Ben Fry — Co-creator of Processing
Simplify your life. Do less, better.


Co-creator of "Processing" and founder of Fathom Information Design — Ben Fry (@ben_fry) — on the beginnings of the Processing programming environment, the use of information design and visualization to understand complicated data problems, and his approach to design, life, & work.

Ben Fry is founder and principal of Fathom Information Design, a studio in Boston focused on understanding complicated data problems. He holds a Ph.D. from the MIT Media Laboratory and is a Lecturer at MIT. Fry has authored and co-authored multiple books and develops "Processing" — the programming environment he co-created with Casey Reas used by artists, engineers, scientists, and students all over the world since 2001. His work can be found in museums, feature films, research labs, and the portfolios of Fathom's clients such as Nike, JP Morgan, DARPA, and National Geographic. In 2011, Fry was honored to visit the White House to receive the National Design Award for Interaction Design.


Connect with Ben at Fathom.info, benfry.com, and Processing.org.


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Episode notes

  • Intro. [0:05]
  • Who is Ben Fry? [2:05]
  • The beginnings of Processing - "Can we actually build an environment that feels as immediate and simple as Design By Numbers having something more performant on the back?" Learn about how Processing was conceived, the role it played in Ben's live when it got started, and why Processing is still around after almost 20 years. [6:00]
  • Information design and visualization. [15:42]
  • The human genome project - Information design and visualization to understand genetic data. [16:33]
  • Casey Reas. [18:27]
  • Daniel Shiffman - How did Daniel Shiffman join the Processing community? [19:03]
  • Valence - How do you make visualizations that can withstand change over time? One of Ben's visualization projects—which dynamically updates as you feed it with new data—made it to The Hulk and Minority Report. [22:02]
  • John Underkoffler. [27:00]
  • Valence in the Hulk. [27:44]
  • On needing approval for what we create. [30:20]
  • Building your own tools. [40:17]
  • Your favorite user interface. [45:57]
  • Typefaces. [47:36]
  • What you look for in a design - How do you look at what's there, think about the context a design is going to be used in, and account with the audience you are trying to reach. [49:22]
  • Fathom - Learn about what mediums Fathom works on. [52:21]
  • Projects that spread - In-house projects to understand movies like Rocky and MacGiver, or countries like China. [59:07]
  • Is your life simple? [1:01:32]
  • Daily habits. [1:03:34]
  • Non-work activities. [1:04:26]
  • Boredom - "I really despise boredom." [1:05:06]
  • Social media. [1:05:51]
  • Disconnection. [1:07:53]
  • Technology. [1:10:44]
  • Ads - How do online ads affect us? [1:12:33]
  • Success. [1:16:31]
  • A message to the world - "We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about." —Charles Kingsley [1:18:28]
  • Book recommendations. [1:20:30]
  • Side projects. [1:23:39]
  • Simplicity. [1:24:06]

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November 19, 2018

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