As principal of Fathom, a design and software consultancy in Boston, Ben Fry helps clients analyze and understand data sets through information graphics, mobile and web apps and interactive tools. Ben is also a 2011 National Design Award winner for Interaction Design, and along with Casey Reas of UCLA he develops Processing, an open source programming environment for teaching computational design. Ben joins the lineup as a keynote speaker at the upcoming annual SND Workshop & Exhibition in San Francisco.
Can you share some of your background as a principal at Fathom and your personal work that has been showcased at the Whitney Biennial in 2002 and the Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial in 2003, as well as in films and publications like New York Magazine and The New York Times?
I first started working professionally as a graphic designer in high school, and over time merged that with my interest in writing software, and nowadays that means doing information design with code as the medium.
Fathom works with clients to analyze and understand data, producing information graphics, mobile and web apps and software tools. Tell me about your team’s process and design philosophy.
We like to purse difficult and messy data problems with a focus on creating things that are beautiful and engaging but still grounded in the data underneath.
What are your thoughts on the future of storytelling, technology and design? Where do you see the biggest opportunities for growth?
I’d like us to be closer to Disney’s saying that “art informs technology, and technology inspires the art.” Right now, we’re putting up with the technology just enough to eke out something that rarely resembles art.
Tell me about the open source programming environment, Processing, that you and Casey Reas of UCLA are developing.
Casey and I started working on Processing while graduate students in 2001. We wanted to make it a little easier to “sketch” our own work (in code), and saw a lot of similarities between that and the way that we tried to teach people how to code. Fifteen years later, we’re still at it.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Sculpture, illustration, film, writing… anything outside the field.
What do you hope to share and learn at SNDSF?
I’m curious to learn how people think about their work and their approach. I have lots of friends in news design, but I’m curious about what happens when they’re all together under one roof.