Artwork has always been a key component of Facebook’s culture going as far back as 2005, when graffiti artist David Choe was hired to paint murals in what was then the company’s headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.
As compensation, Choe was given the choice of $60,000 in cash or the same amount in Facebook stock. He wisely chose the latter and ended up netting some $200 million for his efforts.
Artwork for Facebook’s many offices across the globe is now the task of the company’s Analog Research Lab, which was created by former Facebookers Ben Barry and Everett Katigbak in 2010, in the run-up to the company’s F8 2011 developers conference.
Now helmed by global design lead Scott Boms, the Analog Research Lab has come a long way since the days when Barry and Katigbak set up a print shop in an unused corner of Facebook’s headquarters, using their own time and often their own money to keep the project going.
Boms said Facebook’s iconic Move Fast and Break Things poster was a highlight of the unit’s early work, featuring a very direct and simple approach—one typeface, one type of paper, one color—adding that it was a visual reference to the style of Los Angeles print shop Colby Printing, as well as wartime posters.
“We’re not the scrappy little rogue band of misfits we were in 2013 and 2014,” Boms said. “There are Analog Research Lab studios all around the globe now, and there’s a much bigger team involved. We don’t open a Facebook office that doesn’t have these things in it. If you were to walk into one and it wasn’t there, you’d say, ‘Where am I?” The artwork adds to the experience and makes physical offices better.”
When asked if the Analog Research Lab felt the need to alter any of its messages in the wake of an exceptionally brutal year for Facebook in 2018, Boms did not have an example of a specific project tied to a specific reaction to company news, but he did say, “We’re left to our own devices in a lot of ways with what we’re producing. We are documenters of what’s happening at Facebook, observers. We know when we need to push people in a particular way and what levers we need to push and pull on.”
The Right Kind of Wrong: Inside the Facebook Analog Research Lab, a public exhibition of the division’s work, opens Wednesday evening at the Type Directors Club in New York, and Boms shared some of the Facebook posters that will be on display, along with their backstories.
Be the Nerd, designed by Boms in 2016, was spawned from a comment CEO Mark Zuckerberg made on a post by a grandmother, who said she encouraged her granddaughters to date the nerd in school. Zuckerberg said they should “be the nerd,” instead.
Boms said, “Although using glasses is an obvious visual trope, we tried to elevate it above that using different treatments that could reference a wider spectrum of interests—for example, versions that reference John Lennon, Andy Warhol or Harry Potter, another that makes use of Iris Apfel’s iconic glasses, a version with the classic blue-and-red 3D glasses and even one using the shutter glasses Kanye West made famous.”
Chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg discussed Be the Nerd in a 2016 Facebook post.
Boms was also behind 2018’s What Matters, and he said, “Although there’s not one single moment this series of three prints is connected to, they came on the heels of a difficult period in 2018 that sparked debate inside and outside the company. The series intends to evoke the push and pull of these conversations and debates and the distortions or gaps in information that form these narratives whether right or wrong, true or not while encouraging acknowledgement, acceptance of responsibilities and a sense of reflection that can encourage positive change.”
One of the Analog Research Lab’s efforts in support of Earth Day in April 2016 was Why Haven’t We Seen the Whole World Connected Yet? Boms said the design was a homage to Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog, adding, “Brand’s original question was, ‘Why haven’t we seen a photograph of the whole Earth yet?,’ which we rephrased to center around a question about what’s holding back humanity from connecting. What makes the question powerful is that it doesn’t have to be about technology, but could instead be about distance, political or social equality, values, or many other reasons.”
This 2014 poster, Nothing at Facebook is Somebody Else’s Problem, took aim at passing the buck. Boms said the goal was to encourage employees to share a common responsibility for making things better, adding that it was originally designed with new interns in mind.
Elana Schlenker was behind the rollback from Move Fast and Break Things in 2016, Slow Down Your Hurry Up, which Boms said “centered on ideas about the complex, nebulous topics of busyness, time management and prioritization—prevalent issues in most workplaces, no matter what industry.”
All Under One Roof was designed by Eddie Perrote during the summer of 2016, and Boms said, “This particular piece follows along during what was a tumultuous year in the black community at Facebook, neighboring cities and across the U.S. Its message is a simple reminder that we are all human and all part of a connected ecosystem on the planet. We reinforced this by pushing the shape of the poster in a more overt visual direction by slicing off the top corners to give it the silhouette of a house.”
Give More Than You Take, designed by Tim Belonax following an all-hands event in 2014, said that when the theme was originally introduced, “That original idea quickly devolved into a meaningless meme, a hashtag that could be applied to nearly anything and ultimately lost its meaning.” Belonax took it into a new direction by incorporating the “please take a number” ticket.
Jez Burrows designed Kick the Shit Out of Option B in response to the sudden death of Sandberg’s husband, SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg, in 2015. Boms said, “The phrasing came out of a lengthy post from Sheryl at the end of sheloshim, a period of intense mourning in Jewish traditions, where she very openly shared about these experiences and an anecdote about wanting option A even though it was no longer available.” Sandberg posted, “The friend put his arm around me and said, ‘Option A is not available. So, let’s just kick the shit out of option B.‘”