Andy Nelson: Finding a Happy Path through Design and Illustration
Interviews & Features
Digital product designer, illustrator and self-described La Croix enthusiast Andy Nelson wears many hats. He enjoys working full-time as a product designer for real estate firm Homie but spends his spare time honing a hand-drawn illustration style. After years of experimentation, Nelson believes a carefully curated visual experience lies at the heart of impactful design.
“I handle the end-to-end process of making the best experience for the user.”
In a world of online services, digital product designers and UI/UX (user interface/user experience) designers like Nelson craft journeys for users to navigate. “I handle the end-to-end process of making the best experience for the user,” says Nelson. Through a multistage, iterative process of research, flow charting and fine tuning, the UI/UX designer tailors a final product that guides users through a satisfying online experience toward the desired outcome, whether that’s buying a t-shirt or taking out a mortgage.
A large part of UI/UX design involves charting the possible paths—both desirable and undesirable—that users may take through a site or app. “Let’s say you’re applying for a loan,” says Nelson. “The ‘happy path’ would be that they arrive and go through the loan process successfully. Then you also have to account for the ‘unhappy paths,’ where they might put in the wrong social security number. What do you do then? Where will they go? You never want to leave a user just hanging there.”
Like a user navigating a poorly designed app, Nelson took several unhappy paths trying to find career directions over the years, exploring engineering, business and physical product design. During his time studying multidisciplinary design at the University of Utah, Nelson found that the process of experience design gelled with him. “I found I was much, much better at it. The speed with which I could iterate was huge,” he says.
Though he had little experience drawing, he soon incorporated illustration into his toolset as well. Nelson’s illustration career began while working as a graphic designer at Sorenson Media during their rebrand. “I just started putting shapes together until it looked like a drawing,” he says. “That was really the first time I had ever illustrated anything, professionally at least. I loved it.”
After that initial brush with illustration, Nelson devoted more personal time to studying technique online and building his skills through practice by volunteering for whatever tasks he could to improve his abilities. Since then, he has illustrated for several clients, including his previous employers Progressive Leasing and clothing company Roark. “I’ve kind of just drawn what I liked,” he says. “I guess that’s become a lot of Western, mystical self-expression.”
“I’ve kind of just drawn what I liked … I guess that’s become a lot of Western, mystical self-expression.”
Nelson feels his UI and visual design skills set him apart, and his passion for illustration integrates with his design ethos. “I think UI and high-fidelity … visual design is imperative to making the best user experience possible,” he says. “As far as illustration goes within product design,
I find it is an incredibly undervalued portion that has a lot of potential for impact and a lot of opportunity to communicate meaning as well. I’m always advocating for that sort of thing.”
Nelson’s new brand, Fishybirds, blends his self-expression, personal experience and UI-oriented focus on concise and friendly visual language. “This half-fish, half-bird animal is uncomfortable pretty much everywhere. It’s not gonna do great above water or below water; it’s just not made for it. That’s certainly more reflective of my experience in life than a lot of these adventure-based clothing brands,” he says. “I like the idea of acknowledging that things aren’t always perfect. You’re not always comfortable in a situation. I love trying to communicate that through a brand that’s also—hopefully—cool, has interesting illustrations and is still a good quality product.” Whether Fishybirds adorns a popsocket or a sweatshirt, Nelson’s message remains the same—trial and error sometimes breeds surprising success.
To see more of Nelson’s design and illustration work or to contact him for commission, visit his website, andynelson.io.