Five years later, Barbarian has evolved into its own force: Its 10-person digital shop has become a team of 80 programmers, developers, information architects, and motion-graphics artists who combine the experimental zeal of an MIT lab with the fine-arts mastery of a RISD. "We're obsessed with figuring out ways to influence people on the Internet," says Barbarian cofounder Rick Webb.
This year, that obsession materialized into a tool the crew built for CNN.com that lets readers convert video headlines into customized T-shirts. On Election Day, the unlikely campaign boosted not only eyeballs but revenue as well, selling $75,000 worth of tees in 24 hours. For client Getty Images, which has been losing market share to micro stock sites like Shutterstock, Barbarian created a free Web site that allows creatives to personalize their own virtual mood board from Getty's stockpile of tens of thousands of photos, audio tracks, and videos. And the shop's Google-like approach to R&D—encouraging employees to devote 20% of their office hours to side projects—has paid off too. That breathtaking 3-D music visualizer Apple unveiled last fall along with iTunes 8? Turns out, it was created for fun by Barbarian cofounder Robert Hodgin—then purchased by Apple last spring. Another behind-the-scenes showstopper. Just remember to give them credit.