The Analog Lab at Facebook commissioned Pentagram Austin to design a series of posters commenting on the behavioral and moral ramifications of the burgeoning Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies currently being developed by Facebook and other tech firms around the world. The series, now hanging in the hallways of Facebook’s AR/VR research and development offices in London, Seattle, New York and the company’s main headquarters in Menlo Park, California, consists of print-on-paper posters that attempt to ask questions and generate conversations about the global impact of these powerful new digital advances.
The Pentagram design team landed on the idea of lining the hallways of the AR/VR research and development wings at Facebook’s offices with life-size, floor-to-ceiling banners featuring images of the actual developers who walk those floors.
The first order of business was to have the Facebook developers photographed. To do this Pentagram commissioned California-based photographer Cody Pickens to shoot portraits of 20 Facebook employees who volunteered to participate in the project. Pickens photographed the diverse group of AR/VR developers individually in a studio setting—full-figure and in profile, and all wearing Oculus headsets that obscure their eyes.
Each developer gets their own poster and the posters are hung in pairs. The posters, matched up randomly, are positioned so that each set of subjects end up facing each other, nose-to-nose and just inches apart. Each poster pairing is so close together in reality the individual subjects would probably hear and feel each other breathing—but they wouldn't notice of course, because they are lost in their own separate AR/VR worlds.
That notion of one individual face-to-face with another—both completely oblivious to the situation and not interacting (the way humans are naturally inclined) because of an all-consuming, advanced technology is a theme the Pentagram team sought to explore with this poster series. To further express that concept of “alone together” the design team wrote short accounts, one per poster, imagining what each person is seeing and experiencing in their own particular AR/VR universes.
To write these accounts the Pentagram team penned straightforward descriptions of scenes found in a collection of random snapshots. The descriptions, which the Pentagram team began referring to as “poems,” had to fit a certain word/letter count dictated by the design scheme and were heavily edited and wordsmithed by Facebook to make sure the words and phrases in the passages wouldn’t be misconstrued by today’s quick-to-judge online audiences. The resulting poems, set in a digital-looking typeface called Boulder Mono Italic by the Formist Foundry, run the full length of the human-scale, vertical posters from top to bottom and convey a complex, multifaceted sense of individual experiences and collective confusion when viewed as a series.
For the finishing touch the Pentagram team transformed Pickens’ color studio portraits of the individual developers into graphic, posterized figures and assigned each poster a set of Pop Art colors. The Peter Max-like color palette visually expresses the faddish, “Magical Mystery Tour” effect the emerging AR/VR technologies are having on modern society.
Hopefully, now that all the posters are up in the offices of Facebook, the AR/VR developers who frequent those hallways will be tempted to remove their headsets long enough to get a good look at these “old-school” relics from another time. Maybe they’ll recognize themselves or a colleague and maybe they’ll have a chuckle—but they might just think about the worlds they are creating a little differently.