From Five Points to Facebook

By Otis R. Taylor Jr.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Nick Wilson | photo by Forrest Clonts Studio
When a longtime client and creative partner reached out to him a few months ago, Nick Wilson thought he might be offered some consulting work or, perhaps, just asked for his advice.

Wilson, a co-founder and creative principal of The Half and Half, the Five Points design and printmaking studio, had worked with the caller, Josh Higgins, during President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

And Higgins did have an offer for Wilson — a job offer, to run the Facebook Analog Research Laboratory.

The research laboratory, a printing studio and workshop, is one of the most visible spaces on Facebook’s sprawling, theme park-like Menlo Park, Calif., campus.

Higgins, the design director for Obama’s campaign, is now a communications design manager at Facebook. Many art observers will recall the portrait collage of Obama that The Half and Half designed and printed in 2008. Two years ago, the studio produced all the artistic print posters for the campaign.

Wilson wasn’t looking for another gig, but he was curious about Higgins’ offer.

“You’re always interested in what other people are doing,” says Wilson, who will start work at Facebook next week. “We had always talked about working on other projects together.”

The Facebook Analog Research Laboratory started modestly in 2010, when two members of the social network’s marketing team began making screen prints with hacker-approved slogans.

It’s since grown in influence and stature. The Huffington Post, in a 2012 story, referred to the lab as “the nerve center for the internal evangelism that shapes the company’s soul and a playground where Facebook’s employees can get offline and get messy with silkscreens, saws and soldering tools.” Wired wrote it was “Facebook’s secret propaganda arm.”

“We’re essentially a design firm that has one client — and that’s Facebook,” Wilson says. “It’ll be essentially The Half and Half inside another company.”

Wilson and Sara Thomas, both 2007 graduates of the University of South Carolina’s graphic design program, opened The Half and Half that year, operating briefly in north Columbia, then moving to Five Points. The company grew at a steady pace, producing posters for The Indie Grits Festival and the Palmetto Tasty Tomato Festival, among other local events. The Half and Half’s following grew as it began to design for touring bands and national accounts.

The national work pays the bills, but The Half and Half continues to support local efforts.

“We just do it because we want to make the city grow,” says Wilson, 30. “It’s really selfish.”

The studio will continue its work with Thomas as the lead creative, Wilson says. Thomas Jennings, a fellow USC graduate, will assume Wilson’s former role. Wilson, who obviously won’t be contributing as much work, will remain a partner.
“Essentially an investor,” he says.

When reached for an interview last week, Wilson, who was raised in Easley, was going through his stuff. Luckily for him, though, he won’t have to pack.

“Facebook is sending movers to the house, and they’ll box up everything,” he said.

Wilson has already found an apartment in San Francisco, he says.

If a Facebook developer wants to print a poster or packaging for their team, the lab will create it. The lab also collaborates with national and international artists, operating like a traditional, multi-faceted art studio. The designers he will be managing, Wilson says, are unique.

Like Brian Singer, who runs the website twitspotting.com, a photography project that puts people who Text While in Traffic on blast. Singer has taken to plastering photos of offenders on billboards in the Bay Area.

Facebook being Facebook, Wilson has already been learning about his new co-workers — though not while driving, of course.

“It’s Facebook,” says Wilson, who announced his new path in a Facebook post. “You have to look up everybody on Facebook.”

The SCC is a column about interesting people in and around Columbia.

Let us know what you think: Email editor@free-times.com.

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