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AMA: Koen Bok, Co-Founder of Framer. At Sofa and Facebook before.

6 years ago from , Maker of Framer.

Hi, I'm one of the creators of Framer, a new kind of design tool.

I'm foremost a product designer, living somewhere on that line between engineering and design. I love building tools and building companies.

Before Framer I co-founded a software/design company called Sofa, which got acquired by Facebook in 2011, where I worked for two years as a product designer.

The main idea why we made Framer is that design is changing, and we need new tools for that. Tools that not only let you design how things look, but also how they feel. Framer (and many others) are trying to solve that. It's a fantastic problem to work on with many possible solutions that require real innovation. We're really all only just beginning.

Feel free to ask me anything about tools, startups, design or anything else, really.

Edit: Ok it's time, here we go! Edit: Phew, ok I think I got them all! Thanks a lot this was a lot of fun!

66 comments

  • Pawel LudwiczakPawel Ludwiczak, 6 years ago

    Obviously it's not the same, but what do you think about Framer's competitors, especailly recent one called Principal: http://principleformac.com/ ?

    18 points
    • Roberts Ozolins, 6 years ago

      Principleformac looks ace. Thanks for sharing!

      1 point
    • Manuel SainsilyManuel Sainsily, 6 years ago (edited 6 years ago )

      Hi Koen, I had the exact same question as Pawel. My question is actually not what do you think (even though I care too) but what are you doing to stay relevant when a competitor like this appears?

      1 point
    • , 6 years ago (edited 6 years ago )

      I like it! I know you're supposed to say that, but my reasons are simple:

      • Prototyping is only just beginning, and we still have to figure out how the models and verticals balance well into a new set of tools. That is a huge process requiring a ton of new ideas that will not be invented by a single tool or person (if that were the case Bret Victor had built it ten years ago). So it's good to have different teams try out code, visual programming or UI to solve it. I ultimately think it will be some mix.

      • It's way better to have many tools then just one. And design seemed to be stuck with just Photoshop for some time. A little too long maybe. So I think this is super exciting.

      • I most like competitors that invent and try something really hard and new. I think Principal is really interesting that way, because they use some novel UI ideas to solve some of these problems. With a UI based approach you historically give up flexibility for an easier learning curve. But that is not some static line, and I think they are doing a great job trying trying to both push the bar and find the right balance. I'm curious to see how they will evolve.

      • At this point all tools are still making the huge bet that real interactive design and prototyping is going to be mainstream. Remember that the people who hang out here are the 1% and that tools simply need a way bigger market to survive in the long run. So the way I see it is that we'll all be in the same boat for a while trying to push prototyping to become mainstream, with your help.

      15 points
  • Jochen Huppert, 6 years ago

    And semi joke question, is Google already contact you to buy a Framer? :)

    7 points
    • , 6 years ago

      First time I hear that one ;-)

      While I couldn't comment on that specifically, I can say that we want to build a company that lasts. After Sofa and Facebook we had the luxury to pick a problem we really liked working on, so that helps a lot too.

      7 points
  • Koen SlagterKoen Slagter, 6 years ago

    Hey Koen,

    Nice name :)

    7 points
  • Rafael CondeRafael Conde, 6 years ago

    Hi Koen,

    Do you miss San Francisco's energy? What's your take on starting a tech company in Europe?

    5 points
    • , 6 years ago

      Sometimes, yeah. I mostly miss my friends from there.

      But SF also has a tendency to suck you too deep into tech. I don't miss that. And while I definitely think the circumstances in SF are the best in the world to do something new in tech, I feel like there really is no reason you can't build great stuff anywhere in the world with some talent and dedication.

      13 points
  • Robert GaalRobert Gaal, 6 years ago (edited 6 years ago )

    In interviews I've seen you twirl your hair a lot. Why is that? Are you not satisfied with your 'do? Can we all chip in to get you a haircut like your co-founder Jorn?

    3 points
  • Nick NobleNick Noble, 6 years ago

    Did he answer any questions?

    3 points
  • Sam LuSam Lu, 6 years ago

    Hi Koen,

    1. Can you share with us some lessons you learned from being acquired by Facebook?
    2. When starting a company, what do you think are the most important things to do first to be successful? (Create a product, build a team, find capital or something else?)
    3. What are some great books you've read / are currently reading?

    Thanks for doing AMA Koen.

    3 points
    • , 6 years ago
      1. There are so many. I'll pick one that you don't hear often: our acquisition was quite the succes. Facebook has a little better reputation with acquisitions than other large companies, but generally people tend to think pretty negative about an acquisition. Every ex-Sofa employee (except for me and Jorn) is still there, and doing important work. Now I'm not saying there were no bumps at all, but in general I think it worked out pretty well for everyone.
      2. Team and product. Unfortunately no real magic bullets here. Just find a few talented people and make something people want. You'll need some capital to start, but taking on growth capital is kind of a separate question.
      3. I'm trying to get into science fiction, but it's not going great.
      3 points
      • Alper CugunAlper Cugun, 6 years ago

        I really enjoyed this Q&A and this caught my eye. The problem with SF is that it is usually really bad writing covering up hopefully what is a couple of good ideas. There is some good stuff in there but it can't hold a candle to actual books.

        1 point
  • JT White, 6 years ago

    Hey Koen,

    Really enjoy using Framer - thx for building such an awesome tool!

    Over the past 6 months there have been a bunch of article's highlighting the benefits of using real data within prototypes. I know there are already ways of doing this using 3rd-party tools like Parse but just wondering if there is any plan to build a native Framer feature for data implementation?

    3 points
    • , 6 years ago

      We have some ideas for that. In theory, everything that works in the browser works in Framer, right now. But I'd love to add some really simple api's to mix for example real names, photos and profile pics into prototypes.

      2 points
  • Callil CapuozzoCallil Capuozzo, 6 years ago (edited 6 years ago )

    Hey Koen, I wanted to thank you and the team for making Framer, Its been the most impactful and empowering tool I've ever used. I'm just happy every time I open framer studio. I feel like it gives me superpowers.

    Qs:

    How have you guys nurtured the community around Framer? I find the attitude of the community to be one of the best I have ever encountered. It's amazing how helpful, knowledgable and open everyone is.

    What does a rough day in the life of Koen look like? I'm very interested in what it's like to be in your type of role on a small team.

    2 points
    • Andreas MitschkeAndreas Mitschke, 6 years ago

      As an early member in the fb group, I guess it simply is the combination of the industry participants, e.g. designers and front-end designers and the open context of a fb group.

      There is no magic juice in gathering the right people in an personal environment that is facebook.

      1 point
    • , 6 years ago

      Thanks a lot!

      You know, I wish I really knew. Communities are pretty special places that are hard dissect. I know I've put a lot of work in just helping people out and that is probably the main ingredient; a lot of work.

      But we had a handful of people pretty soon that really liked to teach others. And it's kind of understandable, because seeing people "get it" after some help from you is the best. Especially when they then can continue to make on really cool things.

      Maybe some of the FB / real identity also helps a bit, I'm not sure.

      My days are pretty simple, get up, get coffee, get to work. Mostly I try to do the talking and mailing in the morning so that I can build some actual stuff in the afternoon. We try to avoid meetings and do a lot of 1n1 just behind a Mac, talking through stuff.

      Everyone works from our office in Amsterdam, so we lunch all together, hang at work afterwards for drinks, or cook in our office kitchen for everyone. We try to balance hard work and having a good time together, enjoying the process of building. I learned after Sofa that those evenings are way more rememberable then some award or milestone so I try to enjoy that a lot.

      4 points
  • w sw s, 6 years ago

    Who inspires you?

    1 point
  • Andreas MitschkeAndreas Mitschke, 6 years ago

    I have a simple question: Do you consider remote working roles or are there already existing positions open for this matter?

    1 point
    • , 6 years ago

      We don't really do remote.

      I don't have anything against it in terms of work or quality, but I just really like experiencing building together. I spend a lot of my life working and I most enjoy doing that in the surrounding of other nice and talented people. Also, nothing beats seeing people get better at their work in person on a daily basis.

      2 points
  • Jackson AlsopJackson Alsop, 6 years ago

    Just wanted to say thankyou. Your work at Framer is incredibly inspiring!

    1 point
  • Colm TuiteColm Tuite, 6 years ago

    There is a ton of activity in the prototyping and site builder spaces. What are your thoughts on how back-end automation fits into this landscape? Are there any GUI tools that you like for building CRUD apps? How closely linked will prototyping and production-ready code become?

    0 points
  • Darin Dimitroff, 6 years ago

    Hey Koen,

    Thanks for everything you've done so far, Sofa has always been a major inspiration. Quick question: how did you land your first major clients when you were living the agency life? Did you apporach them or did they come to you?

    0 points
    • , 6 years ago

      Haha at Sofa our whole deal was to try and get rid of the clients so we could focus purely on our products.

      But before that it was a mix. It really helps when you have built something that people know and use, even if it's something small like a guide or tool.

      Other than that, practically, just make sure you can show work. Make sure you can use past clients work on your portfolio, and if you don't have enough add some personal work. If it's good people will hire you.

      2 points
  • Rhys MerrittRhys Merritt, 6 years ago

    Whatsup Koen!

    Firstly, I think that you guys have created one of the greatest design tools available today! Thank you so much for such an incredible contribution to so many people in the industry.

    Do you see any potential for websites like codecademy.com to host more comprehensive tutorials for people to learn to use Framer? I recently took a look at the resources page you guys built, and I think it's great! But I feel that to get both myself, and the rest of my team using Framer to its full potential, we would benefit from having something like a codecademy style tutorial for framer, where a user is taken through the documentation with examples of how to apply it to a live prototype, rather than simply reading the documentation.

    At the moment I create very basic prototypes, which perfectly serve a purpose of delivering an accurate portrayal of an interaction to our developers, but I would love to learn to create much more advanced prototypes which fully utilise all that Framer can potentially do.

    Anyway, thanks for making such an amazing product! I really hope to see yourself or any of your team at a convention sometime soon. Have a great day!

    0 points
    • , 6 years ago

      We totally agree. We looked at a bunch of these learning platforms, but often the deal is that we have to create all the content and then lock it behind their paywall.

      So we decided to start producing high quality learning videos ourselves where you learn to build common interactive patterns and learn some advanced tricks along the way. You should see the first ones pop up in a few weeks.

      The best way for people to learn Framer (or code) is sessions though. It's fun to learn new things together and nice to have someone help you out when you get stuck.

      2 points
  • Luis La TorreLuis La Torre, 6 years ago

    Obviously Framer is fantastic product that allows anyone to get started quickly and raises productivity. Cactus is another product that shares the same philosophy as Framer. Do you believe that static generators are on the way out? Do you see yourself putting resources and your philosophy into other products?

    0 points
    • , 6 years ago

      Nah, I think static site generators are the way forward. Most great designers that I know use one today. But it was going a lot slower than I expected. I think the same is true for the guys from Anvil and Mixture.

      1 point
  • Marco SousaMarco Sousa, 6 years ago

    Do you miss the lifestyle you had when you were at Sofa ? Has it changed much since you were acquired by Facebook?

    0 points
  • Sean SchraederSean Schraeder, 6 years ago

    Are there any plans to create a more comprehensive GUI around FramerJS that would allow for visual prototyping vs code? Thanks so much for all your awesome work!

    0 points
    • , 6 years ago

      Yep. Our holy grail would be a mix of the two that makes sense.

      In a nutshell, I'd like to keep everything code at the basis, so you always modify everything without limits.

      But I'd love to introduce UI that builds things for you visually on top of code. A simple example is that we could give you a properties panel to visually build a state for an object that you can then use in your code. And then continue to build on that.

      One way I like to explain it is the inverted Flash model. Flash was all UI, with some code on top for flexibility. A powerful, but odd model.

      We'l like to keep everything code and add UI on top that generates (parts of) the code for you.

      7 points
  • Kyle GillenKyle Gillen, 6 years ago

    Hi Koen:

    Thanks for taking the time to do this.

    Where do you think UI design, specifically, is heading?

    e.g. Do you feel the discipline will move towards designing interfaces with more autonomy, such as more voice enabled commands over touch interactions. Or is it poised to metamorphose from the current 'flat' trend into another methodology etc.

    0 points
    • , 6 years ago

      Many ways to answer this.

      I think, abstractly, we're in one of these moments in design where everything is going to change. Like from painting to photography, from hand presses to desktop publishing, from print to internet and from presses to digital offset. Some will embrace it and become insanely good, others will stay behind and try to find some sustainable niche. But change is part of design, so I like it.

      Lately I've been trying to force myself out of the day to day thinking about springs and moving layers, but to think about the next leaps in UI design. And there is so much coming. How will we draw a button inside a VR environment? Should it be a button in the first place? Could we use machine learning / AI to optimize unexpected design states by trying to define logical design rules for humans. When flat design is over, can we start using real light instead of inset/outset layer styles? What is the input device of the future. I might write a little more about these soon.

      So the simple answer is: I think we will have to start thinking a lot bigger about design, and that it will change real fast, real soon.

      7 points
  • Some DesignerSome Designer, 6 years ago

    Hi Koen!

    I actually following, learning framer for a long time. And I have sh*t load of questions actually. But I'm not going to spam all here :) And please don't consider my questions / comments negative. Think like you're a guy "master of Framer" and I'm new into Framer.

    • When I show Framer to my dev friends, their face shrug and adding "why would you even try to learn that? just start with js or raw css/html". Also from one of your speech even you've said that it's very hard to implement the framer into an executable form. So it's going to take time to learn framer but also it's going to take time for me to learn JS as well. I'd like to convinced framer is much more ideal for me. So convince me pls :)

    • I find your documentation is a little short and crippled. Most of the time I do not know what I'm doing actually.

    • Why it's mostly mobile focused? Everybody says web is dying but the exact moment you're reading these letters are actually happening on a monitor. So why not put web standards as well? (like listing, tables, 100% width objects, native responsive attitudes) Web is not dead. It may loosing blood but not like it's bleeding. It's just a scratch.

    0 points
    • Andreas MitschkeAndreas Mitschke, 6 years ago

      Oh, I can't hold back and must answer that.

      I am an interface designer and front-end developer with recent full-stack experience, that turned to something someone might call UX engineer. Thus I know exactly what those devs are about in #1

      I am no fan of coffee either and I recurringly also point out that I do not like designers to learne coffee without knowing any basics or foundation work of what JS is about and how to code properly in the facebook group. Coffee script touts itself of being a simplified version of JS, but in fact it does quite the opposite in my terms. It takes out the logical segmentation the JS syntax provides you in favor of "less letters in your view". This is also evident in the facebook group, where maybe 3 out of 5 questions are simple debugging questions of designers who have no clue about code and make basic mistakes over and over again.

      If you want to learn to code, then learn to code. Using framer and coffee will not make you to learn how to code, it simply will allow you to copy&paste some basic patterns out of your mind without understanding the structure behind it.

      That's why developers shuckle if someone wants to start with coffee... which is frankly not learning how to code.

      Though, if you are in an environment that requires rapid prototyping, now, than framer is not your choice and you should opt for a different tool. If you really want to learn to code, you should do that and learn HTML and CSS and then JS with real JS books and NO "LEARN to make App X in 30 days" courses, because there you don't learn how to write code, you simply learn how to copy methods that end up being an App.

      Learning to code IS NOT EASY and nothing you can do and accomplish fast. HTML and CSS, is easy done, but including logic with JS is not easy in contrary to today's media message of "learn to code fast" and such. It takes at least a year to come up with basic logic that is not totally broken and unoptimized.

      And that is also the reason why your #2 exists. Of course, you can't understand what is written there, it is an API docu for using JS logic. It must be really hard, it is even hard for me to get some connections from time to time...

      To #3: This actually is all included in framer as it uses js and thus you can inject CSS at will.

      2 points
      • Some DesignerSome Designer, 6 years ago

        NO "LEARN to make App X in 30 days"

        Yeah man, I'm %100 aware what do you mean. That's just a headline to trick people. No profession is actually can be mastered in a spesific day from a random book. If so, it wouldn't called a profession right? :)

        It must be really hard, it is even hard for me to get some connections from time to time...

        Uhh... even If you had a hard time, then I really should really get focused on html/css first.

        0 points
    • , 6 years ago

      First the simple one: yeah our documentation can be better. We'll do a next iteration soon. I'd love to hear ideas on what you'd like to see?

      I'm going to fold the rest all in one. Framer is web technology. It works on mobile, desktop and... the web. Framer is just a very efficient way with great tooling to use HTML/CSS/JS as efficiently as possible for prototyping. But there is nothing special or proprietary about it.

      Regarding code, if you can code in CoffeeScript, you don't have to start over for JavaScript. First off, everything becomes easier once you master one language. But apart from that, they overlap so much (it's really just a dialect) that you'll be able to switch in a matter of hours. It's also a pretty basis to learn Swift after, lots of similarities.

      2 points
  • Andrwe Cetnarskyj, 6 years ago

    You mentioned in a FB post about moving to ES6 from coffeescript, are you considering Typescript too as this is being used by Angular, which is a growing.

    0 points
    • , 6 years ago

      I really like TypeScript too, but I think if we will make the switch we'll move to ES6.

      1 point
  • Ruben PlatteRuben Platte, 6 years ago (edited 6 years ago )

    Hi Koen,

    If you could give one piece of advice to young designers trying to find their place in the ever changing tech/design world, what would you tell them?

    Also, I've never made it to Makers Club but I really wanna go soon. Is that still being held every first tuesday of the month?

    0 points
    • Daniel GoldenDaniel Golden, 6 years ago

      Love your GBA avatar, man. Brings back so many memories.

      1 point
    • , 6 years ago

      Always work on small weird side projects with interesting people. They might become big.

      We do it bi-monthly now. Keep an eye on my Twitter.

      2 points
  • Juhi ChitravanshiJuhi Chitravanshi, 6 years ago

    Do you think all that Framer is capable of (or most of it) can ever be accomplished with a GUI tool? Eg., Pixate does some of it.

    0 points
    • Andreas MitschkeAndreas Mitschke, 6 years ago

      Pixate had a very unique approach between node- and code-based prototyping. Though, the recently added Actions module is not comparable to what framer does or generally is.

      To explain that a little better, framer has "no" fixed set of what you called "all that framer is capable of", because framer basically is a JS framework and thus can do everything you can accomplish with JS. (Framer Studio is a specialised editor for framer).

      However, the community already has set a gallery page, where already existing modules are available to use for other designers, opening the framework to designers who don't want to code nor can.

      A UI for say sliding and rotation and something... don't know, actually does not fit the spirit and approach of framer.

      1 point
      • Juhi ChitravanshiJuhi Chitravanshi, 6 years ago

        Fair point about all that Framer is capable of and it's spirit. What I would still love to see though is a GUI tool that can give me 2-3-click flows for what I use Framer for (layer-import from PSD/sketch, layer-based animations and interactions with full customization, with built-in physics in addition to page linking). Framer is the most powerful tool out there for prototyping, no doubt, but most of my prototyping has fixed, boring workflows that can become much faster with a GUI.

        0 points
    • , 6 years ago

      Logically I don't think you can ever get the same flexibility from a fully UI based tool. But you can definitely have more flexibility than most UI based tools today, by innovating. Principle seems to be doing exactly that.

      Ultimately, I think the best tool will have some mix of both.

      2 points
  • Jochen Huppert, 6 years ago

    Hello Koen, I have two questions. Why the first time you call the new company Podium, and then renamed to Motif? Plan to create new products in the future, or are totally focused on Framer?

    0 points
    • , 6 years ago

      Because we liked it better :-)

      Maybe, but they will be design tool based and either a part of, or a compliment to Framer.

      2 points
  • Sean GeraghtySean Geraghty, 6 years ago

    Hi Koen,

    I have a few questions:

    When naming a startup where do you start? Does the name come after the product as a natural process or are they aligned together?

    As you know the design world is always changing and Protoyping is now a huge part of the process, is there anything else you can see coming up that will disrupt the industry in the same way?

    What's it like to be acquired by another company, does it give you a huge feeling of self fulfilment as you have managed to create something so valuable that another entity are willing to buy it off you. Or do you feel a little resentful, as you are losing control over your creation?

    What has been your creative career journey so far, and have you enjoyed every part of it? Or are there parts of it you wish you'd hadn't done?

    Finally, to spice things up a little bit, who are you listening to at the moment? I'm personally loving Leon Bridges, but he may not be to everyones taste.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this and hopefully it wasn't too long.

    Sean

    0 points
    • , 6 years ago
      • Naming things is so hard. Mostly our good names came after we built the product, showed it to friends, and asked how they would call it.

      • I type up a few above and I'm planning to blog a bit more about these, but I really like thinking about how we can use AI to optimize interfaces for humans through logical rules. You can see some of these ideas pop up already in responsive layout: http://engineering.flipboard.com/2014/03/web-layouts/

      • Both. I think the best part is that you get a chance to start over.

      • I'm blessed and cursed by the love for building. If I don't do it for too long I just get cranky. But the work leads to a company which leads to less building. I struggle with that sometimes.

      • Nice, I'll check them out! Let's see, for this summer I really like The Lonely Biscuits :-)

      0 points
      • Sean GeraghtySean Geraghty, 6 years ago

        Great I'll give them a listen too :)

        Thanks for all of those comments, yeah I have also found naming to be a royal pain in the arse which is why I was hoping that maybe you had a suggestion, but it seems like feedback is always the way forwards.

        Artificial intelligence when it comes to design both scares me and excites me, obviously there are plus sides to it, for instance a design can be adapted to a users needs at that moment in-time. But as with anything that can evolve overtime, it needs to be controlled, and I really do think that is where us humans come into the equation.

        Thanks once again for coming back to me and I look forward to seeing what else Framer get up to :)

        0 points
  • Rory Smyth, 6 years ago

    Hey Koen. Using framer for a while now. It's great.

    You guys planning to use any technology like this on Framer? http://engineering.flipboard.com/2015/02/mobile-web/

    0 points
    • , 6 years ago

      Not Canvas I think, but I'm pretty interested in virtual dom and webgl.

      0 points