Andy Nelson: Finding a happy path through design and illustration

Photo courtesy of Andy Nelson

DAndy Nelson, digital product designer, illustrator and self-proclaimed La Croix enthusiast, wears many hats. He enjoys working full time as a product designer for a real estate company Mate but spends his free time perfecting a hand-drawn style of illustration. After years of experimentation, Nelson believes that a carefully curated visual experience is at the heart of impactful design.

“I manage the end-to-end process to create the best user experience.”

In a world of online services, digital product designers and UI/UX (user interface/user experience) designers like Nelson create journeys for users to navigate. “I manage the end-to-end process to create the best user experience,” Nelson says. Through an iterative, multi-step process of research, flowchart, and fine-tuning, the UI/UX designer tailors a final product that guides users through a satisfying online experience toward the desired outcome, whether be it buying a t-shirt or taking out a mortgage.

A big part of UI/UX design is mapping out the possible paths, both desirable and undesirable, that users can take through a site or application. “Let’s say you apply for a loan,” Nelson says. “The ‘happy path’ would be for them to arrive and go through the loan process successfully. Then you also have to consider “unlucky paths,” where they might enter the wrong social security number. What do you do then? Where will they go? You never want to leave a user hanging there.

Like a user navigating a poorly designed application, Nelson took many unfortunate paths trying to find career directions over the years, exploring engineering, business and physical product design. While studying multidisciplinary design at the University of Utah, Nelson found that the experience design process gelled with him. “I found I was much, much better at it. The speed at which I could iterate was tremendous,” he says.

Although he had little drawing experience, he quickly incorporated illustration into his toolset. Nelson’s illustration career began while working as a graphic designer at Sorenson Media during their rebranding. “I just started putting shapes together until it looked like a drawing,” he says. “It was really the first time I had illustrated anything, professionally at least. I liked it.”

Image courtesy of Andy Nelson

After this first exposure to illustration, Nelson devoted more personal time to studying the technique online and developing his skills through practice by volunteering for whatever assignments he could to improve his abilities. Since then, he has illustrated for several clients, including his former employers. Progressive rental and clothing company Roark. “I kind of drew what I liked,” he says. “I guess it became a lot of western, mystical self-expression.”

“I kind of just drew what I liked…I guess it became a lot of western, mystical self-expression.”

Nelson feels his user interface and visual design skills set him apart, and his passion for illustration fits into his design philosophy. “I think UI and high fidelity…visual design is imperative to delivering the best possible user experience,” he says. “When it comes to illustration in product design,

I find it to be an incredibly undervalued part that has a lot of potential for impact and a lot of opportunity to communicate meaning as well. I always advocate for this stuff.

Nelson is looking for
Image courtesy of Andy Nelson

Nelson’s new brand, sea ​​birds, blends his self-expression, personal experience, and focus on user interface with a concise, user-friendly visual language. “This half-fish, half-bird animal is uncomfortable everywhere. It doesn’t do well above water or underwater; it’s just not made for that. It certainly reflects my life experience more than a lot of these adventure-based clothing brands,” he says. “I like the idea of ​​acknowledging that things aren’t always perfect. You are not always comfortable in a situation. I love trying to communicate that through a brand that is also hopefully cool, has interesting artwork, and is still a good quality product. Whether sea ​​birds adorns a popsocket or a sweatshirt, Nelson’s message remains the same: trial and error sometimes leads to surprising success.

To learn more about Nelson’s design and illustration work or to contact him for an order, visit his website,