Inside Facebook's creative playground

Tim Belonax spends his days getting his hands dirty at Facebook's research campus.

One of the largest technology companies in the world has an affinity for letter-pressed thank you cards, hand-painted signs, silk-screened posters and a host of other printed matter. That company is Facebook.

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The instigators of all this hands-on making are found in its Analog Research Lab – a 1,200 square-foot, light-filled space located in the company’s Menlo Park campus, stocked full of ink, paints and other art materials. It's run by a handful of dedicated individuals who value the act of physically making things in a world of digital products.

Built from scratch

The Lab was launched in 2010 by two communication designers. It began life at a desk at Facebook's HQ and then found a home in the corner of a warehouse, where it was slowly built from spare parts. Its first washout booth and exposure unit for silkscreening were built by hand from spare wood due to a lack of budget. This mixture of grit and love is what has driven the lab from the beginning.

In 2013, the lab moved to its current residence and has slowly expanded its team. Scott Boms, Jez Burrows and myself are the lab's main designers. Hannah Fletcher helps manage projects and organise events.

Nick Wilson is our studio manager and Drew Bennett runs the artist-in-residence programme with our newest recruit, Dana Martin. Josh Higgins, former creative director for Obama's 2008 campaign, is our fearless manager. Lab members work fairly autonomously on a variety of internal and external projects.

What started as a playground for two designers has now opened up into a creative space for the whole company

A creative playground

What started as a playground for two designers has now opened up into a creative space for design and art-making for the whole company. We run hands-on classes – including letterpress, silkscreen, sign painting and Risograph printing – that get people off the computer and back into the physical world. We've started opening Analog Outposts in our satellite offices. These spaces are smaller than the lab, but we hope they will grow with their offices and amplify the diversity of our culture.

The lab's primary goal is to direct projects that influence culture and challenge thought. It was founded through passion and hard work, not corporate initiative. The existence of the lab is a reflection of the company's hacker spirit. It's completely ridiculous that this exists at Facebook, but I couldn't imagine it anywhere else.

Words: Tim Belonax

Tim Belonax is the former principal designer of the Analog Research Lab and teaches graphic design at California College of the Arts. This article first appeared in net magazine.

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