Manuel Ryan Espinosa is a southern California-based mobile product designer whose passion for creating new projects is rivaled only by his desire to constantly seek out new tips, techniques, and tools to help him realize his concepts. This combo of making and learning continues to push his practice, prototypes, and professional studies; we caught up with him to talk about impressive student work, surprising interfaces from the future, and why it’s a good idea to get out of the gym and into the world around you. (And because we’re all friends here–you can call him Mico.)
What drew you to UX/UI design, and how did you get your start?
When I was little—starting from when I was about one year old—my dad would sit me on his lap while he painted famous painters’ paintings; all kinds of art from all kinds of artists. He would do this over and over again, and he said that I never got sick of it or bored watching him. I remember when he did Picasso’s Don Quixote; at first, it just looked like black blotches to me. But as I got older, those blotches became a man on a horse, with a sidekick on a horse, and little windmills in the background. I was fascinated by that evolution, and always kept that style and sense of discovery in my head.
I always loved art—admiring it, and later making it—but it wasn’t ever something I felt someone could make a living doing. It was more of a hobby.
Then in 1998, I was studying Biochemistry at UCSD. My roommate at the time was a programmer, and snuck me into the digital media lab one night to show me what was going on with computers, and specifically Adobe Photoshop. It was incredible: I made him go back the next night; and the next; and after a few weeks, I realized I wanted to change my major to Digital Media, with a minor in Visual Arts.
From there, I picked up work with a record label doing everything from CD imprints and jewel cases to stadium posters and freeway billboards. Eventually the iPhone came out, and my mind lit up when I saw it. I became super focused and finally thought: ‘Designing for this is something I can do, as a career. Now I can make a living doing what I really love.’ I was hooked.
How does Adobe Creative Cloud fit into your creative process?
I do research before anything else, which includes interviews, looking at studies, web searches, and figuring out personas (basically who I’m designing for). Based on that information, I’ll create a sitemap using Post-Its, which I’ll quickly convert into a low-fidelity wireframe; flow it all together; then made I’ll make a high-quality version, with graphics from Principal for Mac, for user testing–all in Adobe XD.
I used to use a variety of tools—but XD lets me do all the things I used to do in these other programs, like logos, background blurs, and web pages.
Plus the layout templates are great; they’re great for keeping me up to date with what’s possible for material design in iOS and Android. They’re not just helping me create—they’re helping me learn as well.
XD helps me express my vision for mobile apps way more quickly and much more easily, which saves me a lot of time and frustration. Even though it’s still in its infancy, it’s an incredible tool and I want to grow my skills alongside it.
Let’s look at one of your projects. What was your process creating Circuit Express—a mobile app for mixing up your regular workout routine?
Circuit Express is part of my series of 365 series—over the course of a nine-year period, I’m going to finish 365 videos for mobile app prototypes. It’s a way for me to practice, learn, and develop new ideas and skills.
There was interest from friends in something sports-related, and I wanted to work on a social impact project that could potentially help make society better—a double whammy. I got out there and started talking to people—at the pool, at a 6K race, and other activities—and found that a lot of them got bored of doing one thing in one place for their workouts, so I decided to turn the entire city into a gym.
Low Fidelity prototyping of Circuit Express by Manuel Ryan Espinosa on Behance.
High Fidelity prototyping of Circuit Express by Manuel Ryan Espinosa on Behance.
By creating custom circuits with different stops—kick things off at 24 Hour Fitness, then jog a park to kick around a soccer ball, then on to a playground to do pull-ups, then back to 24—the routines become shareable and sociable in different vicinities; users can meet up, exercise together, and exchange tips and ideas.
Circuit Express by Manuel Ryan Espinosa on Behance.
What excites you most about the future of UX/UI design—both in terms of creating it, and engaging with it?
The surprises. The unknown. We’re going to be creating interfaces for things we can’t even conceptualize yet because they’re so next level, or haven’t even been invented yet.
I’m also excited because artists—I use that term to include all the designers and creative people with all the millions of titles describing their work these days—can actually create a meaningful social impact. Artists are pushing with engineers to figure out how to realize their incredible ideas, and engineers are pushing artists to use all this new technology; it’s a back and forth that’s enabling interesting hand-in-hand collaborations.
What bit(s) of wisdom can you share with creative folks who are interested in becoming UX/UI designers?
I have a friend who used to be a pro soccer player. He and I once tried to figure out what makes a great athlete, and I think the criteria apply here as well. What makes someone great at something?
One of the most important things is passion. You can’t lie to yourself, and you can’t pretend, because there are going to be bumps and bruises and frustrations along the way before you even get to the fun part. It’s not always easy pursuing your dreams.
Practice is important. In order to stay sharp, I think it’s good to practice at least one hour a day.
Study continuously. I take at least one class a quarter, be it art or programming or whatever skills I need to improve, or whatever I’m trying to get better at.
And find an industry blog or magazine or blog website that comes out with new information every month, and follow it. Net magazine is incredible; it’s got all the trends and recommendations for mobile apps and software and what’s coming out for the year, and they get it right every single time.
Whose UX/UI work do you look at and go: “WOW”?
I recently saw year-end presentations of graduate programs for both the University of Washington (Computer Interaction and Design) and California College of the Arts (Interaction Design), and was completely blown away. These students put a whole year of research into these projects, which they translated into prototypes and mobile apps. But it was more than just design; these were whole mental endeavors, expressed in really cool ways I’d never seen before. I was hooked. It’s what made me want to go on to grad school.
Best tunes for getting into a creative flow?
I like to listen to Passenger; it’s great mellow music, one of my favorite artists.
I discovered The Piano Guys looking for cover songs on YouTube, and I love their stuff.