Peter Vidani, designer for Tumblr.
How did you get involved with Tumblr and what did you do before?
I met Jacob Bijani on a message board we were both posting on for years, starting in 2003. From there we started a site called start.io and worked on it together over AIM. I had just moved to Los Angeles and he was in San Diego, so we met up on the weekends. I was also working as a junior talent agent at a small commercial talent agency, and working nights as a dubber for a post-production company (not at the same time). This was my first experience with web design.
He moved to New York after art school to start working at Tumblr. Around that time I moved back to Wisconsin to go back to college at a school I’d already dropped out of once. Three months later, I started doing contract work for Tumblr, making themes for brands that were coming on the platform. Three months after that, I left college again and moved to New York for Tumblr.
What did you go to school for? You have no formal training in design?
I changed it almost every semester. Graphic design, Film, Marketing, Business. I’m not good at school.
What is the design process like at Tumblr and what is your role as Lead Designer?
A group of us talk about what problem we want to solve until we figure out the best way to do it. Sometimes it starts out broad, like, “How can a new user find good blogs to follow?” Sometimes it’s a small tweak that comes up on the way to lunch.
If I’m designing it, I use Photoshop to make something as close as possible to what it will be when it’s live. After I send it around for feedback, someone much smarter than me starts implementing it. I’m alright with CSS and HTML, but Jacob is much better at doing everything else.
If it’s a big release, there might be another round of design that follows the same process. This is for the things we didn’t think about before, or something that just doesn’t work.
I’m grateful that the whole thing is really, really casual.
Besides Photoshop, what software do you use most often?
When you’re working on something, do you do any sketching by hand first or do you just jump right into Photoshop?
I draw a sketch of the page on graph paper. This is a huge help for a few reasons.
- It’s a good excuse to get away from the distraction of a computer.
- It’s an easy way to get all the bad ideas out.
- By the time you’re doing the labor, you can hold less in your head because you’re not worrying about the end product as much.
I also make a to-do list on the same page.
Tumblr is often praised for its usability, why do you think that is? What makes a site user friendly?
I think it comes from making the interface for ourselves. I also think people are smart and don’t need things explained to them, which gets rid of clutter. Mostly I’m just paying attention to balancing the page and keeping things in a grid. When you’re solving a problem for something simple, there aren’t a lot of places you can screw up. It doesn’t hurt that it’s the only site I use, so it’s easy to see when a piece fits.
Also, the site was beautiful before I started working on it, so it hasn’t been hard to keep that going.
Tag pages have been out for a little under a week, and you’re editing a few of them, are you happy with the response to them so far?
I love them. We’ve gotten a ton of positive feedback. They fit right in.
Thank you, Peter.