Pixel Pioneers: Interviewing Vitaly Friedman of Smashing Magazine

  • Vitaly Friedman on tackling complicated responsive design patterns at his upcoming Pixel Pioneers workshop

    Pixel Pioneers returns to Belfast in November with a one-day conference of practical and inspiring talks, with eight first-class speakers preceded by a full-day workshop.

    Vitaly Friedman is leading the Smart Responsive UX Design Patterns workshop on Thursday 22 November as well kicking off the main conference on Friday 23 with his talk on Dirty Little Tricks from the Dark Corners of Ecommerce. He has a passion for typography, writing, and design and co-founded the design and web development chronicle Smashing Magazine.

    When Sync NI’s Alan Meban recently caught up with Vitaly, he explained that his journey towards creating beautiful content began in 1997 when he started to publish an online football news magazine. Back then, HTML was still quite primitive, but the technology appealed to Vitaly’s fascination with sharing and the magazine ran for 40 issues.

    Originally from Minsk in Belarus, Vitaly was by now living in Germany, building HTML and Shockwave pages. While studying Computer Science and Mathematics at university he applied for a job as a webmaster.

    “I dove in, picked up CSS and spent nights, weekends, and early mornings – even time when I should have been preparing for exams – learning what I could do with this wonderful new technology.

    “Back then, blogs were a huge deal and everyone was sharing CSS techniques, inventing new unthinkable tricks.”

    He kept track of links to the latest and greatest CSS techniques in a TXT file but realised that he needed to organise it better to have “a resource that would show off all the techniques and useful resources and tutorials.”

    By 2006 he was writing articles about front-end development for Sven Lennartz’s German-speaking online magazine for web developers. They soon combined their resources and set up an English-based magazine: Smashing Magazine.

    “I’ve juggled wearing both front-end and UX hats throughout my career.

    “We set up a WordPress blog in August 2006 with a random theme, no logo, and just started blogging. We committed to run it for at least a year and to publish two blog posts a week. By December we realised how interesting people found the site. The timing was really good.

    “The reason why it has become successful is not because we’re geniuses hidden somewhere in a cave with the secret recipe to success. No, it was just perfect timing, as people were experimenting a lot with front-end development and they loved our resource. There was also a huge wave of social Web 2.0 stuff, and sites like Slashdot and StumbleUpon brought us enormous traffic.”

    Twelve years later, Smashing Magazine is still running and Vitaly is looking forward to his first trip to Belfast to deliver a workshop and talk at Pixel Pioneers – and to sample the whiskey!

    “Community is important” he says. “I travel a lot and it’s always incredible to be able to share with people but also to learn things in return too. Everybody has their own workflow, their own tools, their own processes, their own experiences and case studies. It’s great to be able to dive into that.”

    More than half the traffic coming into most websites is now from mobile devices.

    Vitaly won’t be covering basic techniques in his Smart Responsive UX Design Patterns workshop. Instead he’ll be biting off more meaty challenges.

    “I’m really curious about more complicated patterns, problems that keep appearing that need a lot of time to be resolved. So in the workshop we’ll look in detail at what you’d have to do to design an election dashboard and make sure that all the bar charts are responsive.

    “We’ll also look at how to build a responsive car configurator where the customer is supposed to be able to build the car model of their dreams online and yet it has to work on mobile as well.

    “How can you build theatre seat selection for a small screen? What are good design patterns for booking an appointment, or building feature comparison tables?”

    Vitaly will be getting delegates to sketch out their ideas and he’s looking forward to exploring uncharted territories with the group that has booked to attend to find out what are they working on and what are their problems. It may well provide stimulus for tutorials and examples that he can take back to Smashing Magazine.

    Aside from his own publication and conferences like Pixel Pioneers, what other resources does Vitaly recommend for web design and UX inspiration, tips and techniques?

    “There’s UX Mag and UX Booth. You can also find a lot of good stuff on Medium these days, which is wonderful.

    “In terms of podcasts, I’m listening to a few: Shop Talk Show as well as NPR’s How I Built This, which case studies people who build good products and good interfaces.

    “In order to be successful you need to fail a lot, so I’m still trying to find some sort of podcast that would be all about the biggest failures people ever had. That would make a great new podcast.”

    Tickets (including discounts for students) are still available for the Pixel Pioneers workshops (in the MAC) and full day conference (in the Belfast Waterfront).

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