We chat with creative Scott Boms who heads up the Facebook’s Analog Research Laboratory in the Bay Area. “The Analog Research Lab is a creative space for design and art-making. Its primary goal is to create and direct projects that influence culture and challenge thought. Our mediums of choice favor the analog without neglecting the digital. We ask questions and we build things. Then we ask questions about the things we built. Hopefully somewhere along the way you start asking questions and building things too. It’s this cycle of creation, reflection, education, and provocation that drives our work. The Analog Research Lab has become accepted as an important component of our culture and company. It was founded through passion and hard work, not corporate initiative. The existence of the lab is a reflection of the freedom afforded to employees of Facebook as well as an example of its hacker spirit.” Scott tells us how he got into sign writing, his favourite projects since working at Facebook and he also shares some great advice for all you students out there. What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into design? I read and drew a lot as a kid but when I was about 9, I discovered the world of comic books which was the perfect amalgamation of things I love — art, craft and storytelling. As I entered high school we got our first real computer at home (a Mac Classic) and I discovered my school offered a graphics arts elective. Through that I learned a bit about type, rudimentary digital design, photographic and printing processes – enough that I was hooked. After the first year I landed an internship at Taylor and Browning, a prestigious design firm in Toronto where my eyes were really opened, both from a practical standpoint and by layering historical context on top of that. That experience profoundly shaped decisions I made around potential career paths in the years that followed.
What does a typical working day include for you right now?
I think no matter how typical a day might be for me, they always have at least one or two surprises waiting for me. I jump between days when I focus on solving design problems, days when I focus more on what I’ll call production where I might be working more with my hands rather than a computer or days when I spend more time thinking, planning or responding to ideas and requests. I tend to work on a wide variety of things – environmental signage, branding, books, posters, more conceptual design as well as helping manage our studio space. On occasion I’ll help direct digital work, though I’m doing less of that now than a couple years ago when that was my main focus.
Any passion projects you would like to share?
A couple years ago after moving to the Bay Area, I became completely enamoured with the craft of sign painting. An interest in typography has carried me through my career but this scratched an itch in a whole new way and somewhat accidentally opened up opportunities I never would have expected. My main hope when I started was to have an outlet through which I could produce work more with my hands than a computer. This led to hours and hours of practice, often early in the morning or late at night and to producing a range of pieces, many of which I gave to friends and several others which have been included in sign and lettering shows in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Toronto. I currently have two pieces in a show called Vinyl is for Records which is running in LA through the end of December. To be asked to submit work and be among some of the best sign painters working today is a humbling and thrilling experience. But it also reminds me how much more I have yet to learn.
Are you involved in any mentoring/teaching/workshops and if and how it shapes your practice?
The role of the Analog Lab at Facebook has always been one that’s placed an importance on curiosity, experimentation and education. We teach classes on subjects ranging from screenprinting, basic book binding, sign painting and more. These opportunities are a chance to pass on knowledge but also encourage empathy — for the time and effort that goes into producing things that are easily taken for granted. For me, these opportunities are a chance to give back, to learn, to see things through fresh eyes and question my own knowledge of a subject. The classes we offer are a time when mistakes are encouraged, where there’s a freedom to try something new or to push a technique to a new place that might not be possible otherwise.
What has been your highlights since you started out?
There’s definitely been a few over the years but the one that really stands out and that I feel really proud about has been the opportunity to collaborate with the team from Gehry Partners on Facebook’s growing campus in Menlo Park. Along with our facilities team I helped design, refine and develop core pieces of our signage and wayfinding systems. To be able to walk around the campus and see these big physical pieces that have my stamp on them is very satisfying. To have it out in the world, to have colleagues react positively, and to spread that work to our offices around the globe is all I really could ask for.
What advice would you give students starting out?
The main values that have helped guide me throughout the often unexpected trajectory my career has followed are all pretty simple. Be open to new ideas and never stop learning. You can never learn too much about typography. Make. Make. Make. And then make some more because making is thinking. And the more you make the more you can sharpen an idea. Take care of the details and quality of the things you make but don’t be too precious about any of it. When you get stuck, go for a walk. Don’t forget to unplug once and a while.