Design Notes, Episode 14

Designer Ryan Snelson on inventing your own aesthetic and challenging industry norms

Design Notes is a show about creative work and what it teaches us, hosted by Liam Spradlin. In this episode, Liam speaks with Ryan Snelson, a user experience designer known for his thoughtful product designs and trademark maximalist style. The pair talk about Snelson’s experience redesigning the Myspace UI in 2009, why he champions a gritty and expressive experimental aesthetic, and the importance of understanding the constraints of technology and design.

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Snelson's unique visual aesthetic manifests in projects like Motoveli magazine and Flashback Sticker Attack.


On rocking the boat “Stylistically, there’s been a wash of style over the web and apps. Everything’s clean. Everything’s delightful. Everything’s safe. Nothing rocks the boat. When you’re a little bit sloppy and gritty, more emotion comes through.”

On the freedom of redesigning Myspace “It was fun because you could just experiment and try things. I learned a lot there.”

On self-expression in social media “If you remember customizing Myspace profiles, you could pretty much do whatever you wanted. You could get into the code and make your own page ... but you can’t really do that today. [Now] the expression comes through in the form of content, not the system.”

On teaching UX “I think the biggest [challenge] is getting new UX and product designers to have a point of view about something. They’re too timid. They’re too afraid to speak up about what’s good or what feels right, or what’s worked in the past.”

Handy info and links for this episode:

  • Visit “Ryan’s page” to learn more about Snelson’s work
  • Flashback Sticker Attack brings Snelson’s signature aesthetic to iOS in the form of a flashy, re-mixable sticker pack
  • Motoveli is limited edition print publication about modern motorcycle culture in Brooklyn
  • Myspace launched a major redesign and rebrand in 2010
  • Glitter Graphics is a community site that contributed to customization and self-expression through during Myspace’s heyday
  • Snelson is a UX instructor at General Assembly, an education firm focused on training and career development
  • Download a PDF transcript of Design Notes, Episode 14

On the next episode, Liam speaks with Jesse Reed, co-founder of the publishing imprint Standards Manual. In the interview, Reed explores his experience working at Pentagram and the temporality of identity design.

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