it and learning about his journey toward two products he worked on that touch billions of people everyday: the iPhone and the WebKit. But the real gift was the conversation, held over a small table with some good food. Highly recommended.
Ken wrote about our lunch on his blog as well.
July 8, 2021. San Francisco.