Ze Frank Interview: Live The Rest Of Your Life Like A Potato
Four years after the initial “lightening strike”, ZeFrank.com was named one of Time Magazine’s 50 Coolest Websites of 2005. According to his bio at NYU where he teaches a creativity class, “Ze frequently lectures about things that make him anxious, such as the creative process and airplane safety.” He has appeared as a featured speaker at conferences worldwide and his work has been featured in a variety of major design publications. He is currently working on an online weekly episodic comedy show set to launch later this month as well as writing his first book about creativity. Recently Ze Frank generously took time out of his busy schedule to speak with Mark Busse at Industrial Brand Creative about his popularity, creativity, inspiration, education and the weirdest thing he ever ate.
IBC: Thank you for speaking with me Ze, I really appreciate it. Many might be surprised to learn that you originally studied neuroscience at Brown University, toured as a professional musician, and began your design career self-taught. How did you become the darling of online humor with your site zefrank.com?
ZF: I don’t think it is because of anything in particular or deserved in any sort of discrete way. The reality is that I sent out the “How To Dance Properly” clip that unexpectedly became incredibly popular because it had that viral phenomenon attached to it. So, I gained a huge audience with that. I think everything sort of follows from that in a way because I spent a lot of time in the following five years trying to figure out how to keep that audience and how to garner it, so I put a lot of work into getting into a position where I can do a bunch of different things. But it really was just taking a whole bunch of shots in the dark. There are probably 120 projects on the site right now, but that’s maybe one third of the total number of projects that were released. So, there is a lot of crap, but there is a lot of skin shedding that went on and continues to go on. It certainly is a mixture of something accidental and a lot of hard work.
IBC: People have tried to label you with terms like Performance Artist, Comic, Art Director, Web Designer among others. What do YOU tell people you do? Give us the elevator pitch.
ZF: That’s been problematic at times. I don’t really have a set definition. My general philosophy in working forward from the site is to reveal very little about myself professionally and not to characterize the work in a particular way, allowing people to make what they will of it. That actually has an interesting correlation to just online work in general: the more you contextualize a piece – whether it is writing, humour, video, a toy or a game – the more you restrict the possible interpretations of your audience. It is the same thing with careers. If you have an interest and you pursue that interest, it is limiting to call yourself one thing. The short of it is that I try as hard as I can not to call myself anything and let people do it for me because I play different roles in different scenarios. Sometimes I’m hired as a comic, sometimes as a consultant, and sometimes as a designer.