Product Designer at Software Applications Incorporated


CameronBurgess (Product Designer at Software Applications Incorporated)

San Francisco-based designer preoccupied with intent-oriented interfaces. Previously, Cameron worked on the Apple Design Team and graduated from Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design.

San Francisco, United States • June 7, 2024

What led you into design?

Growing up, I attended a Waldorf school that taught an experiential way of being in the world. The school disallowed computer use, which I found silly at the time, but later came to appreciate; partially because it caused me to associate computers with play instead of work.

During my summers, I went to an “iCamp” that taught LEGO Mindstorms, video game creation with GameMaker, stop motion animation and more. At 14, I started reviewing technology products and posting videos to YouTube. This led to opportunities to attend press events, CES, receive review units and hone my video production skills. I was having a blast but I couldn’t help to feel like critiquing things after they were made was too late.

In a high school careers class, I remember using Google to figure out who designed technology and stumbling across the Wikipedia article for Interaction Design. During a senior year visit to the Carnegie Mellon School of Design, I felt a strong feeling that I’d found the type of environment–a studio–that I wanted to exist in.

What does a typical day look like?

To be honest, I’m not the best at maintaining a routine because I usually stay up late working or letting my curiosity carry me deep into the night. The night has always been my favourite time to work — especially when I want some deep focus time to crank away on a demo.

After waking up and catching up on messages, I head to a local coffee shop before taking the BART to work (I’m a big public transit proponent). I’ve also been cycling some days but I haven’t figured out the caffeine rhythm of that yet. Once I arrive at the office, my day can take various shapes. Sometimes that means writing a carefully worded email, outlining a Keynote that I’ll subsequently fill with designs or crafting a narrative around the demo I was bringing to life the night before.

I believe design is a cycle of giving form to ideas and having conversations about ideas. When I’m lucky I get to do both in the same day. But sometimes, neither happens for multiple days and that’s OK too — I’ve found that design is often a circuitous and unpredictable process.

What's your workstation setup?

Hanging out with my housemate Marisa Lu.
My desk is on the left. Marisa sits on the right.

Where do you go to get inspired?

Outside. I walk, bike and take transit everywhere. California is a place that’s chock full of extraordinary contrasts, rich colours, amazing food, and surprising life around every corner. Looking closely at nature never ceases to amaze me.

Architecture, History and place are my other fascinations — there’s so much to uncover behind the places we inhabit and pass through daily. and are some of my favourite websites to reference as I explore the city.

1940s army street (cesar chavez) widening project looking east from guerrero st
Army St (Cesar Chavez) widening · 1940s

I find learning about the past exhilarating, partly because it’s a reminder of how pliable our reality is. Every street, building and neighbourhood has a story just like every chair, shirt, button or computer does.

My favourite Steve Jobs interview is the one where he talks about this phenomena:

“The thing I would say is, when you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is, and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. But life, that’s a very limited life.

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it. You can influence it. You can build your own things that other people can use.

And the minute that you understand that you can poke life, and actually something will, you know, if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it. You can mold it.

That’s maybe the most important thing is to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just going to live in it, versus embrace it. Change it. Improve it. Make your mark upon it. I think that’s very important.

And however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better. Because it’s kind of messed up in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

— Steve Jobs

Andreas Gursky · Chicago, Board of Trade I · 1997

I’m also a big fan of found images and candid photography. I used to love (RIP) but Andy’s World has scratched that itch for me in recent years.

The work of Andrea Gursky is also a favourite for the way he frames the mathematical sublime present in the everyday built environment. Last but least, Hands of Bresson is one of my favorite videos on interaction.

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

During a recent stay at the Boutique Sauna ARCH in Kagurazaka, I was struck by the holistic design of the complete environment, from the architecture to the curated playlists.

Two apps I’ve been enjoying lately are Retro and SSENSE. Retro’s more personal model of boutique social networking feels more humane to me.

I love how the SSENSE app utilizes perfectly aligned photography across many models in concert with Taptic Engine clicks. The multi-layered consideration reminds me of a quote that I love:

“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context — a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan”

— Eliel Saarinen

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

As designers, we’re often preoccupied with designing new features. But removing things can be just as rewarding; in iOS 17 we refined Spotlight by replacing the containing shape that previously grouped the search field and keyboard with a subtle progressive blur. I love that sometimes the best design is no design at all.

Also in iOS 17, we designed a new way to use shortcuts when you search for apps in Spotlight. Personally, I love using the Music ones to play my favourite albums.

After working on the Shortcuts app for years, it was rewarding to design an interface that surfaced shortcuts in the system experience so people can use them without any setup.

It’s worth emphasizing these features weren’t solo endeavours but intensely collaborative projects borne from the efforts of many teams.

What design challenges do you face at your company?

Recently, I joined Software Applications Incorporated, a startup that’s rethinking the personal computing experience with LLMs and AI.

After being lucky enough to spend the last few years in the Apple Design Studio surrounded by incredible designers, it’s very different to be in an early stage environment. One challenge has been learning to be comfortable iterating through designs in less formal ways. Tactically, I’ve also been relearning tools I haven’t used in years, like Origami Studio.

Above all, it’s been refreshing to feel like a beginner again.

What music do you listen to while designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

Make the kind of work you want to see and use yourself.

Don’t include work in your portfolio that you wouldn’t want to make more of.

Tell stories that persuade your audience something new is possible.

The demos and art you make to tell those stories don’t ever need to be real, just compelling enough to tell your story — like a magic trick.

Design is playing serious make believe.

When I was a design student, I often felt like I would never be good enough at building things. During my sophomore year, one of my heroes, Hiroshi Ishii, visited CMU to give a lecture and I asked a question about this problem:

“You mentioned the four areas [Art, Science, Engineering, Design], how do you decide whether to strengthen a weakness or go deeper into something you already know?”

I loved his answer so much that I often return to it:

“It’s [an] interesting question, because if we want to communicate some idea, of course, we have to use all the tools, like a Keynote, graphic software, or typing stuff..but most important..what do you want to accomplish? What do you want to communicate? Whom do you want to influence? […]

So, [the] goal is not how to learn mathematics, mechanical engineering, computer science — but what I really want to do — to do so, what tools, what methods, [and] what disciplines [do] I have to learn.. master... and then how to go to meta– to translate. So most important is goal, mission, passion, not the means.”

— Hiroshi Ishii

Anything you want to promote or plug?

Follow me @supercgeek and @SoftwareAppsInc to stay updated on what we’re up to.

Also follow my friend @JasonYuandesign and his company @newcomputer too.

Last but not least, check out out the work of my spatio-vibe-sensitive friend @Graycrawford.