is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
Today my friend Matt and I are releasing Facebox, a pack of fifty, rights-cleared stock photos of real people for user interface design and business presentations. For a limited time, you can buy the pack for just US$25.
So how would you use Facebox? Let’s say you’re designing any digital product in which the concept of users needs to be represented — in comment threads, on profile pages, in activity streams, etc. Whether you’re working in Photoshop or Sketch or right in HTML, sooner or later you need photos of hypothetical users to stand in for the real users who will eventually interact with your product.
Or let’s say you’re working on a PowerPoint deck in which you’re showing user personas or user flows, or maybe even revealing a new strategy that will bring huge numbers of new patrons to your business. For any of these purposes, you might need pictures of hypothetical customers to stand in for the real customers to come.
As a designer, I come across these situations all the time. What I used to do was go to Twitter or Facebook and grab the avatars of my friends. That has its drawbacks: it’s laborious, the avatars are usually of insufficient resolution to be used at any larger size, and they’re not always suitable for presentations. Worse, it’s not exactly legal.
This is the problem that Facebox solves. It provides a rights-cleared, ready-to-use repository of fifty real people — not stagey-looking models, but the kind of people you’d run into on any street corner, and whom you could easily imagine using just about any digital product.
The pack includes all fifty faces as PNGs or JPEGs you can start using immediately. We’ve also imported all fifty into PowerPoint, Keynote, OmniGraffle (as a symbol library) and Sketch, too. We’re also including the original Photoshop file, fully set up with Smart Objects, so you can change the crop shape (several options are included, e.g., circle, rounded rectangle, star, etc.) in just a few clicks, and export at any size that suits you.
All of that for less than the price of one stock photo. Buy Facebox today.
The Story Behind the Faces
I’ve been wanting to build Facebox for years, if only to have it for myself, but I wasn’t able to do so until a few things fell into place in August of this year. First, I left my job at Etsy at the end of July (more on that in another post). So I suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands.
As it happened, my good friend Matt also recently left his job, and so we decided to spend August working on a project together. We asked ourselves, “What’s the smallest possible thing we could build and ship almost immediately?” After working on fairly large-scale stuff for years, I particularly wanted something I could knock out quickly, just to get back in the habit of shipping again. The idea of taking fifty photos and selling them online seemed simple and low-tech enough that we could get it done in a matter of weeks.
So for several days in early August, we walked all over Manhattan to take these pictures. The first eight or so were the easiest; we then quickly discovered that to get the diversity we wanted in terms of people, backdrops and photo styles, each location would only yield three or four shots before the results started becoming repetitive. So we became tourists in our own city. Here’s a partial list of the locales we visited: Madison Square Park, Grand Central Terminal, The New York Public Library on Fifth Ave, Penn Station, The Time Warner Center, Soho, Union Square, the High Line, South Street Seaport, and more. Luckily, the weather cooperated fully: this past August in New York City was unseasonably, unconscionably mild — the best possible time to do a project that required us to trek all over town and log miles and miles in Moves.
We were also nervous at the outset about finding enough people who would willingly contribute their likenesses to a pack of stock photos. We’d approach each person, ask for a few minutes of their time, then show them a short pitch deck (displayed on an iPad) that explained the concept. If we hadn’t lost them by then, the next step was to have them read our model release (we used the app ReleaseMe, also on the iPad), provide their contact information and sign it. To my surprise, we did pretty well; I would say three-quarters of those we approached said yes. Of course, we paid each person a small cash fee for posing, so that helped with our success rate.
All told, the photos were done pretty quickly. What came next was all of the infrastructure we needed to actually sell the product. Designing a marketing page (what you see at Facebox.io), hooking up a payments system (we used FetchApp), packaging the photos together as a product (sorting through to find the best photo for each model, then gently retouching it, and then preparing the various templates) and getting things squared away legally (we formed an LLC; more on this later too) — all these things added up and pushed our launch back further than we intended.
Still, I’m very proud and happy that it got done. Looking back over how much it really took to actually launch the simplest possible side project we could imagine, I realize it couldn’t have happened on my own. As I said, I’d been thinking about Facebox for years, and even though I never acted on it, I always assumed it would be pretty easy to do. But it turned out to be much more involved than I anticipated; even the process of walking around the city for days and suffering frequent rejection from potential models was made much more bearable by having a co-conspirator along for the ride. These things are much more enjoyable with a co-conspirator.
Anyway, that᾿s Facebox. We hope it makes life a little easier for you. Let us know if you have any thoughts on it.+