National Design Awards: Ben Fry’s ‘Odd Route’ Through Design World Pays Off

Got data but need knowledge? Then get to know Ben Fry. A veteran of the Media Lab at MIT, where he received his doctoral degree, Fry has made a name for himself—and his Boston-based firm, Fathom Information Design—with elegant and mind-boggling visualizations of everything from global population trends and all of the streets in the lower 48 states to optimal triathalon training regimens and dietary preferences in Saudi Arabia. Even the beverages at Fathom are not immune to the data deluge: a recent “test kitchen” project resulted in lattes topped with bubble charts—stenciled in cinnamon. Fry’s exceptional work using digital technology has earned him the 2011 National Design Award for interaction design.

So how did he react to the big news? “I was very pleased, particularly the part of me that studied design as an undergrad and vividly remembers the ups and downs of the experience,” Fry tells us. “It’s fantastic to have taken an odd route through the field and yet receive such an honor.” His resume includes a postdoctoral fellowship in genomics at Harvard and MIT’s Broad Insitute, two published books (Visualizing Data and Getting Started with Processing, written with Casey Reas), and appearances in the Whitney Biennial and the Cooper-Hewitt Design Triennial. “The best part is being included with others, both winners and finalists, whose work I love: Matthew Carter is a hero, Hoefler & Frere-Jones do such outstanding work, plus the guys at Project Projects…I could go on.” Next up for Fry: a trip to Washington, DC, for the annual National Design Awards luncheon, hosted by the First Lady. “I’m looking forward to the possibility of a trip to the White House, and hoping that my wife will be able to join me,” says Fry. “If not, I may need to feign being ill so that I can send her in my place, since lunch with Michelle Obama without her might be unforgivable.”