Eduardo del Rio is an artist who has mastered different disciplines, but with an unparalleled love for hand drawing. All it takes is a pencil to paper and the synapses start firing.
Did you always know your calling was in design? How did you find your way toward it?
Eduardo del Rio: Both my parents are artists and instilled creativity in me. I drew my whole life and was always drawn to the creative field. Growing up I designed things like yearbooks, Homecoming shirts, charity drive posters, and whatever I could do. As I built a career in it, I continued challenging myself. I love the balance of form and function in design, and constantly seeking that has been extremely fulfilling.
Illustrator, animator, graphic designer, UX, you have dabbled with many forms of art, how is your approach towards each different? Is the starting point the same?
Eduardo del Rio: Different disciplines require different processes and workflows, but funny enough for me, the starting point is always the same: Drawing! I have tons of paper and mark-making implements around my desk, and whether I’m sketching out illustration thumbnails, animation storyboards, or application wireframes, they always start with a pencil drawing, hence the moniker ‘pencil prone.’ Whether it’s napkin sketches, whiteboard drawings, or low-fidelity compositions, the pencil is always the starting point.
UX design and interaction design are fields that have boomed in the past few years but as a seasoned designer, how do you think your beginnings in the field were different from designers of today?
Eduardo del Rio: When I began, the internet and digital media were just taking hold. There was a huge paradigm shift from print to digital, and the design world evolved quickly. Now almost 20 years later, evolution and change remain a constant. It is encouraging to see how many resources and tools are available now. It is so much more accessible to be able to learn a new skill set.
In the past, there was a higher barrier to entry for learning new topics, with a formal education frequently being the only option. It makes me happy that information is so much easier to access now for budding designers and myself.
“Drawing! I have tons of paper and mark-making implements around my desk, and whether I’m sketching out illustration thumbnails, storyboards, or wireframes, they always start with a pencil drawing, hence the moniker ‘pencil prone’”
How do you walk the line between being unique and giving a good user experience and having a commercial appeal?
Eduardo: Parameters and restraints are important in design. While I love the ‘blue sky’ design exercises, it is often not feasible. Usually, when I am working through a project I will give myself 3 avenues to push, depending on the criteria set.
First is the direction that is basic, status quo, standard, and established norm. This usually anchors me to the core of the challenge. Second, an attempt at innovating and pushing that standardized norm as far as I can push it, improving where I can. Thirdly, I’ll take a wholly unorthodox turn, challenging all conventions and preexisting assumptions. It is exciting to me how many times the 3rd direction is selected.
You are both the owner and design director of your company, PencilProne. How do you balance creativity with the business side of things?
Eduardo: I’ve always had an entrepreneurial attitude, so I find it extremely easy to work for myself. The business part of the job is its own art form. I look at all specialized disciplines as their art forms, even things like accounting and project management. It is all about being mindful of the process and making it into the best form you can.
Every designer has their style but it is difficult to bring your style to different projects with different clients, all with their own styles. How do you bring together the two?
Eduardo: It can be easy to feel like you can’t make a mark while working with diverse style guides and design systems, but I always find a way. I do believe that everyone will always make their unique mark on whatever project they touch on because the design is inherently personal. I always am looking for ways to infuse whimsy and humanness into anything I work on.
How has your work evolved since you began your practice?
Eduardo: I think more and more from a business standpoint. Understanding the bottom line and the goals of different products and projects is crucial. I also feel very connected to my clients, because they have entrusted me with their brands and products, and I feel a sense of duty to deliver to them.
As a designer, is it possible to create anything that you can imagine?
Eduardo: That is absolutely the goal of any designer or artist. I attribute it greatly to pictorial imagination, the ability to envision something before it is created. The funny thing about this, the goal is always to achieve what is in your mind, however, all the external factors in reality often result, for better or worse, in something slightly or not so slightly different than what we had in mind.
Can you tell us something about one of your most memorable projects, what made it memorable?
Eduardo del Rio: I have to mention 2, but I’ll keep it brief. One of the most momentous projects of my whole life was when I was accepted into the SF De Young Museum for my large-format oil painting. The painting had taken me over a year and was kind of an opus for me.
Seeing it in the museum that I grew up going to, filled me with unbelievable awe. Secondly, I designed and animated a huge billboard in Times Square, and when I showed up to see it live, moving as big as could be imagined, it just totally blew me away.
Any words of advice for young designers?
Eduardo del Rio: Draw! I hear so many people say they can’t draw, but all it takes is a pencil to paper and the synapses start firing and you never know what will come out. Letting your imagination go wild on paper is more of a natural form of expression than it is a skill. It has been the most important ability in my design career, and I am always a student of it. Always trying to learn more.