My favorite part is that moment where I look at something I've made and think, "Oh man, I've never made anything this good before. I'm getting better!"
Please give us a brief bio of yourself.
I'm Joe Lifrieri! I'm a designer, illustrator, and developer from New Jersey. I currently reside in Brooklyn and work at Vimeo. I design our video player, some one-off pages, and draw lots of silly stuff.
What do you do for inspiration?
I watch lots of cartoons, especially Adventure Time, SuperJail, and old Don Bluth stuff. I do my best work when I feel silly. Being serious isn't really conducive to creativity, at least for me.
What do you regard as being your biggest achievement?
I spoke at Asbury Agile this year. It was my first conference ever and the weeks leading up to it were crazy stressful. It went super well though and I'm really happy about it.
How do you relax or unwind?
Yoga, video games, eating cookies.
If you weren't working on the internet what would you be doing?
I got started in design by doing album art and merch design for punk and hardcore bands in Jersey, so I like to think I'd just go back to that. Realistically, I'd probably end up managing an Arby's or something.
What's your favourite part of your job? What's the hardest part of your job? What do you do when you get stuck?
My favorite part is that moment where I look at something I've made and think, "Oh man, I've never made anything this good before. I'm getting better!" Those moments only come so often, but they're so rewarding.
I don't think there's a really hard part of my job. I'm indoors, working on a computer. It can be frustrating, but I'd never call it hard. I'm really lucky to get to do what I do.
When I get really stuck, I just work on something else. It usually just means my mind isn't ready to solve the problem at hand and that I need to come back the next day.
If there are any pivotal experiences/decisions you could point to that helped shape your career, what would they be?
I hadn't ever really heard the words "graphic design" until college. I went to school to study English in the hopes of getting my doctorate and teaching American literature. On the second day of my freshman year, I met a guy named Tom Finer who explained the concept of Photoshop to me. A few hours later, I was playing around with the program and was having a ton of fun making whatever goofy thing I could think of. Fast forward to four years later and I was convincing professors to let me hand in designs for book covers instead of essays.
What software could you not live without?
I wish it wasn't the case, but I'm useless without Photoshop. Illustrator is byzantine, Sketch is really alien to me, and every other graphics solution I've used feels incomplete. That said, I'm constantly annoyed with Photoshop and its annual bloating. I don't love it, its just the lesser evil.
In terms of software, is there anything new you have been playing with lately or that has impressed you?
Codekit and Framer. Framer is great for prototyping animations and interactions; it removes a lot of the yak shaving and lets you get straight to the fun stuff.
Who is your target audience?
People under 30.
What area of web design lacks the most?
Typoography has gotten a lot better in the past few years, but its still such a mixed bag. A lot of typefaces are prohibitively expensive to use on the web, and some foundries don't license their work for embedding whatsoever. Typekit is cool, but everyone else is using it, too. With so few options for which typefaces we can use on the web, its no wonder that web design is starting to feel more and more homogenous.
Are there any websites that have shone through as being pioneering in the last 5 years or so?
I mean, five years has become an eternity in our industry. Things change so much in the course of just a few months. That said, Boston Globe being one of the first major news outlets to go responsive was pretty great. It said to everyone, "Hey, this technique isn't a gimmick. It's a real way to address the fact that people use their phones to view the web."
When dealing with major clients, how difficult is it to meet the needs of such wide target audiences?
Addressing all of the use-cases that can come up with a big audience is really challenging. The best strategy I've found is to establish clear goals at the outset of the project and stick to them. Scope-creep and trying to meet the needs of every single person under the sun is toxic.
What did your very first site look like? Is it still online?
It was a Geocities fan site I made when I was fifteen for an anime about giant robots. It had gifs and autoplaying music. I remember the background being a swirling blue pattern that made the text entirely illegible. I wish it was still online, but it went down with the ship when Geocities got canned.
Have you written any books, if not do you plan to?
I'm actually working on a comic right now. It's about a bunch of teens that find and steal an intergalactic war ship and use it to blow up planets and loiter at alien malls. I don't have a name for it yet.
What would be your ultimate vehicle to travel in?
Ideally, I'd ride an ostrich to work. It would need to talk and also be my best friend. I think I'd name it, "Piedmont."
What was the last digital effort you saw (or were a part of) that used social media in a way that really made sense. Why?
I don't know that these exist. Actually, I'm positive they don't. Every time I've seen a company use social media to promote something, it came across as being cheesy, forced, and cringe-inducing. It's like talking to the "COOL" church minister that plays acoustic guitar, wears acid wash jeans, and "really knows what it's like to be a teen!"
What are your views on design/graphic school. Do you think someone can get into the field without educational experience in a school environment?
Yeah, I believe that you can do well in this field without much of a formal education. I took a few design courses when I was in college, but I don't have a BFA or anything. The classes weren't too relevant to what I do now, either. I taught myself how to write HTML and CSS with the help of a few really patient friends and mentors outside of school. Experience taught me everything else.
I think a design education is only as good as the person receiving it. If you want to work hard and learn, then you're going to go really far. School can definitely help with that, but it's not a guarantee of success.
There must be a project that you have always dreamed of doing, what is it?
I've always wanted to design the UI for something where monitoring states and progress in real time was a really important part of the user's involvement. I think you can do really beautiful, charming things with an interface like that because people are actually paying attention. It could be any number of things: 911 dispatch software, something for the military, or even a video game.
What are you excited about learning next and is there a long term challenge you are considering tackling?
I just want to keep getting better at illustration. When I'm old, maybe that will be all I do. For now, I really want to spend more time working on mobile projects because I know my portfolio is a little lean in that regard.
It has been a privilege, thanks very much