“Mastery of Creation is More Important Than Mastery of Tools”: The Cameron Moll Interview

Cameron Moll is the author of Mobile Web Design, co-author of CSS Mastery, and founder of Authentic Jobs, a targeted destination for web professionals and the companies seeking to hire them. He's been featured in Communication Arts, NPR, PRINT, Forrester Research, The Atlantic, HOW Magazine, and other publications. We caught up with Cameron to discuss creativity, business, and family.

How and where did you get your start in design, web or otherwise?

The story I typically tell when asked this question is that I fell into web design during college. I didn't take any classes. Those weren't even a thing yet. This was the late 90s, people. I was self-taught and ended up landing a job advertised in the student-run newspaper. I wasn't looking for a job in web design, but the company's job flyer literally fell out of the newspaper I grabbed that day. The rest is, you know, history.

But I think the real story begins much earlier than that. I was always building stuff with my hands growing up. Like always. Wood projects, go-karts, radio-controlled airplanes, that sort of thing. I think we underestimate sometimes just how much those kinds of activities, the ones that seem completely unrelated to our careers, play a vital role in shaping who we become and what we do with our working lives. The tools I use now in business are totally different from those I used in my garage twenty years ago, but in the end they're all the same. They're just tools that facilitate synthesis and creativity. And ten or twenty years from now, those tools will be totally different again. Mastery of creation and composition is much more important than mastery of tools.

Authentic Jobs, which you founded, is a powerhouse job market for web folks of all stripes. What's it like running a business, and how do you find time to design?

I happened to have my sons in my office when these questions landed in my inbox, so I asked them what they thought it was like seeing me run a business. “Stressful!” That seemed to be a theme as I asked three of my oldest.

I think there's some honesty to that. It's glorious running a business and having complete freedom to decide where that business goes. But to be fair, it can be a nightmare at times. I still lose sleep occasionally worrying about competitors, making payroll, and so on, and yet I've been running Authentic Jobs full-time for nearly six years. There are definitely days where I wish someone else would make all the decisions. But there are also definitely days that are rewarding beyond compare.

Finding time for design? That's another interview for another day! I'm constantly trying to juggle time between my role as CEO and my role as lead designer.

You have a new service called Authentic Pros. What's that all about?

We've known for a while that having a directory of web professionals would be the perfect complement to a job board, and our customers have asked for this. We decided to start simple with a vanilla directory, but we have many features and upgrades planned. The basic idea is that anyone can sign up for a free account and have an aggregated summary of their profile across the web. It's a poor comparison, but think of it as an about.me tailored to hackers, designers, and other creative professionals.

You're giving a talk at several shows this Fall titled “Cohesive UX.” Sounds intriguing! What's the quick pitch, and what will attendees take away from it?

I love this topic because I think it's one we encounter every day as both users and creators. Cohesive UX is a set of principles focused on delivering a cohesive, consistent user experience regardless of where the digital experience begins, continues, and ends. For example, adding a product to your cart from your phone during the morning commute, and finishing the transaction in the afternoon at work from your desktop computer, and all your data persists from screen to screen and things feel visually unified—that sort of thing.

Attendees will learn how to avoid design and development mistakes that result in incongruent experiences, and they'll see plenty of examples from teams big and small doing it right.

What excites you most these days?

People! Notably my sons. I'm excited to see what they and those of their generation do with the tools and technology of their time.

Cameron will deliver “Cohesive UX” at An Event Apart DC, An Event Apart Chicago, An Event Apart Austin, and An Event Apart San Francisco. For more insight into what AEA is all about, enjoy our voluminous video library. And for your free monthly guide to all things web, design, and developer-y, subscribe to The AEA Digest.