Centric Interviews - Vitaly Friedman

Vitaly loves beautiful content and does not give up easily. His curiosity drove him from interface design to front-end to performance optimization to accessibility and back to user experience over all the years.

Co-Founder Smashing Magazine

Vitaly Friedman

What motivates you to learn?

I think I just love noticing intricate little details that can make a big difference. I’m always very excited to explore what others have learned in their work, and it probably goes back to my curiosity. As I was a little kid, I always had to touch things and understand how they work, and I could stare at the sun or listen to the breeze of waves for hours. I guess it’s my sense of exploration that keeps bringing me back to learning every day. Also, I’m quite impatient, so throughout my life, I’ve been jumping from one topic to another, from interface design to front-end performance and back to accessibility and UX.

How do you make time for learning?

Frankly, it just happens. I never seek out to find time for learning — it’s just something that happens as I’m listening. Listening to other people, to the conversations and talks at in-person and online events, and speaking to people from the industry, raising all kinds of questions about what worked, what didn’t, and why. I think one of my most important assets is the wonderful people that I’ve learned over the years. Everybody is designing and crafting their own experiences, and I’m always happy to explore what these experiences are and learn from them.

What is the most useful/interesting thing you have learned recently?

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time recently looking into common frustrations that people experience on the web. And as it turns out there are quite a number of seeming harmless components that often cause quite a few issues for customers — disabled buttons, infinite scroll, parallax, inline validation, to name a few. So I’ve been looking into finding ways to make them more useful, inclusive, and helpful. I learned that we could keep disabled-buttons focusable and explain the error on hover/tap/click, that we can fix infinite scroll issues with a sticky footer and proper use of History API, that it’s probably best to combine positive inline validation with validation on Submit. Sounds like minor things really, but they can have a dramatic impact on user experience and business metrics.

What was your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?

Back in the day, I was running a UX consultancy for a large company on site. We had a pretty flexible agenda for the day; it wasn’t very specific, but we knew the products and general issues we wanted to discuss. I felt like I was very well prepared for the session. However, I was not prepared for what happened during the meeting. The company’s stakeholders came in unexpectedly and asked all kinds of questions about processes and workflows and business metrics and enterprise flows which I had absolutely no idea about. I wasn’t able to answer these questions, and I wasn’t really equipped with enough data and experience to tackle these issues. I politely said that I’m afraid I don’t know enough to answer these questions. They then asked more questions that I couldn’t give an answer to. That was a bigger failure, and from that, I learned to always try to be over-prepared for any kind of meeting, and always ask about the agenda of the meeting, the goals and objectives, and what kind of people will be participating.

Who has been the most inspirational person for your career and why?

Frankly, I don’t think I have one single inspiration person in my career. When I look back, there are so many interesting, inspiring people that have crossed my paths over the years. Each of them had a story to share, and I think I learned a little bit from each of that stories. That’s why I’m always very excited to meet people and explore what worked and didn’t work for them. I always find a bit of inspiration in all the people I have a pleasure to have a conversation with.