Vitaly Friedman – “We need to bring personality back to the web.”


January 26, 2020

Vitaly Friedman – “We need to bring personality back to the web.”


January 26, 2020

We visited Touch Summit and talked with some very interesting people, as we always do. Here we present one of them – Vitaly Friedman, founder of Smashing Magazine and a very cool dude.

Vitaly: So, my name is Vitaly and I was born in Minsk, Belarus. My parents immigrated to Germany when I was 16. I spent most of my life thinking about design and development and have been working on the web since 1998 or so, which means I grew up with it. It’s been a very important part of me and I kinda want to protect it and make sure it’s flourishing and growing as we are moving forward.

In your speech, you talked about “bringing personality back to the web”. Can you elaborate on what did you mean by this?

Vitaly: Yea, I think, in many ways for me the web has turned into this really strange, dark place which people don’t even like. On one side, many websites have become very generic and similar, you’ll find the same layouts being used, the same tools, the same compositions, it’s like everything is similar. And even further than that, you look at the brands, there has been this big year of the redesign in the fashion industry last year, where many of the brands changed to more timeless logos that all look the same. We are kind of heading to this place where everything is the same. So, this part was about bringing personality to the web.

✱ Vitaly giving a speech at Data Fest, Tbilisi. 

On the other side, we’re looking at websites that collect data and also misuse the user’s data in the same way. Meaning, there are many bad actors so to say, who collect all the data and sell and share it and so on. My speech was all about raising awareness about how data is collected and used, so the “personality part” was a little for offside on this one. It was about the dimensions we reached in tracking, without us even knowing about it.

How can people and businesses make their websites more unique/personalized?

Vitaly: Well, there is always some way to bring personality into the website in order to make things more interesting, because if you just follow what others are doing, you might make it harder for customers to see you as a unique brand and be loyal to you because they don’t see anything special. You need to open a window of opportunity for them to connect more with your brand.

First of all, one thing you need to define is your signature – what you stand for. Some companies go ahead and emphasize privacy, some say they are constantly working on making the customer experience smoother. Just find your own niche.

There is also a way of bringing more personality through visuals. Develop your visual signature. It doesn’t have to be a complicated design, maybe just one little thing. Maybe, a special way of combining typography with a slightly quirky font, it could also be a visual treatment, the way you use a collage or some sort of retro treatment. And you need to use this across all the pages. It’s all about bringing life and personality into it. Using one thing constantly is what makes you stand out.

Once your brand has personality, that personality has to be reflected in the logo. I think the logo is almost like a name. Both of these things have to match. Don’t overdo with the design, the design is very important of course, but it’s all about connecting with your customers, like connecting them to your personality.

Before we talk some more about data, I want to ask you about Smashing Magazine. What makes you stand out from other web design and developers’ publications?

Vitaly: So, when we did the redesign 2.5 years ago it was very important for us to stand out. So yes, we had a slightly unusual color and composition, but we really had to find our signature and we started doing that by using 71 freaking cats, 71 cats scattered all over the site hidden and all. Now I’m even doing the game, so if anyone manages to find all 71 cats and sends me the list of all of them, he’s getting a business class ticket to conferences of choice and other fancy things, nobody has managed to do that over the last 2.5 years.

✱ The famous cat of Smashing Magazine. 

So we have these cats, which have become our identity, then we also have the second component which is – tilting stuff. Our very first logo back in 2007 was a little bit tilted by 16 degrees at a time and when we did the redesign we decided that we were going to use that tilting as the defining signature. So every single element on the page is tilted to the left by 11 degrees.

What about the content?

Vitaly: We’ve always been very pragmatic with our publishings, we’re trying to be very close to designers and developers. We are also trying to cover the entire web, so you can find articles about tutorials and stuff all over the web, but we are trying to discover highlights and case studies of how people are working on the web, what they learned from the projects and so on. That means if you are reading an article from two years ago, it is still going to be relevant today.

Back to the data now. What are the main problems of misusing it?

Vitaly: I think we often tend to underestimate the impact of data collection. Because we don’t really see it. For example, if you have some camera looking at you while you’re working, you wouldn’t feel so comfortable, especially if it’s broadcasted to third-parties, agencies and so on. However, when you go to the website and it collects cookies to see where you’re going, in order to predict where you’re going to head next and display ads, we kinda don’t really care about that.

The problem is not that people are being tracked, the problem is that it’s not a choice a person makes. At this point, we don’t really have a mechanism to control how our data is treated unless you use an adblocker. Right not, it like either you give them full access to your data or don’t use the web at all.

For example in Germany people are like – “I’m going to leave Facebook because it collects my data”. It shouldn’t be like that, we should be able to control how much data we allow them to collect and also in what manner it’s going to be used.

Can you give some quick tips to our readest about how they can try to secure their data?

Vitaly: Right, so. First of all, some kind of adblocker is a must. Another important thing is to always look at the settings you have enabled on Instagram, Whatsapp, Facebook and so on. Just make sure that you have only those settings turned on that you need.

For example, often we would give access to the microphone to tools like Instagram or Facebook, maybe we’ll have a call from somebody on there. That’s fine. But it doesn’t have to be on all the time, because there are some studies that show that they are listening. Just be a bit more sensible about your settings configurations.

And the last question. In your speech you mentioned that you always wanted to come to Georgia, why’s that?

Vitaly: Yes! I just love Georgian cuisine, everywhere I go I try to find a Georgian restaurant, you know. I’m also a big fan of chacha. I just love chacha, it’s absolutely incredible.

Most likely, I’m one of the stupid tourists, who walk about the city taking pictures of everything, I mean everything.

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