Featured designer: Jack Zerby

This is the first of our series of interviews with designers whose work we admire. We caught up with former Design Director at Vimeo, and co-founder of Flavors.me and GoodsieJack Zerby, to find out what drives his work, and what he's learned about design so far.

Jack Zerby

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do:

I'm the designer and co-founder of Flavors.me and Goodsie. Previously I was the Design Director at Vimeo, and designer at RG/A, Frog Design and Pentagram. I lived in Hoboken, NJ for 10 years and recently moved with my family to State College, PA.

How did you get into graphic design?

My dad was an art teacher for 35 years, so growing up we were always creating things. Being an art teachers kid was awesome. When my sisters and I would ask for a simple thing like colored pencils, my dad would come home with an entire 400 piece professional Prismacolor colored-pencil box. He always encouraged us to take pride in craftsmanship; if you're going to do it, do it to the best of your ability, because with all works of art, you're putting a piece of yourself out into the world.

I remember my dad telling me that although art was a great skill to have, it was a tough career field. He told me about this class in a neighboring high school that was teaching "computer graphics". I remember walking in the first day, and cranking up Photoshop. From that day on, I was hooked.

What are the most important lessons you've learned about design?

Before joining Pentagram, I'm not sure I could answer that question properly. At Pentagram it was drilled in your head every day the simple question "why?". Why that font, why that color, why that image? You couldn't answer with "well I think it just looks cool", you had to explain every decision and how it relates to the problem at hand. Why is a great question to ask to building web applications as well. Why that form field? Why that extra click? Why that group of radio buttons and not a dropdown? For more on this, check out the "5 Whys". I first discovered that methodology in Eric Ries's book The Lean Startup.

Where are you most creative? Do you have a particular creative space?

My wife loves to shop. As soon as we walk into to a store like Anthropologie, I'll immediately find the most comfortable chair in the back, grab my sketchbook, and furiously jot down ideas. Stores like Anthropolgie, Aritzia and JCrew are not just about stuff on shelves; they are about the experience. The music, furniture and clothing all work together to inspire and create emotion. (Which ultimately lead to purchasing. In my wife's case, lots of it...). A designer's job is to solve problems, communicate a message and create an emotional connection. Where better than the stores mentioned above? She does ask me to look up every 15mins to say yay or nay though!

Which designers have inspired you most?

Michael Bierut - Besides being all around great guy, Michael was a fascinating designer to observe. I remember watching him interact with stodgy clients with ease and grace as he explained the history of a particular typeface he had chosen for the brand. The client would go from arms folded, to smiling ear to ear with excitement, all because HF&J's Sentinel was released the same year their company was founded.

Lisa Strausfeld - Lisa was my first boss, and by far the smartest and kindest person on Earth. She taught me to step back and consider the overall vision of the project before jumping into the design. Sometimes she would ask me to take the design in a direction I totally disagreed with, only later realizing she was absolutely right. This happened over and over again, until I finally learned to trust her judgement. She never lost her cool with demanding clients and always made sure every detail of the project was finely crafted.

What are the top three blogs you read?

I don't read many design blogs. I'm more of a podcast junkie:

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

When we first launched Flavors, we weren't sure if people would take the time to really design their pages. When the first designs started coming in we were blown away. Our goal was to build a design tool that was magic for people who don't call themselves designers, and when we saw the first users page, we knew we had hit our goal. You can see some great examples at Flavors.me.

Do you have a specific style or do you rely on trends? How would you describe your style?

I've always been miminal. The "flat" design trend always was hilarious to me because at Pentagram there was just "design". Does it solve the problem and communicate a message properly? Good, then stop talking about using a freakin' dropshadow.

You invest lots of time in your blogging and writing. Why do you find the writing process so valuable?

It's important because it requires you to organize and distill your thoughts into some sort of coherency. By practicing the art of writing, you strengthen your communication muscle, which ultimately makes you a better marketer, designer, teacher or CEO. Most of our daily tasks in this industry involve taking complex concepts and simplifying it for the end user, and one of the best ways to hone this ability is to write...a lot.

As someone who’s embraced technology, do you think there’ll be a time when pen and paper will be obsolete for designers?

I think whatever tool helps you get the job done, use it. If you want to use a chisel and stone, go for it. Computers, pencils and hammers are all tools, it's what we do with them that matters.

If you could share one piece of advice with other startup founders, what would it be?

Find your voice, find your own personality in design. How do you do that? Be honest with yourself. Are you designing that because you want to impress other designers? Essentially, you have to be comfortable with the phrase "Am I willing to sacrifice the approval of my peers for the satisfaction of my viewers?"

Which app or website could you not live without?

Fireworks, Twitter and Textmate

Where can people find you on the Interwebs?

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