Meet Bryn McCoy

Bryn, CTO and co-founder of Citizen Made, is unlike any developer you’ve met before. A software engineer and product designer of ten years, she is the epitome of a maker. Whether it’s innovative software for the likes of IDEO and BMW, illustration and animation for lovable brand identity, art projects with her young children, or VJ gigs with Chicago’s indie bands, there is never a moment when Bryn isn’t working with ideas and artifacts, or found sketching with a notebook in tow.  

Bryn has built an expertise in all sorts of information technology through 15 years of software engineering and interaction design.  From working with a Silicon Valley network infrastructure startup through nine years of development in her Chicago-based interactive studio, she masterfully makes information beautiful from just a spark of imagination.


What scares you? My first team of engineers regularly touted the mantra, ‘No fear!'  Throughout our wild startup ride, I felt like a poser because I’m afraid of the typical things like failure and pain… and sometimes change.   I still manage to take a lot of risks in my work, but it sincerely takes everything I’ve got to stay the course.  Some of the colleagues I most admire seem to take difficult and potentially volatile challenges in stride, even with ease.  One of them recently reminded me that being fearless is not actually about feeling no fear,  but rather being scared, feeling the fear and moving forward to do our best anyway.  That helped.  A lot. 

What do you geek out about? The third industrial revolution!  The ways and means of making things are changing rapidly right now.   As a lifelong maker, I appreciate artisanal craft.  I’m also a hacker, so I believe that when the necessary part can’t be found, it can be made.  Somehow.

Since this has often devolved into duct tape and gorilla glue, the potential in digital manufacturing is not lost on me.  Given some decent software skills + hackerspaces with 3D printers, CNC routers, laser cutters and the like, digital manufacturing can make an honest artisan out of anyone with an inspired idea (and a library card if you’re in Chicago–the maker lab at Harold Washington Library is a great place to start).

Digital manufacturing is still developing to meet its critical mass.  The current state of this industry feels to me like personal computing when I was a kid–largely for hobbyists and early adopters.  As innovative companies rushed in to make computers more accessible for the masses, we’ve been swept away by the information revolution.  Tangible products on demand are next!

Brands and designers are emerging with interesting ways to engage customers in parts of the product design process.  I’m really excited to see more consumers turning into producers.   Because digital manufacturing is hooked into the interwebs, we customers can do a little digging and find skilled people to co-create and produce whatever we want.  By buying direct from manufacturers and product designers, the premium we pay retailers for our products can be put to better use by covering the higher cost of one-off production.  It is still more affordable to produce a big batch of products instead of just one, but even that disparity is quickly shrinking while the manufacturing technologies advance.   

For me, the creative process is one of the most meaningful parts of everything.  I tend to focus on the constructive parts of the process, but there are also important destructive factors to consider in evaluating the importance of new manufacturing practices.  Simply put, mass production is not sustainable.  Especially in our American consumer culture, the cost of fast fashion, big box stores and the race to the bottom in pricing is devastating.  We’re fortunate to be on the brink of such an awesome turnabout for the manufacturing industry–even though the manufacturing giants won’t be quick to shape up or ship out, there will be many more innovative options for people like us, the mindful crusaders who happily have a hand in re-shaping our world.

If you had to change careers what would you want to do? If I were more courageous, I’d devote my work to fine art.   To spend my days finding beautiful ways to explore the relationships between this world and the next, that’d be dreamy.   

“An artist is someone who understands the border between this world and that one.”
–Takashi Murakami

What is your hidden talent? I have a lot to say about lots of things, so it may not be obvious that I like listening to people’s stories even more.  Being a good listener is such a super power, I should probably do less talking!

And comprehensive listening is the real key.  A good friend of mine also introduced me to somatic psychology years ago.  At the time it was so ethereal, I couldn’t quite grasp the nuances.   Her assessments and insights about people were remarkable though (no one was ever a stranger), so I continued to give it some thought.  Over time, I’ve found that our bodies speak volumes–much more than just context clues, I learn so much about people from the way they’re embodied.

Favorite quote? I love so many of Kurt Vonnegut’s quotes.  Today, I choose this one:

“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over.  Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”
–Kurt Vonnegut

Want more? Check out Bryn’s company Citizen Maderead her blog, and tweet with her! 

Photo Credit: Jamie Kelter Davis Photography