“This is the Facebook Analog Research Lab—as viewed from the entrance. The lab is about 3 blocks from my apartment in a warehouse next to one of Facebook’s office buildings.”
“This is the dark room of the lab where we can coat, burn, and reclaim screens from screen printing. Both the exposure unit and the washout booth were designed and built from scratch.”
“A view of the paper guillotine and letterpress—which we lovingly call “Old Facebook”.
“A view of my desk at Facebook’s main office building. It’s about 10 blocks from my apartment so I walk to and from work everyday.”
was born in Ada, Oklahoma, but raised in Texas near Austin. Barry, a graduate of the University of North Texas, worked for the design firm and screen-printing shop The Decoder Ring
in Austin. There he honed his skills with a range of clients, doing packaging, merchandising and a lot of screen-printed posters. He’s also an alumnus of John Bielenberg’s experimental design education program, Project M
where he explored the role graphic designers can play in encouraging social change. Barry currently is in Silicon Valley working as a designer for Facebook, where his focus is on developing Facebook’s online presence, voice and brand.
FROM YOUR DESKS: How do you work?
BEN BARRY: Well, I currently work at Facebook full-time. So I’m not out hustling for business, almost all of my work is related to Facebook. I work closely with a lot of internal teams that come to the design team for help for various reasons. I tend to do a lot of print and work for events. In my personal time I do a lot of internal projects at Facebook, creating fun posters, installations, etc. I try to maintain a pretty good work life balance, but it’s a little bit like being in college. Sometimes it’s finals week.
FYD: What is your desired means of transport?
BB: I walk or ride my bike. I currently live pretty close to the office.
I definitely dream in color…
FYD: Talk about your desk, certainly it’s one of the more unique pieces.
: In 2008, I went out to Alabama to be an advisor for Project M. While I was there the group started renovating an old 2 room school-house to be a permanent design studio/lab. A handyman donated a huge piece of glass he had lying around and we used it to build a simple table for the lab using sawhorses
. I liked the balance of simplicity and honest materials with the more elegant glass. Working on the f8 Developer conference a few years later at Facebook, I thought it would be cool to make some tables like this for the event. I hired five talented illustrators to create custom illustration for the tables and worked with a local San Francisco vendor to have the illustrations digitally printed onto the glass. The results were pretty stunning.
FYD: Your work lends itself to poppy, primary colors. Do you dream in color?
BB: I definitely dream in color, or at least always recall my dreams in color. I love the economy and aesthetic of limiting the colors I use in a particular work. I think it makes for work that is visually bolder and more timeless, especially in the modern world of Photoshop filters etc…
As a young Eagle scout I remember getting letters from Bill Gates…
FYD: Austin, Texas produces some real talent in the graphic arena. What’s in the water?
BB: There is definitely a small contingent of super talented folks in Austin, but honestly the design community there is pretty tiny. I feel too like most of the really talented folks moved to Austin, and aren’t products of Austin. The city / culture overall seems really receptive to some pretty fun and interesting design, so you see a lot of great signage and boutique venues.
FYD: How did the “Hack” slogan come about? It reminds me of Pandora’s box. What’s inside?
BB: Facebook has a long standing tradition of Hack-a-thons. A Hack-a-thon is an all night company event. It starts at 8pm and goes to 6am. Mostly it’s a time for engineers to put aside the things they work on during the day and build an idea they haven’t had time for. The goal is to have a working prototype by morning. I always try to help promote and encourage this kind of hacker culture and started making lots of posters and other various materials to promote this within Facebook.
I had to make some posters and they had to be done right.
BB: It was pretty awesome to get the President to sign something I made. It’s a pretty good story too, because it almost didn’t happen. When I heard the President was coming to visit Facebook, my first thought was “I have to make a poster to commemorate the visit, and somehow try to get him to sign it.” We’re always busy with a 100 other projects, and as the date got closer I still hadn’t designed or printed anything. The night before the event, I still had nothing. I went to dinner in one of Facebook’s cafe’s with the goal of thinking of something so I could frantically print that evening. I came up with the simple Hack/Hope idea to mix Facebook’s culture with President Obama’s. I designed it quickly as I ate my dinner and headed over to the Analog Lab. I intended to print an edition of 50 posters, so I printed the separations, and burned the screens. I finished printing around 11pm. I knew I wouldn’t have direct access to the President. My only hope was to get Mark to do it in the few minutes before the event. I snapped a photo of the posters and shot off an email to Mark to see if he would get one signed for the office. He wrote back about 3 minutes later saying that he would try. I was excited it was coming together and started stacking the posters to go home.
That’s when my heart sank…I realized I misspelled Barack Obama’s name on all of the posters! I was furious at myself for making such an avoidable mistake. I had Mark on board so there was no backing out. I had to make some posters and they had to be done right. I burned 2 more new screens, setup the entire run again and printed a smaller edition of 10 posters. I left the studio at 2AM. Mark was able to get the President to sign number 1 of 10 and it now sits framed in the corner at Facebook headquarters. We haven’t gotten around to hanging it, because we’re always so busy, but someday we will.
FYD: You obviously caught your mistake and remedied the situation. What is the moral of the story?
BB: You make opportunities for yourself, and you stay until the job’s done.
FYD: I’m a huge fan of writing letters. Do you have your own stationary?
BB: I’ve never gotten around to it. I don’t really write many letters, but I send a lot of cards and post cards. I keep a lot of old posters and make ready from printing to cut it down into cards and postcards.
FYD: With Mark’s stationary, were you trying to design something that conveyed “okay, Mark is just one of us” (we all know Facebookers spend copious amounts of time at their desks).
BB: With Mark’s stationery we were trying to make something really simple and understated, but also nice. I wanted people who received it to feel like it was something special and worth keeping. As a young Eagle scout I remember getting letters from Bill Gates and other well-known people, so that was the kind of the experience I had in my mind when I designed this for Mark.
At Facebook we talk a lot about mapping the social graph.
FYD: How do you simplify the vast and endless network of information in a clean, concise manner a la your f8 series?
BB: For that series of images it all started with the idea on paper. At Facebook we talk a lot about mapping the social graph. This graph contains all of the people and things and how they’re interconnected. The thinking is once you have the connections mapped people can start to organize and do all kinds of amazing things together. For example, people who are interested in vintage cars could start to organize themselves into a car club. That section of the graph could then start to take on the shape of a car. At a larger scale the hope is by connecting people in this way we increase empathy and tolerance and that bigger concepts like peace are able to emerge as people organize around them.
FYD: When you aren’t dreaming in color and designing; what are you doing to say relax?
BB: I’m an avid cyclist. I try to make time to ride every day. It’s kind of like meditation for me, I get a lot of thinking done on my bike. I also like to spend a lot of time screen printing and programming. Both activities are very different, but closely related to design. They use different parts of my brain. With screen printing I find it relaxing because I don’t have to think much, it’s repetitive and magical to watch each print come out. With programming it’s like a game or a big logic puzzle. I get a lot of satisfaction when I “figure it out.” I can’t imagine ever programming for a living, but as a hobby I find it fascinating, and it helps keep me current.