Openness and Transparency with Pixelcloud

June 25, 2009 at 5:29pm

Designers can be very protective of their work. Perfectionists at heart, we don't want to reveal something to the world until it's finished. But at Facebook, we value transparency and sharing.

About a year and a half ago, I noticed that the design team was becoming more disconnected and dispersed. Each of us had all these great ideas and designs, but there wasn't an easy way to share them outside of catching a glance at your neighbor's screen or through formal e-mails or presentations. Worried that our lack of communication would seep into the product, we decided that we needed a great tool to help us forge a unified voice.

As a designer who also loves to code, I felt this problem could be solved with software. At the time I was fascinated by the site ffffound.com - I loved the idea of a tight-knit community sharing found images. The images can come from anywhere on the internet, and often their lineage is untraceable. Good artists copy, great artists steal.

Inspired by ffffound, I created Pixelcloud, an internal tool we use to share anything that comes across our screen. As designers, the screen is our canvas, so any pixel you can see should be fair game to share with others. Pixelcloud is part desktop client, part web application. To share something on your screen, you get it on your clipboard (copy from Photoshop, screen capture, etc), then hit a configurable key command to send it to the cloud. No files or upload forms - it's super lightweight. It even queues up images when you're offline. When designers go to our internal web application, they can see all the images that their peers have posted, and give feedback by commenting. It's a great way to get a feel for what others are working on, and get feedback while you're still in the design process.

Pixelcloud forever changed how we work as a team. Rather than appointing a creative director who has final say over our visual style, we've embraced copy/paste culture, preferring to adopt the visual elements that our peers have created. Unlike before, we're never in the dark - by looking at Pixelcloud, we can see what our peers are working on and how it affects our own work.

But Pixelcloud isn't just about what we're working on now - it's also a vast, searchable repository of our combined work and thought process. Nearly 4000 images have been uploaded, an average of 8 per day. While many images are original mocks, others are just screenshots of designs and interfaces around the web that might be useful to reference later on. By browsing through Pixelcloud, one can learn a lot about the mistakes we've made and the conclusions we've come to.

So that's Pixelcloud. Where dreams are forged from the white-hot furnace of late night pixel-pushing.

- Alexandre



Screenshots of Pixelcloud
The Pixelcloud client preference pane. A lightweight daemon application runs in the background.

The Pixelcloud client preference pane. A lightweight daemon application runs in the background.
When you hit the keyboard shortcut to upload an image, you get this dialog containing the image that was on your clipboard.
When you hit the keyboard shortcut to upload an image, you get this dialog containing the image that was on your clipboard.
The image is uploaded into the cloud, and other designers can comment. The image is displayed as a high resolution PNG to preserve detail.
The image is uploaded into the cloud, and other designers can comment. The image is displayed as a high resolution PNG to preserve detail.