The personal website of Chris Coyier

Working in Public

I’m really into this idea of “working in public” lately. Just the general idea of sharing exactly what it’s like to do the job that you do, whatever it is. Sharing insights and the even the mundane-ities of the task at hand.

I’ve been recording screencasts on CSS-Tricks for a number of years now, which is essentially working in public and where my interest in this idea comes from. More recently, I did a Kickstarter with this concept at it’s core. Back me (or now, subscribe) and watch me essentially do my job as a web designer, redesigning my biggest site.

I’m writing this blog post to:

  • Note my current obsession with this idea
  • Record some disparate thoughts around this idea
  • Find out how others feel about this idea in general
  • Hopefully give birth to some bigger idea tying it all together

Disparate thoughts

I got most excited about this when Erin Kissane excitedly allowed me to record a conversation with her about the content strategy work we did for CSS-Tricks. I think even the name “working in public” came from her.

The “public” part of working in public may or may not mean access to witness that work is free.

I really love the show New Yankee Workshop with Norm Abram. It’s essentially him working in public. He’s an extraordinary craftsman. I don’t woodwork at all and I still enjoy it.

In episode 45 of 99% invisible Roman Mars talks about the band Beauty Pill and their decision to record and album in public:

While they were showing him around, he saw the angled, 2nd floor window overlooking the Black Box Theater and it reminded him of the window in Abbey Road Studio 2, made famous by The Beatles. Months later, the Black Box Theater was transformed into a very public recording studio, capturing the sounds and energy of the band, onlookers and guests over the course of a couple weeks.


My friend Kevin Hale has some some time lapse screencasts of him building out projects from near start to finish.

Timelapse of Kevin Hale’s Screen at SurveyMonkey Hackathon
SurveyMonkey Hackathon 2012 : RoomBusters Timelapse

Interesting take on working in public, because you get to see it over a period of time longer than you normally get to.

Kevin’s girlfriend Erica Sirotich also recorded a time lapse of her working in Adobe Illustrator designing a custom header for CSS-Tricks.

Recorded illustration time lapses are a big thing on YouTube.

Speaking of time lapse, cooking shows on television are essentially working in public. The often employ a technique where they work ahead and can all the sudden pull something out of the oven that they just prepared. Clever and compelling.

Due to the number of them on TV, they are clearly of interest to people. But is it just the subject matter in this case?

Bob Ross.

I watch a somewhat embarrassing amount of live StarCraft 2. For the uninitiated: StarCraft 2 is a “real time strategy” game where you control a large number of units essentially splitting your attention all over the place. Ultimately you build an army of units and battle with another player for victory.

The game software records every game you play, so you can rewatch them anytime. There is even a special interface for this, so you can learn from what’s going on and get at-a-glance statistics.

This has given rise to professional screencasters who reply these games with commentary. They offer insight into whats going on and, more importantly, get all nerd-excited when awesome things happen. It’s like watching [your favorite sport] for nerds. I particularly like HuskyStarcraft.

Why do I like this so much? Probably because it’s essentially watching people work in public. Instead of woodworking or cooking or building websites, the craft is playing a video game.

I was recently in Warsaw, Poland. I went to a part of town where there were there were a bunch of street vendors. There was an old man selling wood carvings. He was setting in a folding chair carving a piece of wood as he sit there. WOW, cool right? He’s working in public and making a living doing it.

Then, a block down, there was another old man doing the same thing. They had curiously similar wood carvings for sale.

Later, another.

Upon closer examination, the old men had a knife and were just cutting bits of wood away from a stick randomly, crafting nothing. It was all an illusion.

I was internally furious.

Working in public needs to be true and real.

I love live music. Working in public at its most raw?

Also, sports?

There are lots of professions that work in public by their nature. Construction workers, for example. But you only get to see them in general for a very short period and you gain no particular insight into what they are doing and why, so it’s not very compelling.

Subject matter might come into play too. We watch waitresses to their thing for longer periods. And we do obsesses about that a bit (at least while we’re there), don’t we?

So what to do?

My first inclination, as a web designer, would be to start some kinda website where we just record interesting examples of working in public. Maybe just a Tumblr or something. I just thought I’d float this blog post first to get others thoughts.