Behind the Lines

Analog Research Lab packing tape roll
One of a kind custom printed paper-backed Analog Research Lab packing tape

This past Monday, November 16th, the page turned on a new chapter in the Analog Research Lab story which has become an entirely new entity known as Facebook Open Arts. It’s the culmination of nearly a year’s work — of research, strategic planning, naming, design, and implementation of a new identity and design system that, for better or worse, needed to follow and fit into a broader company brand architecture1.

Although it’s a moment to celebrate, I can’t help but want to pour one out for what feels like the passing of an old friend2, except maybe it’s more like they faked their own death…

Through the last 8+ years, my experience showed me the admiration many hold for the Analog Lab program’s spirit as a counterpoint to the digital-ness of everything else at Facebook. It embodied the good within the company, and a genuinely peculiar thing within an increasingly corporate environment.

Luckily, no name change or rebrand can so easily erase historical impact and value. Despite the short-term memory of the internet, there’s a record of it on the office walls, in people’s homes, and in museum and institutional archives3.

The change stings a little, but it may only feel worse for the additional challenges this year hoisted upon us all. And while I was deeply involved in shepherding the program to this new place and attempting to maintain a level of useful objective skepticism and criticality throughout the process, mixed feelings remain towards certain aspects of where it’s all headed4, or maybe why it needed to change at all.

Paul Jarvis talks about upper bounds and the risks of an exponential growth mindset in his book Company of One. Silicon Valley loves the idea of exponential growth, but I think we’ve all seen how that plays out over the last several years no matter what tech company you want to pick on. Upper bounds, something Paul also talks about are almost naturally baked into the idea of “analog” anything — and I think that’s a good thing. Unfettered scaling creates an opportunity for poor choices and rot. It can mean no one is asking the right questions — or worse yet — the people who need to listen the most are not or are blinded by the wrong ambitions.

The Analog Lab somehow ran counter to the typical scale-at-all-costs mentality and was better for it. I’ll take genuineness with all its rough edges and imperfections over the alternative any day. Although the sign on the door might be different, my hope is that not everything inside needs to be.

Footnotes

  1. Please do not get me started on the new custom company typeface… Ugh.
  2. The Analog Lab’s Instagram account which merged into what’s now a combined account for the program resulted in the complete loss of years of visual content and history. Except that I saved a complete archive before that happened. I just don’t quite know what to do with it yet.
  3. Select printed matter has previously been donated to great institutions such as the Letterform Archive and the Design Museum in London and I expect more will be in the future as well.
  4. Note to self, this might be a good memoir title ;-)